Nordic societal security research boosts cooperation

Director of NordForsk Gunnel Gustafsson opens the conference. Sóley Morthens is Senior Adviser in NordForsk and responsible for the Joint Nordic Societal Security Programme (middle), and to the left, Programme Committee chair Eivind Hovden.

Nordic societal security research boosts cooperation

How do we minimise the risks that threaten our societal security to the greatest extent possible, how do we develop society’s resiliency, and how do we return to a normal state-of-affairs when a man-made or natural disaster nonetheless strikes? These were some of the issues discussed among leading researchers and representatives of Nordic research funding organisations at the conference “New Trends in Societal Security Research in the Nordic Countries”.

The conference “New Trends in Societal Security Research in the Nordic Countries” held 26 –27 November 2014 in Stockholm was organised by NordForsk in conjunction with the Research Programme on Societal Security (SAMRISKII) at the Research Council of Norway, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, the Icelandic Centre for Research – RANNIS, and the Academy of Finland. The conference was an initiative under NordForsk’s Nordic Societal Security Programme, which this summer announced the funding of two Nordic Centres of Excellence: NordSTEVA – Nordic Centre for Security Technologies and Societal Values and NORDRESS – Nordic Centre of Excellence on Resilience and Societal Security.


Relatively new field

Societal security research is a relatively new field that extends across disciplinary boundaries between climate, technical, humanities and social science research, among others, and that encompasses dynamic research groups and centres throughout the Nordic countries. The two new Nordic Centres of Excellence enhance cooperation between the groups, which was the goal of the conference as well. In the words of the chair of the programme committee, Eivind Hovden:Eivind Hovden

“The conference today represents a good opportunity to convene many of the researchers working in the field of societal security. The efforts of research councils, research funders and NordForsk to bring these individuals together help to minimise fragmentation of the field and play a valuable role in promoting further research. We hope that the researchers will get to know each other and each other’s work. The more each of us knows about everyone else’s research, the easier it will be to establish constructive cooperation networks.”


New trends

The first day of the conference focused on the status of the research field in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Swedish Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation Kristina Persson was invited, and she expressed her support for the research programme. The minister sees a need for more research in the field and believes there are enormous benefits in consolidating resources across the Nordic region in order to enhance quality and competitiveness.  

Professor Tom Sorrell inspired the audience with a presentation of his research group’s collaboration with British authorities in areas such as organised crime. He also spoke about how to overcome the differences between the “soft” and “hard” sciences as well as between academics and practitioners in the field. Professor Gudmund Hernes grappled with several overarching perspectives, saying:

Gudmund Hernes“Our greatest challenge in the field today is combining two different perspectives that are driving forces in the security problems we are facing: One of these is massive climate change and how this affects social organisation. The other consists of human-driven problems such as terrorism and the like, and what I call ‘constructive vulnerabilities’ which entails the way we build our society. If we are able to combine these two perspectives, we will achieve many new insights about society within various research areas while we simultaneously generate new knowledge for use in political decision-making.”

Gudrun Petursdottir Gudrun Gislasdottir Peter Burgess

The directors of NORDRESS, Guðrún Gísladóttir and Guðrún Pétursdóttir, presented the centre’s upcoming activities which focus on how to increase society’s resiliency in the face of natural disasters, and Peter Burgess presented NordSTEVA’s political-philosophical research on societal values, security technology and the relationship between these. The second day consisted of workshops on three different themes, which allowed time for in-depth discussion of various issues.


If you see something, say something

if you see somethingThe slogan If you see something, say something was first used in 1993 by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City to heighten the public’s awareness of terrorism and encourage people to report potential attempted terrorist acts to the authorities. Karen Lund Petersen, Deputy Director of the Centre for Advanced Security Theory (CAST) at the University of Copenhagen and a partner in NordSTEVA, used this slogan to convey the essence of the research field. What is under threat in our society? What are the vital functions of our society? We don’t know exactly what the threats are, and this makes it difficult to prepare ourselves to address them, but we must try, regardless of whether this entails natural disasters or planned attacks of various types.

NordForsk asked Karen Lund Petersen about the role that Nordic cooperation plays in her research:

Karen Lund Petersen

“My research has Nordic roots in that my group at CAST has always conducted research in the area of societal security, and other groups in the Nordic countries such as PRIO have done so as well, so it is completely natural for us to work together. The countries of the Nordic region share a common identity and common values in many areas, and thus some common challenges related to societal security as well. It is easy for us to relate to each other and make comparisons. Quite simply, our cooperation in NordSTEVA has emerged from scientific relationships.”

Kenneth Pettersen, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Stavanger, summed up the main conference points and concluded, among other things, that the fundamental challenge of defining what the threats are to our society will require long-term investments and that solutions will have to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. He also noted that relations between research and the field of practice require trust and understanding of the goals and roles and that increased cooperation across countries and subject areas enhances the quality of the insights we have and create.

Following the conclusion of the conference, Dr Hovden expressed his appreciation for the exchange of experiences, and stated:

“I was impressed by Tom Sorell’s moral-philosophical activities, because what we usually expect is that the softer the science, the farther away it is from having an applied framework; the soft sciences are in general perceived as being the least instrumental sciences. And then here comes Sorell, who is working with political philosophy with enormously complex ethical and legal problems and is in direct contact with the British authorities about specific problems. It can’t get any more concrete than that. It was very inspiring. And it was worthwhile overall to get an overview of the status in the Nordic countries and hear the thoughts and ideas of so many talented researchers. The Nordic Societal Security Programme is definitely on the right track.

Tom Sorell


Conference programme


The conference presentations are available from NordForsk’s profile on SlideShare



Text: Linn Hoff Jensen

Photos: Terje Heiestad/NordForsk

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