ISPM2030 – The seven key pillars

1. Academic Excellence

All the other pillars are built upon this first, key pillar of academic excellence. Academic activities are the nucleus of excellence for ISPM and the foundation of its talent cycle. As an academic institute first and foremost, masters and doctoral students are among the most central members of the organization. In the coming five years we will further consolidate the existing programs by strengthening and as necessary creating new support for:

PhD students

  • Further clarity and detail in job descriptions and expectations for students and supervisors
  • Further involvement of postdoctoral researchers and senior scientists in the supervision of PhD students
  • VISION 2030 meetings organized by and for PhD students. All ISPM PhD students will be expected to give two presentations, one during year 1 and then during year 3.

Postdocs

  • PROMETHEUS group for intermediate career scientists, a space to foster collaboration and development

Teaching activities

  • The internationally recognized winter school program
  • Flagship courses: (i) Egger and Salanti’s on evidence synthesis, (ii) Hofman’s on fundamental concepts of epidemiology, and (iii) Lemeshow and Spycher's on regression
  • A portfolio of courses and facilities that could constitute a master’s program on epidemiology and biostatistics commencing in 2021
  • Alternative PhD programs including a nonresidential program for international students adhering to the requirements of the graduate schools
  • CAS programs, further consolidated and maintained
  • A strategy on further development and utilization of digital means in our teaching activities, in place by 2021

2. Scientific Excellence

One of the great strengths of the Institute is its multidisciplinary expertise. Multiple disciplines work closely together – both within population health sciences and further afield in primary health care, clinical trials, and policy research. This facilitates communication that draws upon complementary expertise to stimulate yet closer interactions and collaborations between principal investigators, creating multidisciplinary theme tiers that cut across the different groups.

2.1 Regarding specific research areas

The overall aim of the Institute in all areas should be the definition, description, maintenance, and recovery of health. Expanding on this, different trajectories of health across the life course can be delineated. Overall, and within specific domains of health given changes in the global population, knowledge gaps, and the effects of globalization and climate change, the following three key research areas will take center stage in the future of the Institute without excluding other areas of research:

  • Ageing and prevention of age-related disorders: with particular emphasis on cancer, and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases
  • Global/planetary health: global differences, inequalities, environmental impact and changes
  • Infectious diseases: e.g. HIV, STDs
  • Child and adolescent specific research

2.2 Scientific research infrastructure

To facilitate interaction, ISPM will maintain its existing research groups, presented in the organigram in Fig. 3, but reconceptualize them in terms of matrix organization incorporating a three-tier horizontal structure (Fig. 2) that cuts across the different work themes.

The three tiers are:

  • Translation and implementation
  • Social diversity in health
  • Advanced methods

This structure aligns with the inherent multidimensionality of health. The three horizontal tiers are aligned to the key aim and mission of ISPM with a strategic implementation of the future. The three tiers could collaborate with the Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) and the Institute of Primary Health Care (BIHAM), which would facilitate and enhance collaboration across the institutes. Interaction between these three centers could also take place in the research groups, thus increasing the potential for synergistic effects. These tiers will be further developed and established during 2019.

Leaders of the research groups, the director of Central Services, the deputy director of ISPM, and the director of ISPM will constitute the Management Team of ISPM.

2.3. Developments initiated in 2018

  • Inventory of activities: besides the availability of rich data in house, there is a gap in data (size and quality) for the study of ageing populations and noncommunicable disorders. New data need to be built or acquired from external sources through collaborations such as those being built with Amsterdam for the  Healthy Life in an Urban Setting” (HELIUS) study, Greifswald for the "Study of Health in Pomerania" (SHIP) study, and Canada for the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Ageing.
  • Concept of Bern Health Study was launched and is currently seeking support (a new life course cohort of 35K residents of the Canton of Bern).
  • Lindenhof Foundation donation for a Professorship of Community Health and Health Services. This will further strengthen the social dimension of ISPM.
  • New group on climate change and health, begun in collaboration with the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research.
  • The new ISPM group focused on cardiometabolic health.
  • Collaborations with Inselspital (neurology, cardiology) and BIHAM were further strengthened.
  • Identification of potential synergies and collaboration with:
    • Center for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern
    • Collaboration with the Swiss Paraplegic Centre
    • Collaboration with Fritz Sager on Policy lab
    • Collaboration with astrophysicists from University of Bern

3. Novel approaches to population health

Populations and technology are changing; prevention and epidemiological methods therefore need to adapt. Existing methodological expertise in research synthesis should be maintained and strengthened, but big data and other digital technologies offer the Institute new means to acquire and utilize novel data in new ways of studying and improving population health. Therefore, the role that e-health plays in the Institute should be increased not only to deliver interventions but also to allow reconsideration of data gathering. ISPM has a great opportunity to develop its role as world leader in this field. Additionally, the application and integration of new technologies such as genomics, epigenomics, microbiomics, and others open a new avenue of complex population data that provides new frontiers for discovery and treatment, and make a pathway for precision prevention, care, and population health.

4. The Institute, a platform for success

Attracting and maintaining top talent in the Institute is the foundation upon which the success of ISPM rests. The ISPM talent cycle described above plays a key role in the present and the future of ISPM. We will strengthen the existing career pathways and offer well defined mentorship programs early in the career of promising scientists to maximize success in fellowship applications and career development opportunities in partnership with the broader public sector. We will create communication spaces in which we listen not only to the research leaders but also to all ISPM personnel and visitors to facilitate networking opportunities and active participation in the strategy and vision of the Institute. The face-to- face meetings that took place during the second half of 2018 are the beginning of these interactions.

5. Social and preventive medicine with a local impact

The creation of a horizontal tier dedicated to translation (Fig. 2) reflects support for all activities aimed at effectively improving the health of local populations. This is fundamental: research findings should not be confined within a publication but be put into practice for the direct benefit of local populations and our clinical colleagues. We will seek further collaboration with the clinical departments of Inselspital and build and expand strong partnerships with the Canton and local health authorities, among whom we already have partners and initiatives. We will strongly support these and expand with the planet as the horizon. Further interfaculty collaborations are being built with the Oeschger Center, CDE, astrophysics, and psychology. Existing collaborations with BIHAM and CTU will be maintained and strengthened further.

6. Enterprise - a means to diversify funding

Enterprise is key to the Institute and its population impact. In addition to the successful fundraising activities that already exist in the Institute targeting national funding and charities, building strong collaborations with foundations, NGOs, and industrial partners is also essential. Swiss RDL could play a key role in facilitating important activities in new areas. For this purpose, the working group for marketing has been established to develop an organized strategy to securing these activities.

7. Work culture

Beyond what we achieve, how we achieve it is key. Our top priority is the well-being of our employees and equality of opportunity for them. We will build upon the existing values of the organization and share and champion five key values to guarantee excellence without sacrificing our well-being. We provide fair access and equal opportunities and advancement for all irrespective of gender, nationality, and sexual or religious orientation. The five values are:

  • Scientific rigor, which entails doing our best, recognizing innovation as the key driver of science, maintaining records, regular internal auditing, and reproducibility
  • Transparency, which allows errors to be identified and discussed openly, and responsibilities and decisions to be clearly communicated while at the same time privacy is protected
  • Respect, which establishes an open culture, celebrates international environments and views differences as assets, protects freedom of expression, and avoids aggression
  • Solidarity, which is constituted of teamwork and collegiality both within and across groups at all levels of ISPM, out of which individuals produce collective interests
  • Equity and diversity, which provide fair access, opportunity, and advancement for all

To assist putting these values into practice, a reproducibility working group will build structures and procedures to ensure reproducibility of scientific work, and a gender equity group has been established.

Social activities are also key, and the social activities committee plays an important role in enhancing success. With members from across levels of the organization, the committee will identify, establish, and organize regular activities to foster the interaction of all members of the Institute with each other.

8. Internationalization, the underlying aspect

Finally, the reach of education and research at the University of Bern is global, and the impact of ISPM should be global in all areas mentioned above. The ISPM internationalization office will pursue national and international partnerships at all levels that include:

  • Local partnerships with Swiss universities, Fachhochschulen, SSPH+, and local authorities
  • European partnerships to facilitate the networking and interactions of members of the Institute in fundraising opportunities within the EU and academic programs
  • Partnerships of excellence, for example with Karolinska, Northwestern, Cambridge, Warwick, and Erasmus University, with an academic goal in mind as well as promotion of scientific excellence and fundraising targeting NIH, EU, etc., and established partnerships with Harvard and the University of Western Ontario
  • Global partnerships that add to existing collaborations in Africa, those being established with Colombia (Javeriana, FUCS, Antioquia, and Magdalena), Dominican Republic, and China, and other new collaborations in Latin America and Asia

Administrative infrastructure

As figure 3 shows, ISPM is a dynamic institute in which its research groups, management board, directorate, and central services make the wheel turn and move forward. Engaging in different areas of the Institute as well as communication and information within the Institute are key to reach and maintain the excellence we are striving for. ISPM is a team to which everybody contributes.

Organigram ISPM
Organigram ISPM (Fig. 3)

Central Services

These services are central to ISPM and play key roles that support all teaching and research activities.

  • Financial services is responsible for the Institute's accounting, drafting budgets for grant proposals, billing, and contracts.
  • Human resources manages all stages of employment from recruitment to leaving the Institute and is the primary contact point for personal matters.
  • Information technology services provides first to third line IT support, and maintains ISPM's own server and firewall system, which is essential in handling confidential data. IT services continually develops new expertise to support the evolving data and analytical requirements of ISPM's scientists.
  • Information services manages literature resources as ISPM's library and conducts expert literature searches, offers teaching and database training, and oversees all publications.
  • Teaching services coordinates and organizes undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, seminars, the winter school, and is actively involved in new CAS and MAS development.
  • Communication services provides editorial services for scientific articles, funding proposals, letters, and presentations, and consults with authors on any writing task and offers writing courses.
  • We will ensure adequate support for these services that are central to ISPM’s work.

This, in principle, is what ISPM2030 is. WE have the expertise and the capacity to make it happen and  WE have available all the human and material resources needed to succeed.

How will this success be measured? Through grants, publications, individual career success, effective collaborations, local impact, and global positioning. And above all, by being happy and proud of being part of an Institute that excels globally through local impact on the health and well-being of populations.