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Published: 2020-11-06

Three questions to CBRNE Center Director Per-Erik Johansson

NEWS The daily activities at the European CBRNE Center have, like for many others, been effected by the ongoing pandemic. But what are the biggest challenges, and will something positive eventually come out of the current situation?

Text: Åsa Burlin, Lisa Hermansson

How have the center’s daily operations been affected by the current pandemic?

"Looking at our projects, which is our main activity, they all suffer delays. In some cases we plan for a 12 month extension, in others 9 or as little as 2 months. The main reason being that field exercises and other activities that can’t be done virtually has been postponed with the hopes of being able to conduct them next year, or as soon as possible. But more time doesn’t mean more money, and our resources are being stretched. So we have to be extra active and forward thinking regarding applications and planning for future projects."

How is your work and your role as supervisor affected?

"Like everyone else, I’ve had to adjust to online meetings and digital solutions for conferences and other events which are usually held at a physical location. There are advantages, meetings can be held back to back and there is no travel time. But the time for summary and reflection, which I think is a natural side effect of physically attending meetings, is lost. I find that some people are harder to connect with during remote working, and that it is significantly more difficult to establish new connections through digital platforms. When it comes to the situation at the center and our co-workers, it is my impression that it is working well. I also think it helps that we are such a small group. And we have experience working in a coordinating role and being flexible. We are used to accepting changes made by outside factors and adjust to current conditions." 

How do you think future work and calls for proposals will be affected by the current situation? 

"I’m thinking something positive should be able to come out of this. I hope we eventually get to a place where we can have more physical meetings, and where each meeting can be held in a format that is most suitable. There are meetings, for example during the application process or the startup of a project, where meeting in person is very valuable. Follow-up meetings, on the other hand, usually work just fine digitally, which saves time and resources. When it comes to upcoming calls for proposals, everything is still very much up in the air. We are entering a new framework programme, Horizon Europe, through the EU Commission. But as of right now there is no information or decision regarding what that will look like or when calls may be posted."  

"I think we have learned a lot, and continue to learn, about digital alternatives for meetings and ways to work. There is plenty of potential there, but challenges as well. As an example, I find that virtual discussions usually become more productive in smaller groups. But the more spontaneous discussions, which usually take place during coffee breaks, and where ideas can be raised more casually, are hard to create in an online setting. I don’t see how the digital meeting could ever fully replace the real thing." 

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