On 2 September, Agi Csonka walked through the doors at SFI for her first day at work as the Centre's new managing director. She has returned to where she first cut her teeth as a researcher, and, as she says herself, where she shaped her approach to knowledge production and research. She had not a moment's doubt about applying for the position when she saw that Jørgen Søndergaard, the previous managing director, was to retire.
"For me, SFI represents a sort of synergy between everything I have done during my career so far - and everything I'm passionate about. As the managing director at SFI, I'll be able to use all the tools I've acquired over the years; my research background, my management experience from both the public and private sectors, and my experience in client-based enterprises," said Ms Csonka, who joins SFI after six years as the executive director at the Danish Evaluation Institute, which evaluates and analyses schools, education programmes and daycare facilities.
She is well aware that the SFI she is returning to is very different from the Centre she worked at as a researcher more than 14 years ago. Since then, SFI has developed significantly, and she too has worked on many different types of knowledge production and observed research from many different angles.
Dilemma in applied research
Ms Csonka is also very clear about the direction in which she sees SFI moving in the future. SFI must primarily supply applied research, i.e. research which looks at pivotal social challenges and empirically uncovers patterns, practices and behaviour. But it's not that easy, she explained,
"There is something of a dilemma in the expression applied research, and Jørgen (Søndergaard, ed.) also had much focus on this issue. Of course you can supply research which meets international standards. But in fact, these international standards for good research don't actually cover whether research should be application-oriented or relevant for society. So in the research world you're not specifically rewarded for real applied research. That said, society expects that research from SFI contributes to development of the welfare society. This means there are two different benchmarks for success, and SFI has to live up to both at the same time," said Ms Csonka.
2013-: Managing Director, SFI
2007-2013: Executive Director, Danish Evaluation Institute
2003-2007: Head of Section, Head of Department, TDC
2000-2003: Chief Consultant, Manager, Business Manager, Rambøll Management
1993-2000: Researcher, SFI
1989-1993: Education and Training Consultant, National Labour Market Authority
1987-1989: Research Assistant, Nordic Council of Ministers
Common agenda for applicability
Making SFI research useful in practice is very important for the new managing director. If knowledge is to be useful, we have to agree on what it is actually to be used for. Therefore, Ms Csonka is encouraging open dialogue with social and welfare communities outside of the research offices:
"I want to work with our most important stakeholders to get an idea of the big strategic picture for the various welfare areas. If we can do this together, SFI will be better at posing research questions which really benefit our stakeholders. It's vital that we listen to and talk to everyone with an interest in delivering welfare services;" she stressed.
In many ways, following Jørgen Søndergaard, after his 18 years as the managing director of SFI, will be something of a challenge for Ms Csonka. However, she has a clear perception of where SFI is to go, and this was one of the main reasons behind the SFI Executive Board's choice:
"We believe that we have found someone who can develop the specialist skills at SFI and set the Centre on the right course," said Peter Nannestad, chairman of the Executive Board at SFI. As mentioned, Agi Csonka took up the reins at SFI on 2 September.