The University of Oslo has established a new interdisciplinary initiative on democracy that aims to be an “active and relevant contributor” to the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
The new programme will explore five research tracks: democracy as a form of governance and the institutions of democracy; citizens, diversity and inequality; the role and function of knowledge; democracy and crisis management; and democracy in everyday life.
The initiative is a continuation of the extensive multidisciplinary collaborative research programme known as UiO:Nordic 2015-22, which quickly became the largest established programme of research on the Nordic region in the world.
In the Spring of 2021, UiO:Nordic involved 288 scientists in 11 countries, with 177 based in Oslo where 31 different research groups were represented. The initiative generated more than NOK100 million (US$10 million) in external funding and had a basic investment from the university of NOK80 million for the period 2015-22 and generated more than 1,000 scientific publications.
UiO also had a strong presence in the six-Nordic university consortium ReNEW (Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World) funded by joint Nordic research funding organisation NORDFORSK and coordinated by the University of Helsinki.
Complex societal challenges
Professor of English literature Tore Rem, the director of UiO:Nordic, is now set to become the research director for UiO:Democracy.
Rem described the initiative as “a cross-scientific stake anchored in the humanities and the social sciences but open towards the natural sciences and other academic fields.
“So complex societal challenges like growth of autocracy and other threats against democracy we now see are forcing us to find each other in cross-scientific constellations.”
According to the programme proposal prepared for a University of Oslo Senate meeting on 17 June 2022, UiO:Democracy aims, not only to push the research front forward, but to “contribute towards strengthening and re-creating democratic culture and praxis”.
UiO:Democracy is connected to another strategic priority for 2030: sustainability in terms of which democracy and its institutions are seen as being critical to realising the UN SDGs and making human societies more sustainable.
Of particular relevance to the initiative is SDG Goal 16: to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Sub-goal 16.3 specifically relates to promotion of the rule of law, while 16.5 calls for a reduction in corruption and bribery. Sub-goal 16.6 refers to the development of “effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels, while 16.7 explicitly calls for “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making”.