Research Grant Program 2016
Comments by Selection Committee Chair
Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology
The Toyota Foundation’s Research Grant Program, based on the theme “Exploring New Values for Society,” aims to select and support pioneering research projects.
Modern society seems to be at a turning point. The twentieth century saw the “end of ideology” in which opposition, strife, and wars founded in differing ideologies gave way to deepening turmoil rooted in national and religious differences. And now, in the new century, it seems that the values of freedom, equality, and diversity are in retreat. The ways in which states and individuals are embracing egoism bears a close resemblance to the way the advanced civilization of ancient Greece plunged into a period of civil strife.
At a time when “mob rule” threated the foundations of Grecian democracy, Socrates raised the question of what it meant to be absolutely good and just, ultimately meeting his death because of his fiercely inquisitive spirit. His disciple Plato followed in his footsteps by pondering the value of Socratic questioning and the Socratic method.
To explore new values for society, we must earnestly strive to decipher and confront the core issues of the changing age in which we live and seek answers to those issues. Much like the developments derived through the questioning and answering of the Socratic method, it is necessary to develop focused debate for exploring new values for society and uncovering ways to address critical issues.
Selection Committee members for Research Grant Program in this fiscal year discussed in length the need for focusing on methods. Our impression was that even though many of the proposed projects presented a firm understanding of the program objectives, these failed to provide new strategies in research methodology.
Forging a new methodology is understandably a challenging undertaking and can make it difficult to forecast research results. However, Selection Committee members endeavored to evaluate projects in terms of the methodologies they applied in seeking to create new values, believing that fresh approaches can bring about new knowledge of current issues.
Selection Committee members possess broad perspectives along with unique outlooks, and in evaluating projects we gave weight to the points each committee member raised rather than simply making decisions in line with a priori criteria. In other words, we selected projects that had a captivating quality over those that looked good on paper even if there was a risk that the results could fall short.
Selection Committee members concurred that many of the proposals received this fiscal year for the individual research grants were interesting in terms of the perspective outlined above. Proposals for joint research grants tend to strike a balance among the varying interests of project members, and it is important for the representative to exercise leadership so that highly original ideas can emerge. The Toyota Foundation takes a proactive approach to supporting young researchers, but we also expect joint research projects that involve veteran researchers to present lively, fresh outlooks.
Projects for this year’s Research Grant Program were broadly divided into the following nine categories: “Community Development, Heritage Preservation”, “Family and Society”, “Dialogue and Participation”, “Elderly Welfare, Disparities/Redistribution”, “Medical/Health Care”, “International Migration”, “Peace-building, Reconciliation, Symbiosis”, “Human and Nature, Environment/Landscape Conservation”, and “Science/Information Technology and Society”. Below are two examples of projects that were praised by many members of the Selection Committee.
(A) Joint Research Grants
YUI Hideki (Senior Researcher, Kinugasa Research Organization, Ritsumeikan University)
“A Historical Study on the Construction of a Standardized Image in Maternal and Child Health”
This project looks at the standardized mother-child image in the field of maternal and child health, which is an important area of study in Japan for devising policies to address the falling birthrate. The project undertakes the difficult task of critically summarizing the state of maternal and child health up to now and clarifying historically how the standardized mother-child image came to be formed. This ambitious joint research project, which centers on young researchers, can be expected to generate important results in terms of fundamental research that compare future policies to address the falling birthrate from a historical perspective.
(B) Individual Research Grants
TSUCHIYA Kazuaki (Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Tokyo)
“Why Protect Nature? Understanding Social-ecological Processes of Relational Values”
This ambitious research project aims to illustrate an evaluative mechanism for understanding perceptions of relational values that arise from human interaction in the immediate natural environment. The project’s incorporation of this innovative perspective is expected to generate highly applicable knowledge through combining surveys and the analysis of satellite images to arrive at quantitative findings.