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Research roles

As an organisation, SGI is somewhere between a private company and a university, and is probably responsible for

50% of geotechnical research in Sweden, says SGI director general Hjalmar Stromberg.

As a state institute, its funding is largely determined by Swedish state policy on infrastructure, and in this capacity it has two main given tasks. One is to support the socio-economic development of the country by identifying viable and cost effective techniques for safe management of Sweden's geohazards and construction of its infrastructure and foundations. The other is to collect international knowledge and distribute it among Sweden's geotechnical industry.

SGI operates with 80 people, 50 of whom are geotechnical, with its main office in Linkoping - a two hour high-speed train journey south west of Stockholm - together with smaller offices in Gothenburg and Malmo. In the near future there is a plan to open a further regional office in northern Sweden to meet demand for a local base.

SGI was founded in 1944 from established geotechnical groups within the state railways and civil engineering administration core.

Annual turnover is now around SEK60M (5M), which is made up approximately equally in thirds by government initiatives, research and development income, most of which is state funded, and consulting.

Like other government organisations emphasis in recent years has moved towards measuring value and evaluating risk, which has raised a number of philosophical questions about SGI's role.

'We are well known among specialists, but less well known among the public,' says Bo Berggren, who has recently joined to SGI to head up a new risk assessment section. 'We may be able to run beautiful research projects, but if we can't explain the significance of

the results outside our group of specialists then it is useless.'

This means that geotechnical organisations need to think carefully about public perceptions of engineering science. 'We need to appreciate that the impact within society of 400 accidents with one fatality in each, is not as great a one accident with 400 fatalities,'

says Berggren.

A geotechnical analogy to this is that landslides make newspaper headlines, but a greater cost to Sweden's society comes from long term creep movements in the country's young and soft soils. Many small structures, including houses, are not piled and will in time settle beyond a serviceable state. It is not a question of if, but when.

Whereas landslide management may be an issue to the public, creep damage is certainly not. Creep as an engineering phenomena is acceptable to society - and it is therefore difficult to raise awareness of the problem or find the political and financial support to tackle it scientifically - but it is nevertheless a catastrophe to individuals.

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