Organisation - October 3, 2019

Who gets the most votes wins?

Anja Janssen,Tessa Louwerens

WUR is taking a whole new approach to the allocation of 600,000 euros for research on the protein transition. All staff get to vote and the project with the most votes gets the money. A good idea? Or would it be better to leave this decision to the experts?

Text Anja Janssen and Tessa Louwerens Illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek

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Wouter Hendriks

Dean of Research

‘For certain projects, this input could be desirable and even essential. It puts WUR staff in closer contact with the research. And you can further increase that involvement by sharing research results as you go along. WUR could definitely do this more. In other cases, though, this approach is less desirable. It could disadvantage research projects of a more fundamental nature, or the ones that don’t appeal to the imagination as much. But where possible, this is a nice way of giving people more of a say and involving them more.’


Kris van ’t Klooster

Lecturer at the Laboratory for Plant Physiology

‘I think it’s a good idea that everyone gets to help brainstorm about protein transition. This is an important topic in the debate going on in society. Personally, I voted for the project that relates best to my ideals. Without knowing who is behind it, although I did hear that later. Only I do wonder why students aren’t allowed to vote, as this affects their future, after all.’

It is good for staff involvement

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Marten Scheffer

Professor of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management

‘This is a great way of drawing staff in to look at the ideas being generated. It would be nice to ask afterwards what effect that has had. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t solve the problem that scientists spend a quarter of their time, on average, on writing and assessing proposals.  We are hoping to start an experiment at the Dutch Research Council NWO in which every research gets a fixed, unconditional sum in funding, a proportion of which he or she must anonymously donate to another scientist. That makes use of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ as well as doing away with the need for the proposal circus and making disparities easier to manage.’


Melanie van Berkum

Studyadvisor and lecturer in Food Technology

‘When I read that we could vote I was enthusiastic at first. But then I found it difficult to choose a project on the basis of the information provided. I want to base my choice on the feasibility of the project and how long they expect it to take before the innovations can be realized, rather than on the most appealing story. In that case, it’s nicer to know who is behind the project. After all, a lot of money is involved here and it’s important that it is spent wisely. Because I couldn’t make a well-informed decision, I decided not to vote in the end.’

My main fear is that it will turn into a popularity contest

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Nur Alim Bahmid

PhD candidate at Food Quality and Design

‘I voted, although I don’t know if my vote counts as I don't have a WUR contract. I like the idea of ​​voting, but then it is better if everyone can vote and not just employees. Perhaps the organization has reasons for this, though. I voted for the project that I believe has the best chance of success in the future. But my main fear is that it will turn into a popularity contest, with less focus on quality. All you need to vote is your email address, so in principle people can ask others to vote for their project. I don't know if that happens. Perhaps it is good to make the final choice depend not only on the votes, but also on an independent quality assessment.’

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Erik Pekkeriet

Senior business development manager Agro Food Robotics

‘It is good for WUR staff involvement and it offers people at all echelons the chance to submit a research proposal. But most of the staff don’t have much understanding of the protein transition. So they vote from the heart, and I’m not sure that’s what we want. With a limited budget like this, I think it’s OK, but I wouldn’t do it with very big budgets.

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Henrice Jansen

Researcher at Sustainable Aquaculture, Wageningen Marine Research

‘This can stimulate innovative ideas, and the threshold is low for PhD students and the like. However, I wouldn’t be in favour of it if the entire research budget was involved, because I think it’s important that there is a clear line in the research programming. The proposals are anonymous, but will still often be traceable to the research group they come from. And that means there’s a big chance that staff will mainly vote for topics related to their own work, so that some research groups will get a disproportionate number of votes. I would also predict that the quality of the research will take second place; the idea will be the most important thing. It is important to evaluate whether this kind of call leads to very different projects than the rest of the research programme. If that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t have any added value.’

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Hans van der Lienden

Technical building manager at Facilities and Services

‘The positive thing is that WUR is involving the staff in things that are important to the institution. The only thing is, a lot of people don’t know anything about a research project. They will go by their feelings and by whatever is prominent in the media at that moment, so they’ll vote on the basis of popularity and interest value. I can’t imagine that’s the intention. I think the organization would be better off selecting projects according to its long-term vision, not on the basis of popularity. So I would rather leave the question of how to allocate research funding to scientists.’

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