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Published: 26 Feb, 2021

With an ambition to influence policy

PROFILE Sofia Lundberg, Professor of economics, combines research on public procurement with the task of leading the Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics (USBE).

Text: Elin Andersson

Beside being a new professor of economics, Sofia Lundberg is also rector and head of the Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics. She has also had, and still has, a number of roles and assignments outside of academia. For instance, she is member of the Board of Handelsbanken Umeå, member of the Board of Trustees for the Center for Business and Policy Studies (SNS), and she was previously chairperson of Umeå IK football club.

The university offered me the opportunity to work with interesting and meaningful topics together with people I enjoy working with.

“I’m a curious person at heart, and taking on new challenges comes naturally. After my PhD, it wasn’t obvious whether I should choose an academic career or not. I was actually faced with a rather pleasant dilemma. I received funding for my research and had an opportunity to leave academia for research related positions at other authorities. For several good reasons, my final decision landed on academia. The university offered me the opportunity to work with interesting and meaningful topics together with people I enjoy working with. For as long as I’m allowed to work under those conditions, I have no desire to leave. Ever since my decision, my aspiration has been to work here and I have indeed stayed – even if my work in later years has rather revolved around leading the USBE than conducting research and teaching.”

Scrutinising ‘green’ procurement

In her research, Sofia Lundberg has studied how markets work and, for instance, how competition affects a market. She has examined public procurement and how it can be used as an instrument of environmental policy.

“In the EU, the public sector annually procures goods and services equivalent to approximately 16 per cent of the gross national product. Hence, it is commonly thought that this sector – through its market power – can affect producers and consumers in a more sustainable direction. Both internationally and nationally, ‘green’ public procurements are regarded as an efficient policy instrument for the environment. Nevertheless, there is no scientific evidence to say that these are effective means to contribute to environmental challenges. The need for a better understanding is huge, and through our research, I hope that my colleagues and I can provide guidance regarding environmentally-friendly public procurement as an environmental policy instrument.”

‘Green’ public procurements are regarded as an efficient policy instrument for the environment. Nevertheless, there is no scientific evidence to say that these are effective means to contribute to environmental challenges.

Finding new ways of reaching decision-makers

Collaboration has become a natural part of Sofia Lundberg’s work. She has been hired as an economic expert in the Administrative Court of Appeal and is a member of the Research Council at the Swedish Competition Authority. Her research questions often derive from dialogue with decision makers and practitioners in procurement, and for that reason, she has an ambition for research findings to be of policy relevance. What methods to use to reach decision-makers is something Sofia Lundberg has learnt over time and still ponders over. According to her, it is a process that rarely follows the beaten track.

“Over the years, I have become more aware of which international journals EU decision-makers read. This has become one of several factors that we take into account when choosing what journal we will try to get published in. In my experience, one thing often leads to another. Commissions of trust and invitations to talk at various conferences can open up for opportunities to reach out with research findings that may be of policy relevance. In our case, this has concerned research on supplier selection models in public procurement. We also have experience of when our research is politically inconvenient and it’s frustrating when research is reduced to opinions and views that can be neglected without any requirements of counterevidence.”

A good research leader is curious, driven, inclusive, a team player and open to trying new ways.

As the Dean of the Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics, Sofia Lundberg is already involved in research strategy. As a professor, another responsibility can be added – as a research leader.

“Beside being proficient in the own subject, a good research leader is curious, driven, inclusive, a team player and open to trying new ways. I like working together with others and also think it’s an advantage to research. You can see such collaborations as opportunities to complement each other – both across and within fields. I also usually think that if I focus on doing the best I can, it will lead to good things. What those are, only time can tell. For now, one good thing is to get the chance to lead the Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics.”