Society needs to understand before it can anticipate and act.
Two concerns have come forward in the current context of global change marked by the rise of the industrial society and the unprecedented increase in global population:
- adopting a responsible and coherent attitude in relation to the environment;
- better protection against natural or man-made risks.
The social and environmental consequences of global change and the response to these two concerns have generated new challenges to economic development and to resource and environmental management at regional levels, challenges that public policy must take into account. Policy makers and economic and social agents are therefore driven to have a better understanding of the developments and mechanisms in play in order to better implement adapted and innovative solutions. For this, they need to have access to scientific knowledge and operational results.
The developments and mechanisms are complex: understanding of the phenomena that characterise them and then drafting the resulting scientific questions requires research that is up to the task of rallying a wide spectrum of disciplines and scientific and technological expertise. However, although there are over 20,000 researchers involved, environmental research in France is too disparate. It is important to coordinate the research and provide better structure, to give it weight and readability at national as well as European and international levels. This is the role of the national alliance for environmental research, AllEnvi. Irstea, along with its partners, is entirely committed to consolidating this alliance.
Irstea defines itself and sets itself apart by the way in which it co-constructs research aims with the public and private partners who carry society's challenges.
The institute follows an integrative approach of research permanently linked to high level expertise.
As a founding member of the AllEnvi national alliance for environmental research, the National Institute for Environmental and Agricultural Science and Technology Research (Irstea) conducts its research programs in collaboration with the other research organisations, universities, regional higher education and research centres, competitive clusters and European networks (PEER, Euraqua, Alternet, etc.)
It has managed to weave solid partner relationships with numerous companies, SMEs or large industrial groups, as well as with regional collectives and State services, resulting in being awarded the "Institut Carnot" label since 2006.
The National Institute for Environmental and Agricultural Science and Technology Research (Irstea) uniquely links researchers and engineers in one scientific approach integrating:
- multiple disciplines: biophysical sciences, computer science, applied mathematics and economic, human and social sciences;
- laboratory or field experiments, on site measurements, theoretical models, technological research and the creation of evaluation models.
Research carried out by the Institute is focused on action and its aims are regionally targeted. This allows it to create expert teams able to clarify decision-making for public bodies.
Irstea aims to become a European leader in environmental research and the scientific reference to support public policy.
At the same time, by defining itself as a national research body that supports public policy, Irstea aims to extend its targeted research model by also making it available to European policy makers.
As an expression of this dual ambition, the Institute’s strategy is built around three scientific challenges associated with major societal issues. Improving or restoring environmental quality involves combining methods and technologies to understand and to act. Regional development and management must be supported by multi-sectorial approaches that primarily integrate water and land issues. Finally, dealing with natural risks calls for an extended approach that combines knowledge of the hazards with environmental system viability studies.
The very nature of the institute’s projects imposes the need to achieve and maintain a preeminent level of quality in research. The proof of this lies in the qualifications held by our researchers, our scientific output recognised for its growing presence in the best international journals or in our success at calls for tenders and long-term partnerships with the sharpest teams.
This value applies equally to the institute’s activities as experts and as a support for public bodies, in relation to public as well as private agents, in order to contribute to the emergence of improved responses to complex problems under optimal conditions.
Obtaining hitherto unachievable results is a tangible sign of surpassing oneself. This means looking to push personal limits without allowing ambition to be restricted by apparently intangible constraints. Arising from individual attitudes of participation and giving the best of one’s ability, within Irstea this value is understood as a collective value.
It takes root in the multidisciplinary culture and contribution to social utility that the Institute has developed since its creation. It reminds us that a group of individuals is more intelligent, more creative, more daring, and more efficient than a single person, no matter how excellent they may be. It invites us to expand our field of vision to imagine innovative solutions. The major challenges highlighted in our 2020 strategy follow its strengths.
By listening to the needs of our partners, we help make their requests explicit and are able to formulate appropriate responses within the imposed deadlines for all our activities: research, studies, assessments, etc.
This ability is enhanced by the Institute’s general ability to anticipate, our teams’ ability to mobilise rapidly and our organisational structure, with short decision-making procedures.
Objectivity and the independence of experts
As experts, we are called upon to observe environmental questions with all possible scientific rigour to produce information and recommendations that are as objective as possible. This requires an overall examination of the issues and procedures being studied while looking for all the supporting evidence to back up our assertions through observation, experience and an understanding of the state of the art. It also means we do not adopt specific interests or points of view, even if they are held by the project sponsor.
Independence also rests on a principle of transparency, which applies to data used, methods followed, procedures implemented and any possible scientific controversy that the subject may cause.
Any experts we call upon must disclose any possible links they may have to interests affected by their expertise which could compromise their neutrality; this disclosure affects whether or not they are selected. As an Institute, we undertake not to create any pressure that may affect their response.
The research that we undertake draws its aims from the societal questions it is trying to clarify. Whether the Institute is trying to help define public policy for Europe, the State or communities, or is involved in developing industrial products and procedures with private partners, the ultimate aim is always to improve the relationship between society and its environment, to ensure ecosystems operate smoothly and to grow public benefits, for the good of mankind and generations to come.