Tag Archives: innovation

Smart cities or resilient cities. Does it make any difference?

Resilient city

Worldwide 55 percent of all people is living in cities. They cover 4 percent of the landsurface, use 67 percent of all energy that is produced and are responsible for 70 percent of the emission of greenhouse gasses. Cities are not only the most important economic centres of the world, their political power is also increasing. Observers believe that growing sustainability will result in the first place from policies issued by the world’s largest cities instead of by national governments.

In order to express their intentions, many cities showcase themselves with adjectives such as ‘smart’, resilient’, sustainable’, ‘sharing’ and the like. These predicates refer to results that already have been accomplished, however small, but they express their mission for the future in the first place.

An inventory of current literature (1) resulted in more then 30 definitions of smart city. Most cited (348 times) is the definition of Caragliu (2009): ‘We believe a city to be smart when investments in human and social capital and and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance.’

Rotterdam

The first appearance of the concept resilience in connection with urban policy dates back to  2002. However, only in 2012 the frequency of searches in Google for resilient city started to boom.

In contrast with smart city, the number of definitions of resilient city is limited. Cities who call themselves resilient, like Rotterdam and The Hague in The Netherlands, claim to build capacity within individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

Chronic stresses weaken the fabric of a city on a daily or cyclical basis. Examples include: high unemployment, overcrowded or inefficient public transportation systems, endemic violence and chronic food and water shortages. Acute shocks are sudden, sharp events that threaten a city. Examples include earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks.

The concepts smart and resilient city have different roots. Large technology companies, like Cisco, IBM, Siemens, Philips started promoting to become a smart city expert ten years ago during the economic crisis as part of their strategy to find new markers and to attract new customers.

The use of the concept resilient city is promoted by international organizations and associations of cities in order to improve city’s capabilities to deal with hazards like the hurricanes Katarina in the New Orleans region (2005) and Sandy along the eastcoast of North America (2012).

As evidenced in the definition mentioned above, the concept hazard has been broadened to include external pressures in general, varying from climate change and environmental degradation to poverty and traffic congestion.

The concept smart city has also evolved. In another article I made a distinction between smart city 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. These descriptions mark the evolution from the mere accentuation of the deployment of ICT as a key tool to fuel economic growth and competitiveness, to a multi-objective and participatory strategy capable to tackle problems of environmental deterioration, social equity and inclusion and building social capital. 

The Resilient City Movement has been boosted in 2014 when the Rockefeller Foundation invested $100 million in the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge. Partly because its institutionalization, the policies of the cities partnering in the 100 Resilient City Challenge have more in common than those of the self appointed smart cities. The so-called City Resilience Framework, plays a key role in each of the participating city’s strategy.

The city Resilience framework

Based upon this framework, an index has been developed. Cities can calculate an indicator of their resilience with respect to the topics mentioned above and subsequently develop a strategy to improve weak points. The result of the analysis made in Rotterdam is indicated below. At this time 30 cities have published strategy reports to increase their resilience in the next decade. Among them are Rotterdam and Athens, a city that came with a brilliantly elaborated action report. A brand new report, Cities taking Action, written on occasion of the World Summit in July 2017, offers an anthology of what has been reached during the recent past within a selection of the 100 participating cities.

An analysis of definitions of smart and resilient cities and of characteristics attributed to each of these concepts is revealing a very broad overlap as is demonstrated in the box below.

As a consequence, some publications consider resilience as a characteristic of smart cities. Others believe that resilience will replace smart. I am not in favor of the assimilation of one of these terms by the other. Both concept have there own roots and are on their way to become meaningful for citizens. Therefore, they better can be treated as comparable, as is understood well by one of the platforms. Otherwise, the City Resilience Framework is an extremely useful policy making tool for smart cities because of its high level of elaboration.

Taking into account the convergence of definitions, both smart and resilient cities are building capabilities to deal with and prevent chronic stress and acute shocks, deploying a broad range of technologies. They enable individuals, communities, institutions and businesses to participate in the definition and execution of policies. They invest in the growth of human and social capital by education, meaningful work, communing, and sharing, and including all of its citizens to live in a decent way.

This is the 5th episode in a series of 6 articles about smart cities and the like. This article has already been publicised in the Smart City Hub

 

[1] Resilient cities: A systematic approach for developing cross-sectoral strategies in the face of climate change: Rocco Papa. Adrina Galderisi, Maria Christina Vigo Majello, Erica Saretta. in: TeMA Journal of Land Use Mobility and Environment 1 (2015)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Innovation, Smart city

How Google connects with the smart city movement

Whatever we do, we know the world doesn’t need another plan that falls into the same trap as previous ones: treating the city as a high-tech island rather than a place that reflects the personality of its local population’.
These words are from Daniel Doctoroff. In 2016 Larry Page (Google) invited him to be chairman/CEO of a new Alphabet enterprise, Sidewalks Labs. This company aims contributing to the transformation of urban environments through technologies that can drive efficiency, raise accountability, and foster a deeper sense of community. In others words, connecting Google’s expertise to the Smart City movement.
 

Choosing Doctoroff as obvious. He was deputy mayor for city development in the Bloomberg administration. He is deeply concerned with the problems of American cities and at the same time he believes in the power of science and technology to solve them. In his view the Fourth Technological Revolution will integrate five core technologies:

  • ubiquitous connectivism
  • sensing
  • social networks
  • computer power
  • robotics.

Deployed together, these technologies will significantly decrease mobility costs for citizens and for the community at large as well, personalize services and improve safety.

Technologists and urbanists

The ultimate aim is improving the quality of life in cities and not the deployment of technology as such. Therefore Doctoroff carefully staffed Sidewalks Labs with technologists and urbanists. In his words, the first group is in general insensitive to the complexities of cities. The second group does not understand technology: Protecting the social fabric of cities comes first. Both groups talk different languages and do not communicate. Doctoroff believes that their successful collaboration can make the difference between Sidewalk Labs and technology-driven Smart City initiatives. 

Shortening decision making

It is too early to judge whether Sidewalk Labs will fulfill these promises. The published research so far (a couple of titles is shown in this article) shows a great deal of involvement in the problems of the American cities, like the crumbling infrastructure, the lack of accessible health care, and the unaffordability of housing. The modeling of these problems, taking into account realistic population data, enables fast simulations of the impact of solutions and thus shortening of length of the decision making process. This research has revealed ingenious redesign of the public transport network, new models of integrated heath care and proposals that might significantly lower construction costs.

The implementation of solutions

Labs does not limit itself to figuring out solutions; the company is also taking care of their implementation by creating start-ups. For instance, Flow is mapping traffic and (public) transport pattern to optimize networks and thus meaningfully increasing mobility. Link NYC is replacing the 7000 payphones with super-fast free Wi-Fi hubs, paid by advertising on the large hub displays.

In its health care research Sidewalk Labs made clear that most medical problems have social and environmental roots, for instance bad food habits and air pollution. At the same time health care in the US is more expensive than in any other OECD country and its quality, accessibility in particular, is unsatisfying. When it comes to solutions, Sidewalk Labs is focusing on e-health, for instance monitoring patients and consulting physicians at distance.

Mismatch between definition of problems and that of solutions?

At  this point I became aware of a growing feeling of discomfort with the strategy of Sidewalk Labs. 
Labs is brilliant in the realm of defining and modeling problems, freed from any reductionist bias. However, its search for solutions is technology-focused, for instance apps that offer real time affordable solutions for renting apartments or apps that shows vacant parking lots. Not to mention the free Wi-Fi facilities in New York. Flaws in the Smart City approach result partly from a technological bias in the definition of problems. Sidewalk Labs definitely cannot be blamed in this respect. But it fails to integrate technical and non-technical approaches in the the solution of problems. Exactly this is corresponding with distinction between Smart City 2.0 and Smart City 3.0 that I made recently.

I assume that the focus on technological solutions in inherent in Sidewalks Lab’s connection with Alphabet. The ultimate ambition of Sidewalks Labs is to reimagine cities from the Internet up. That is why Alphabet has created the company. In the end, Sidewalks Labs’ mission is paving the way for new services to develop or to deliver by Google.
However, cities, their administrators and inhabitants are yearning comprehensive solutions for their problems. These solutions demand an integrated approach deploying high-tech, low-tech and also no-tech solutions. Here Sidewalks Labs falls short, in spite of Daniel Doctoroff inspiring citation above. Probably ongoing discussion between the technologists and the urbanists will enable this integration in the end.

This is the 4th episode in a series of 6 posts dealing with the ambiguities in smart city development. They were published earlier in smart city hub

Leave a comment

Filed under Innovation, Smart city

Agility and the future of universities

Higher education is the subject of sustained criticism. 81% of US employers are referring at a skills gap[1] and 51% believe that graduates are underprepared for the labour market[2]. Young teachers in particular complain being overburdened and underpaid. Students are contesting growing performativity, alleged commodification and subsequent rigidity of the curriculum, lack employment and in the US towering debts.screenshot-5At first sight, students’ and employers’ interests are opposed. The recent Reimagining Education Conference at Wharton University revealed quite a different perspective[3]. According to Santiago Inigues, dean of IE Business School (Madrid), most employers mention specific skills (coding, accounting, marketing, language) but in the first place they prefer broad education (‘Bilding’), including critical thinking and problem solving skills, ability to communicate, to work in groups, to handle conflicts and language proficiency. Employers won’t believe it, but these competencies are exactly the intended earning outcome of liberal arts colleges.

Unfortunately, liberal arts colleges have a brand trust issue. Participants of the conference agreed that many do not deliver what they promise. There is ample evidence that quite a number of its students lack any progress in problem solving and critical thinking skills during their undemanding study[4].

On the other hand, those who want to acquire specific skills like coding, marketing, accounting or foreign languages should avoid universities. A growing number of dedicated institutions like Fullbridge and General Assembly offer competency-based courses on line, blended or face-to-face. These courses are better and cheaper than the offer of any university whatsoever. According to Jaime Casap (Google) companies like his’ are monitoring job applicants’ competences and are not or only remotely interested in their subject, grade or university. Universities seem to have lost their way.

screenshot-4

What went wrong? According to Martin Luckmann and Christiana Prange universities are no longer what their name suggests: Universitas magistrorum et scolarium literally means community of teachers and students[5]. Instead, universities have become a credit-point producing industry, delivering grades of variable but mostly mediocre importance. The problem is not that teachers aren’t competent in their subject: They fail in supporting the development of students’generic academic competences or in plan language, as academic educators[6].

imagesLuckmann and Prange compare the current approach to learning in universities with the development of enterprise software. The implementation of massive all-embracing software in companies seldom results in satisfying solutions. The same applies to a curriculum that has to serve hundreds of students at once. In software development the agile approach is gaining ground, which in essence is based on interaction between developers and customers, taking customers’ needs and wants as starting point.

images-1In the same way, agile universities will put the interaction between students and teachers in the centre. Therefor they rely in a large degree on self-organization. A rich variety of teaching-learning interactions appear, mostly based on co-design. Students are getting acquainted with a broad range of disciplines and learn to search, apply and deepen relevant knowledge in projects, favourably in collaboration with parties outside the university.

The agile university has not to be more expensive than conventional universities. Getting acquainted with theoretical knowledge can be self-organized by deploying free available high quality open educational resources. Lecture halls are superfluous. Instead, universities will become networks of academic workplaces, varying from townhouses to sophisticated labs. The agile university has no fixed study length. Students will combine study with other work or invest in their own development.

unknown

Graduates of the agile university have been stimulated to adapt their study path to their emerging interest in an intensive exchange with fellow-students, teachers and people outside the university. Their acknowledgement with the agile method will enable them afterwards to be adaptive in a large range of situations where their professional or personal opinion is demanded.

Disclaimer

Any master plan that intends to reinvent a university or faculty as an agile workplace will fail. The development of agile learning places requires agility itself, carefully taking into consideration local personal and characteristics, opportunities and constraints. Eager proponents at best facilitate teachers and groups who want to change teaching and learning practices. Their example will be followed, criticized and improved and agile workplaces will emerge. The result might be excellent, albeit in an unpredictable way.

[1] Survey American Society for Testing and Development (2012)

[2] McKinsey (2012)

[3] My account of this conference is based on a World Economic Forum publication: Education vs work skills: what do employers really want? http://weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/education-vs-work-skills-what-do-employers-really-want/

[4] Read about the lack of progress in critical and analytical thinking skills in my post ‘Why universities underachieve’: http://wp.me/p3lna5-4n

[5] Luckmann and Prange wrote a though provoking contribution in Global Focus, the magazine of the EFMD: Agile Universities http://globalfocusmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Issue_2_2016_agileuniversities.pdf

[6] The obvious exception are universities with an elaborated system of tutoring like Cambridge and Oxford

Leave a comment

Filed under Higher education

How to reduce the failure rate of innovation

‘The innovation journey’ – written by Andrew van de Ven and his team[1] – is offering a vivid description of the innovation experience of 14 North American companies. The book offers snapshots of brilliant ideas, whimsical processes, failure and success. After having read the book you will understand why 50% of all investments in R&D had to be amortized.

Against this background, it is not surprising that scientists and business people have been thinking for decades how to improve the efficacy of the innovation process. The most famous example is Cooper’s stage-gate model. The underlying assumption of this model is that the success of the development of new products and services depends from moving along consecutive stages with Go / No-go decisions in between.

Stage-gate model

You will ask, “Does it work?

The question that has to be answered is which kind of ‘guidance’ will facilitate innovation processes best? Most authors feel that the initial stage of the innovation process – named ‘fuzzy front end’ or ‘ideation’ – offers best chances for improvement.

Last year, I did a research project in order to unveil whether careful planning of this stage will increase the success rate of innovation. I visited ten companies where I spoke with managers and leaders of innovation teams. Each of these companies deployed the FORTH innovation method (developed by Gijs van Wulfen) in the period 2007 – 2013. I wanted to discover critical success factors during the initial stage and the impact of the initiation stage at next stages as well.

Download the research report HERE

The FORTH innovation method is modelled like an expedition[2]. The innovation team moves along five stages: Full Steam ahead, Observe and learn, Raise ideas, Test ideas and Homecoming.

FORTH methof

The first step – Full steam ahead – includes a precise definition of the assignment. Here the management takes the lead. A good assignment defines the direction of the expedition, and the conditions that have to be met. Besides, the team is selected based on criterions like diversity, innovation-mindedness and team spirit. Premature generation of ideas is a frequent mistake in this step, resulting in the failure to make an adequate selection.

Therefore, during the second step – Observe and learn – participants visit customers or clients at home in order to discover preferences regarding new products or failures connected with existing products. For most participants this is the first contact ever with customers or clients and the experience is valued highly. In addition, the participants are enabled to deepen their knowledge of new technological developments, mostly related to ICT. By taking this step, participants are developing a feeling for customer frictions and innovation opportunities.

With this baggage, participants are ready for the third step, raising ideas. New ideas are produced by hundreds and afterwards channelled into 12 concepts. These concepts are carefully scrutinized, taking into consideration the conditions that were formulated at the beginning.

Now a next step – Reflection – can start. A second confrontation with customers or clients is organized in order to check the assumptions regarding the usefulness and market-potential of the concepts. In the end 3 – 5 concept survive, often after thorough revision.

The last step – Homecoming – includes further elaboration of the concepts into mini new business cases, possibly with the help of internal or external experts.

All companies that participated in the research expressed their enthusiasm about the FORTH innovation method. They were convinced that no ‘mini new business cases’ would have come into being without the systematic and motivating character of the method. Besides, participation at the FORTH innovation trajectory has created an innovative mind-set and a corresponding innovation culture. Employees are eagerly waiting for the next innovation expedition to start.

Critical remarks have been made too. Some members of the innovation team went too fast through the process of discovering customer frictions and customer needs. In some cases the satisfaction with the results of the ideation stage resulted in a rash decision to enter the market without additional research.

Gijs van Wulfen’s ‘Innovation expedition’ is based on thorough knowledge of potential failures that are described in Andrew van de Ven’s ‘Innovation journey’. Therefore, both books are sides of the same medal.

At Thursday January 15th 2015 4.00 PM Herman van den Bosch and Gijs van Wulfen will discuss the results of the research project mentioned-above. You are kindly invited to participate and to listen to the discussion and to ask questions (by chat) if you want.

Go to: http://portal.ou.nl/en/web/masterclass-mw-150914 for signing in and to register.

If you have arrived at the right page, press SIGN IN before registering and move along the prescribed steps. It will take you a couple of minutes.

[1] Van de Ven, A., Polley, D., Garud, R., Venkataraman, S (2008): The innovation journey, Oxford University Press, New York.

[2] Van Wulfen, Gijs (2013): The innovation expedition. A visual toolkit to start innovation. Bis Publishers, Amsterdam

2 Comments

Filed under Innovation

“The Big Shift” No single organization will be the same

Looking back in 2050 at the first decade of the 21th century our (grand)children will probably recognize the characteristics of another industrial revolution. The Edge, the research institute of Deloitte is speaking of The Big Shift’[1]. The ‘Big Shift’ is the joint effect of two processes:

Distributed growth of knowledge

The old Philips buildings offer workplaces to many small innovative companies

During the past 10 years, ICT – bandwidth, memory, speed, and especially software – has improved tremendously. Connecting ICT-power with other devices has enabled 3D printing, Internet of things, wearables and robotics. Its disruptive influence at industry is only in the first stage. However, even more important is that the underlying knowledge has become distributed and is no longer limited to small groups of scientists in universities and R&D centres. Worldwide, millions of young entrepreneurs prefers the live of an explorer and innovator in garages, empty industrial buildings, science parks or wherever over being employed in a large bureaucratic company.

Global competition

Until recently, a centre-periphery model sufficed to characterize the economic relations in the world. The centre (Europe and the USA) bought raw materials, and mass products in the periphery in exchange of high-end products, knowledge and (financial) services. Nowadays, a multitude of centre-periphery relations has come into being. The old centre has to compete with rapidly developing competing centres. The winner is going to be the owner of the most distinguishing innovation capabilities. Besides, the development of ever-changing new products requires a high degree of inter-firm cooperation. Here too, small and agile new market entrants seem equipped best.

“Traditional” companies have to reinvent themselves In order to cope with the ‘Big Shift’. The first step is dividing itself in smaller flexible entities. Further, the process of reinvention has to put knowledge workers in the centre of operations at the expense of the until now dominant position of managers-class. The feasibility of a redesign depends from the degree of engagement and intrapreneurship of the work force. In this respect, recent studies are not encouraging.

Engagement

Each year Gallup is collecting data of the engagement of the global workforce[2]. Employees are characterized as being ‘engaged’, ‘actively disengaged’ and ‘not engaged’. The table beneath gives an overview, showing that the USA, Australia and Canada have most reasons for optimism.

Engaged employees worldwide 2The lack of engagement is caused by the “low strain” characteristics of the majority of jobs, the authoritarian behaviour of many bosses, the uncertainty of keeping one’s job and work pressure.

Intrapreneurship

I prefer the term intrapreneurship over ‘passionate explorer’, as deployed by Deloite[3]. Intrapreneurship is based upon specialist business knowledge, the drive to explore new frontiers and a feeling of urgency to cooperate. The ‘Big Shift’ report reveals that only 12,5% of the workforce is ‘intrapreneurial’. Probably the lack of engagement is prohibiting quite a number of latent intrapreneurs to act.

The lack of Intrapreneurship is quite understandable. The 20th century companies have organized their production according to well-chosen strategic principles empowered by detailed planning, control and quality systems. Consequently, skillful and accurate performers dominated the workplace. Competence management systems guaranteed the right employee at the right spot. Room for intrapreneurship was limited.

It is this lack of intrapreneurial opportunities that has causes a true exodus of talent from companies in the USA and other countries. Each year, about 2 millions of employees have given up well-paid jobs. The estimated damage caused by the departure of high-potential employees is about $200 billion each year. The independent workforce in the US nowadays counts about 17 million people.

The conclusion is obvious. Above all, the strongly-needed reinvention of companies depends from the retrieval of engagement and entrepreneurship al main characteristics of the work force.

Engagement will increase as soon as the workforce feels more respected and recognized and if managers do better jobs as coaches. Structurally, workplaces have to become more demanding. Theresa Amabile has discovered that employees are motivated in the first place by ‘the progress principle’, the meaningfulness of their contribution [4]. In order to comply, workplaces have to combine a sufficient degree of challenge with a corresponding degree of autonomy.

Retrieval of intrapreneurship is more demanding. Needed are: decentralization of the governance of firms, servant leadership, reduction of management, smaller differences in compensation of managers, active promotion of (open) innovation, and deploying collaboration opportunities outside the firm.

Anyway, most companies worldwide have a long way to go. The most innovative firm will be the firm that is succeeds in the improvement of engagement and intrapreneurship.

[1] http://goo.gl/QaNXdy The report is a comprehensive study of global development, innovation and entrepreneurship in contemporary history

[2] See for more results: http://www.gallup.com/poll/165269/worldwide-employees-engaged-work.aspx

[3] http://goo.gl/oQEQzi. Research with respect to the passion of the workforce included 4000 employeed in different branches in the US.

[4] TED-talk Theresa Amabile: The Progress Principle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD6N8bsjOEE&feature=youtu.be

Leave a comment

Filed under Economy

MOOCs: The announcement of the wrong revolution

A litany of recent complaints shows that something is wrong with higher education: Cost are rising with 10% every year (US), content has lost track with the explosive development of new knowledge, alumni’s competences do not match with the requirements of the labour market, teachers deliver lectures in the same way as their predecessors did for centuries, revenues for society are unclear. 40% of all students are leaving without a grade. Universities are inside looking, fixed at ratings, complacent and self-confident and so do not consider any reason for change.

According to Christensen[1], universities are on the eve of disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation is the fast acceptance by the public of affordable new products and services, which were disregarded by established companies and are mostly offered by new entrants.

MOOC producentenLess than one year ago, the first MOOCs (massive online open course) were launched. Their pros and cons are discussed in an uncountable number of blogs; presumably, papers in academic journals are still in the peer review stage. The appearance of MOOCs is pleasing me. Not because they are free of charge or massive, but because they open the gates towards uncountable sources of knowledge, which will allow students to customize their need for information. I am confident that MOOCs will displace lecture-based teaching at short notice

However, this is the wrong revolution.

The future of the lecture theatre

The future of the lecture theatre

The exchange of lectures for MOOCs does not question the dominance of the acquisition of knowledge in higher education. Yet broad agreement exist that higher education in the first place has to develop ‘readiness for society’. The attainment of this goal is encompassing three learning processes: (1) the acquaintance of relevant knowledge, (2) the application of knowledge and (3) and the exchange between codified and practical (or tacit) knowledge. The best way by far to organize these learning processes is by merging them.

Learning processes

Learning processes

A critical assessment of mainstream of higher education reveals that universities spent most energy on delivery of knowledge. Application of knowledge is dominated by ‘near transfer’, which means that students learn to give practical examples of theoretical concepts. ‘Far transfer’ originates from the analysis and solving of real problems, without prior exposure to cues about relevant knowledge. It occurs in Schools that deploy problem or project-based learning. Exchange of codified and practical knowledge is absent in general. It might take place during internships, but projects outside the university are better and moreover, they offer opportunity for integration with other learning processes.

A balanced and integrated approach of the three learning processes mentioned above is occurring in only few universities. Elsewhere, students learn (and forget) lots of knowledge, have only limited experience with the application of knowledge and are ignorant of the clash between codified and practical knowledge. Consequently, the majority of our universities are disavowing their main goal, the development of ‘readiness for society’. It is this verdict that justifies a revolution in higher education.

Who will smash the first tomato and start the right revolution?

I guess, nobody will, and this brings me back to the topic of disruptive innovation. Corporate universities have the best chance to take over higher education for adults at short notice. They are in a perfect place to organize projects and to exchange codified and practical knowledge. Until now, they are incompetent to organize the delivery of knowledge. Still, the breakthrough of MOOCs will make the difference. Deploying MOOCs will enable corporate academies to organize the three educational processes mentioned above in an integrated fashion at relatively low-cost. This will enable companies to scale up their learning programs and to improve the level of competence of their employees, which is badly needed in face of our society’s need for innovation.


[1] Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Louis Caldera, and Louis Soares: Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education February 2011 http://goo.gl/ogr5r

5 Comments

Filed under Geen categorie

My inspiration

I decided to start writing a blog only recently. The first question was about choosing a topic: innovation, regional development, quality of higher education, corporate social responsibility, just to mention a few ideas that came up. Did these topics have something in common? This question inspired me to have a short period of introspection[1].

Value free science

Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969

Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969

In the sixties, I studied human geography at Radboud University in Nijmegen and it took not very long before I got involved in the students’ movement. In one of my first pamphlets I excited myself about value free science, which I renamed into valueless science. We propagated some kind of ‘advocacy science’ in service of oppressed people. When the oppressed, whoever they were did not show any interest in our engagement, fellow students started to read Marx or travelled into exotic places to free their minds. I felt that it was time to quit the ‘movement’.

Education again prejudice

Education was my new passion. Teaching is the way to a better society; you only have to wait long enough. After a short career as a secondary school teacher, I moved into university and wrote a PhD thesis about the contribution of primary education in fighting prejudice. In this post cold war period most children saw Americans as the good guys and Russians as the bad ones. We – the Dutch – of course were considered as the best.

Culture-critical thinking

In my eyes, scientific concepts and theories were powerful tools to free common sense thinking from prejudice. I tried to implement this view in geography education, which meant a radical change. For many years, geography education had been based upon knowledge of facts. I invented the ‘culture critical model’: Our environment can be conceptualized with four different approaches: physical-biological, economical, social and cultural. Each approach is one-sided and children have to learn to construct images of reality based upon tension between two or more approaches.

University education under attack

The conviction that education must be more than the acquisition of knoledge, opened a new battlefield, namely academic teaching itself. As a student, I had spent most of my time with remote learning. My wife and I listened to taped summaries of books all day and subsequently the professors honoured our proficiency. In my view, the lecture was the symbol of bad education. Later, the Board of our university appointed me as educational director of a new faculty in order to prove that things can be done better.

From problem-based to project learning

lifelong learning1I was challenged and twelve hectic years followed. Everybody who is searching in Google with ‘large-scale educational innovation’, ‘low budget’ and ‘massive enrolment of students’ will only find one hit, namely: “Do not”. That was no option and after the implementation of problem-based learning, we developed a ‘hybrid’ model that combined problem-based, project-based and traditional education (Van den Bosch & Kieft, 2001). We managed to implement this system in the bachelor program of the seven educational programs in the Nijmegen School of Management. Thanks to this approach, students learned how to analyse and to solve policy problems with insights from several scientific disciplines.

Active students count

I do not promote one single type of education anymore. The quality of higher education depends from whether students learn to relate theory and practice. Educational programs might arrive at this aim in several ways. Sometimes even a lecture is helpful. As a member of peer evaluation teams, I frequently visit faculties and I can only observe that most faculties share this vision. However, they bother with its implementation.

Scientific research

In 2001, I was appointed as dean of the Faculty of management of the Dutch Open University. My colleagues and I had to improve the quality of research, in which we succeeded. Nevertheless, I started to worry about the direction into which scientific research is moving. Most research is lacking societal relevance. Publishing has become a career instrument for staff. Universities will be marginalized in the long run if they continue like that. I tried to implement ‘mode 2’ research, which proved to be a partial success.

Back to geography

A couple of years ago, I decided to take more time for research myself. The ‘learning region’ appeared to be a challenging theme, because of the involvement of geography, educational science and business administration, the three field of science that I got acquainted with during my career. The relations between institutions of higher education and companies have my first interest. Universities differ with respect to their willingness to play an active role in regional development. I try to find out whether this has to do with differences in their vision at science.

Applied research

van de venStokes_Critics of ‘engaged scholarship’ use to confuse engaged research with applied research. Two publications have convinced me that this view is wrong. In the first place Donald Stokes’ book  “Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation” (1997). This book makes clear that research could be ‘engaged’ and ‘fundamental’ at the same time. The second book “Engagedscholarship; a guide for organizational and social research” is written by

Andrew van de Ven (2007). Each student and scholar ought to read this book. It demonstrates that societal engagement results in better research!

Valorisation

Nowadays, universities have a mouthful of valorisation of knowledge. This is a first step, albeit small. Many scientists believe that thinking about the application of their research is only starting after the research has been finished. Van de Ven rejects this view. In his words: “”Who is asking the wrong questions, must not be surprised when nobody cares for the answers.” Stakeholder commitment from the beginning of a research project is a prerequisite for successful valorisation. During this dialogue, the right questions are raised and sources of data that were closed before are opened.

When all parts fit together

After my short introspection, I knew what is engaging me. The clumsy rejection of value free science, the application of scientific knowledge to fight prejudice, the connection of theory and practice in education by realistic problems, the interest in the role of universities in regional development, the aversion of the perverse effects of the ‘publish or perish’ mechanism in universities and the approval of Van de Ven’s ‘engaged scholarship have the same root, namely the mission to commit science in service of a better society. I hope my blog will contribute to some extend.

Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteurs Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation: Brookings Institution Press.

Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship; a guide for organizational and social research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van den Bosch, H. M. J., & Kieft, M. (2001). The hybrid curriculum; the acquisition of academic competencies in the university curriculum. In W. Gijselaers (Ed.), Educational innovation in economics and business administration, part VII. (pp. 41-56). Dordrecht: Kluwer, Academic Press.


[1] Posted in Dutch the 5th of January 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized