Tackling societal challenges and guiding the future of research and innovation in Norway

Geirangerfjord in Norway, a Unesco World Heritage site, photo by MyWorld/Adobe Stock

MyWorld/Adobe Stock

Researchers identified 20 priority research and innovation (R&I) missions and 10 structural measures that could help the Research Council of Norway address societal challenges and develop a strong and resilient research and innovation environment in the strategic areas of oceans, green transition, health and welfare, cohesion and globalisation, and technology and digitalisation.

What is the issue?

The Research Council of Norway (RCN), the national agency for funding research and innovation (R&I) in the country, has five core strategic areas (PDF) within which to deliver high-impact R&I: health and welfare; oceans; green transition; technology and digitalisation; and cohesion and globalisation.

All five areas are intrinsically linked to societal challenges, both within and outside Norway. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact it has had on a global scale, has served as a stark reminder that these challenges need to be urgently addressed, not least to ensure that countries – and R&I systems – are better prepared for the future and to help build resilience.

How did we help?

RAND Europe and DAMVAD Analytics conducted a foresight study to provide evidence for the RCN’s input to the 2022 revision of the Long-Term Plan for Research and Higher Education 2019-2028, which specifies the Norwegian government’s ambitions, key objectives and priority areas for research and higher education.

Centred around the RCN’s five strategic areas, the study specifically aimed to identify a set of potential priority missions or targeted policy actions for the next ten years that the RCN could consider implementing in the future and the structural measures needed to aid the development of a resilient R&I environment in Norway.

Using a mixed-methods participatory approach, researchers examined the trends influencing developments in the strategic areas, analysed the important barriers and enablers, and identified policy challenges associated with potentially transforming the strategic areas.

The core foresight work involved future scenario analyses and workshops that allowed researchers to examine what might happen in the next 20 years in the different strategic areas and wider R&I system in Norway. The scenarios of distinct and plausible future states were used as the basis for workshop discussions to explore and validate the potential missions and structural measures.

What are the five strategic areas and their key trends?

Health and welfare

  1. Rapid developments in technological innovation and digitalisation are impacting health and welfare in Norway.
  2. Labour market needs are changing in Norway.
  3. Demographic changes in Norway increasingly present health, social welfare, and economic challenges.
  4. Increasing personalisation of medicine and healthcare presents several opportunities.
  5. Research and innovation related to welfare and health are dealing with more complex issues.
  6. Non-communicable diseases are having an increasingly significant impact in Norway.
  7. There has been a significant effort to reform and strengthen health and healthcare in Norway.
  8. There is increasing demand for qualified healthcare personnel in Norway.
  9. The prevalence of mental disorders in Norway is increasingly important.
  10. Education challenges are expected to grow as Norway upskills and employment market needs diversify.


  1. There is a demand for more data, more monitoring and more predictable models for understanding ocean dynamics.
  2. A rise in invasive alien species due to changing temperatures will pose threats to ecosystems.
  3. There is an increasingly higher demand for cybersecurity solutions in ocean industries.
  4. There is an increased focus on developing sustainable methods of petroleum extraction.
  5. Sustainable petroleum extraction is seen as a quick fix, not a solution for sustainability.
  6. Smarter and greener shipping will play an important role in the reduction in CO2 in heavy transportation.
  7. There is an increased emphasis on the holistic nature of ecosystems in the ocean, which leads to new forms of regulation and an international focus.
  8. Norwegian aquaculture is seen as a potential solution to solving hunger and ensuring better nutrition worldwide.
  9. Buying local could potentially put great pressure on the Norwegian fish and aquaculture industries.
  10. Consumer demand for product labelling and traceability of product origins will play a greater importance in relation to fish products.

Green transition

  1. The green transition is driven by more interconnectedness in the energy ecosystem, in the political system, and across sectors.
  2. Green innovation and new technologies are becoming more important.
  3. Individuals will become a larger part of the green transition, and active citizenship will play a bigger role.
  4. The green transition will increasingly be driven by city-level initiatives and locally produced goods.
  5. There will be an increased focus on the social and distributional impact of the green transition.
  6. The focus on biodiversity will challenge existing technologies, such as hydropower.
  7. There is potential for increased symbiosis between sectors (for example, to reuse by-products and excess energy).
  8. Business models and pressure for regulations regarding repair services will become of greater importance.
  9. Climate change leads to shifts in the way that food is produced, consumed and distributed.
  10. The increase in greenhouse gas emissions accelerates climate change in the Arctic.

Technology and digitalisation

  1. Digitalisation is facilitating increasing convergence of technologies.
  2. Artificial intelligence, ‘big data’ and biotechnology will be central components of digitalisation.
  3. Digitalisation is shaping innovation processes to make them data-driven, swifter and more collaborative.
  4. Data-driven technologies and advanced materials are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help improve the environment.
  5. Digitalisation is expected to provide improved services in the public sector.
  6. Digital and enabling technologies are expected to underpin the development of medicines and diagnostic tools in health and healthcare.
  7. Biotechnology is expected to play an important role in the biomarine industry.
  8. Industrial biotechnology is expected to contribute to environmentally friendly industrial processes and products.
  9. Socially responsible research and innovation will be a key priority.

Cohesion and globalisation

  1. An increased global awareness of climate change may lead to a reduction in fossil fuel demand and consumption.
  2. The nature of work is changing.
  3. Demographic changes present challenges for cohesion in Norwegian society.
  4. The multilateral system and international cooperation, which Norway benefits from, are facing increasing pressure from new and emerging powers.
  5. Social inequalities in Norway are increasing.
  6. Global interconnectedness and interdependence are increasing, accompanied by shifts in the prominence of actors in international politics.
  7. The challenges to democracy and trust are increasing globally.

What are the priority missions?

For this study, researchers regarded missions as targeted, timebound, measurable priority actions to help solve one or more societal challenges that the RCN and other stakeholders could consider developing and implementing in the future. Missions are challenges that cannot be solved by a single project in research and innovation, but, rather, require a portfolio of interacting projects as well as the implementation of wider policy measures.

  1. Make Norway’s (largest) cities climate neutral
  2. Actively address the impacts of non-communicable diseases in Norway
  3. Substantially reduce the prevalence and impact of mental illness in Norway
  4. Establish Norway as a global knowledge leader in personalised medicine and healthcare
  5. Accelerate people-centred, data-driven strategies to digitally transform and improve Norway's health and care system
  6. Improve the quality of life and health of an ageing society in Norway
  7. Accelerate the transition to a sustainable and circular economy in Norway
  8. Preserve and secure a resilient and robust democracy for future Norwegian generations that is characterised by high levels of trust and transparency
  9. Play a leading role in tackling antimicrobial resistance (in Norway and globally) and actively share expertise
  10. Establish a resilient and sustainable blue economy in Norway
  11. Position Norway as a global leader in combating marine pollution and establish a Norwegian ocean ecosystem free of marine pollution
  12. Enhance Norway’s world-leading capabilities and expertise in future maritime technologies
  13. Significantly reduce Norway’s transport-related emissions
  14. Protect, value and restore Norwegian biodiversity and reduce its degradation and loss
  15. Establish Norway as a knowledge leader in global change processes, development and international relations
  16. Actively contribute to healthy, safe and sustainable food systems
  17. Play a leading role in Norway and internationally to substantially increase the use of renewable energy in a sustainable and long-lasting manner and accelerate R&I in this area
  18. Contribute to Norway’s digital transformation by creating a diverse, digitally and soft-skilled workforce
  19. Actively enable digital transformation at all levels of government in Norway
  20. Ensure decent work for all people in Norway

What are the structural measures needed to develop a resilient R&I environment?

Structural measures are foundational, system-level instruments, policies or tools in the R&I landscape that contribute to the translation of R&I into wider societal benefits. To respond to five overarching structural needs (listed below) within the Norwegian R&I system, researchers identified ten associated structural measures.

  1. Increase access to and sharing of R&I data and knowledge

    • Establish a central knowledge and data repository
    • Explore new data-sharing policies
  2. Support the development of a future-proof Norwegian workforce

    • Establish a future skills research centre
    • Make the education system more flexible and incorporate more entrepreneurial and innovation skills in the education system
  3. Support and promote collaborative, research-based and interdisciplinary innovation

    • Promote interdisciplinarity, collaborations and partnerships through funding requirements and specialised calls
    • Strengthen the Centres for Research-based Innovation (SFI) scheme
  4. Support new industry development beyond the oil and gas sector

    • Promote fewer but stronger national industry clusters
  5. Experiment with new types of regulatory practices and approaches

    • Use policy labs to promote collaboration
    • Make increasing use of regulatory sandboxes that promote innovation in different sectors and areas
    • Create a new high-risk research funding body or funding scheme

Extensive findings from this research project are included in a series of nine reports available for download.