Interview With Andreas Edel, Executive Secretary, Population Europe

(October 2010) Population Europe is a new collaborative network of Europe’s leading demographic research institutes and centers that works to enhance  research on policy-relevant population issues; and compile, distill, translate, disseminate, and exchange reliable, authoritative facts, data, and findings on population in a readily accessible and unbiased, nonpartisan manner. The goal is to mobilize Europe’s best demographic researchers to coordinate and strengthen collaborative research efforts and to contribute reliable facts and findings to public discussions of population issues. 

PRB president Bill Butz sat down with Population Europe executive secretary Andreas Edel during the European Population Conference in Austria, Vienna in September 2010 to discuss Population Europe’s work, how to communicate to varied audiences, and PRB’s affiliation with the organization.

Where did Population Europe come from and what is it about?

Thank you, Bill, for giving me the opportunity to introduce our new initiative to your audience. Population Europe is a collaborative network of Europe’s leading demographic research institutes. We have been established in the summer of 2009, so we are quite young. What is it about? Well, you know, the European Union with currently 27 member states provides a great richness through its diversity, and it is somehow an ideal laboratory to study demographic change. There are countries with different fertility rates, levels of mortality and aging, and migration patterns. It’s quite exciting to compare those in order to learn more about demographic processes constituting population dynamics. All partner institutes in our network do fascinating research. Population Europe was founded on the one hand to pursue collaborative research projects; on the other hand, to disseminate reliable demographic information to the public. All these centers are very strong in certain fields, and combining this expertise, we aim at creating a significant pool of knowledge.

Can you give us an idea—I know you can’t name all of the centers—but give us an idea of the kind of research centers that are involved?

Currently, 24 institutions take part in the network, a 25th one is very likely to join us soon. Our partners are research institutes, but we collaborate intensively with public institutions and NGOs dealing with population issues. So our partnership is built on very different experiences which we highly value. 

So what will Population Europe add to scentific research? How will you be using that research?

On the one hand, you can cover a much broader range of topics if you bring together the leading European population centers in a network. Of course, all these institutes have already been collaborating in various research projects, but the network can help to strengthen these and establish new ones. An additional advantage of Population Europe is to help disseminating reliable information on population developments throughout Europe, such as organizing scientific events, maintaining a website, publishing policy briefs and newsletters, and the like.

And I must say that this is one of the reasons that PRB is so excited, and me personally about this initiative, and PRB is honored to be an affiliate of Population Europe. As you describe this part of your function, of course, it’s very similar to what we do and we will be able to learn from you and hopefully you from us.

Absolutely! We are extremely happy that PRB joined us as a collaboration partner so that we can exchange information with you and learn from the pioneer work you have been doing in the United States. Indeed, our institutions are both sailing the same waters.

I hope so, yes!

I think we can really learn a lot from PRB, especially how to address policy issues and how to make complicated demographic issues, numbers and calculations accessible and understandable for the policy audience.

But when you think of different audiences, I’m curious if you have priorities among them. There are parliamentarians, there’s the media, there’s perhaps direct communication through your website to civil society. Do you have priorities here or are you going to try to do all of this?

We intend to address various audiences—policymakers, journalists, students, as well as the wider public. We are particularly interested in bringing together scientists with those decisionmakers designing and influencing policies. Here is an example how we try to do that: We are about to establish a public debate series throughout Europe, our so-called Population Europe Events. These start with a closed meeting involving eminent scholars and important politicians. It is a format where they can exchange in a confidential and constructive atmosphere in order to discuss demographic issues and related policies “off the record,” if you like. The closed meeting is followed by a press conference and then a public event. The findings of these events will be published as policy briefs which are distributed through various channels, including our website.

And you have one of those coming up…

Yes, we are right in the hot run-up phase to our first Population Europe Event on the 13th of October in Brussels at the Belgian Royal Academy. There are two events scheduled for each year, one in spring and one in fall, and they will lead us not only to Brussels, but also to cities like Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw.

Are there particular challenges you see? Perhaps working with the different institutes who already have their own modes of working together? Or taking an EU versus an individual country perspective? Maybe the languages? Are there challenges here?

Our partnership is formed by people who have successfully collaborated for years, such as in the consortia of various doctoral schools or of extremely successful projects, such as the Gender and Generation Program. They know each other, they trust in each other, and this is a very good base for our endeavor. I therefore see this not as a challenge but as an opportunity. At the Population Europe Secretariat in Berlin, we see our role as facilitators, who can help the partners to extend existing collaborations and develop new ones. On the other hand, there certainly are challenges. Even though we are a young network, we are already quite big. Our aim is to help as many partners with as many projects as possible, and this needs a lot of coordination. With our Council of Advisors, we are currently developing a framework in which over 100 leading population experts can develop and organize ideas for new projects. This body also helps us to make sure that our outreach products are of the highest standard possible.

Well as I meet and get to know the various people who are at the different institutes it’s very clear that the spirit of cooperation is very high and has been and that you will not have the challenge of creating that. You’ll be able to use it and build on it in this new institution. Well, Andreas, it’s been a pleasure talking with you, my colleagues and I in the states and at PRB in particular we wish to and stand ready to help you and to learn from you.

Thank you, Bill, the pleasure really is on my and my team’s side I am very much looking forward to our collaboration.