Organisation - April 10, 2014

Consultative bodies ripe for overhaul?

Albert Sikkema

The elections for the university’s consultative bodies are coming around again. But few candidates are standing and voter turnout is expected to be low. Now the bodies themselves are calling for change, as an inspiration day at the end of March revealed. What are the problems and their solutions?

Klaas Swart

Member of the Plant Sciences Group’s works council and the WUR Council

‘The consultative process is due for an overhaul. Take the WUR Council for example: it could more often invite people from the work floor to give advice on a particular subject. That way the works council would maintain a small permanent core team that could provide continuity and organize ad hoc working groups or meetings. This has the advantage of involving more people in the consultative process, which creates a larger pool of expertise and makes the advice given more representative. Vitally, this helps build the support base for the works council in the organization. I think we can achieve more if we increase our visibility.’

Joost Jongerden

Chair of the Social Sciences Group’s work council

‘I don’t believe that general, large-scale solutions are the way to improve how the consultative process works. You have to find out where the problems lie. You need to agree with management the role of the works council in the decision-making process. There’s no blueprint for that. It’s something we agree on a dossier by dossier basis, and that works well.

It is true that university staff, including PhD candidates, are under-represented in the works council. And this year it looks like our department won’t be having any elections because the candidates don’t outnumber the seats. But involving staff in the consultative process in an ad-hoc way is not, I think, the solution. It’s already possible to be a supplementary member of a works council committee, which means you are part of the consultative body now and then, when specific matters are handled, but few people do that. Knowledge of specific dossiers and a grasp of the big picture are what’s needed to discuss the mission and strategic vision with management.’

Jeroen Candel

Chair of the Wageningen PhD Council

‘The most important problem at the moment is that certain groups, such as PhD candidates, are not properly represented on the WUR Council. The active PhD candidates are already sitting on one of the PhD Councils. This is where the matters affecting them are discussed and we can talk to whomever we want; we are much more flexible. While we think the subjects handled by the WUR Council are very important, many PhD candidates are currently unclear about what this consultative body has to offer them. Here’s our suggestion: reserve two seats on the WUR Council for PhD candidates.’

Anneloes Reinders

Chair of the Student Council

‘Students are members of the consultative body for just one year, which means they experience only the tip of the iceberg. That’s why it is difficult to put forward proposals for improvement. In recent months we have raised a number of points within the consultative body, points that we want to work on during the elections. For example, we have reserved places for PhD candidates and via the elections working group we are trying to publicize our consultative body throughout the university. Besides this, we are actively drawing attention to the WUR Council by showing the agenda and meeting times on the information screens.’

Robert van Gorcom

Director of Rikilt

‘I see no reason to make changes to the consultative process as far as Rikilt is concerned, because our works council is great. I think that’s due to the quality of the works council members and the attitude of the chair. I try to involve the works council early on in the decision-making process. Take 18 months ago, for example, when we reorganized. Someone from the works council was in the working group charged with preparing for the reorganization. This has the advantage of ensuring that at an early stage you know all the points the works council thinks need addressing. A participatory approach like this, which involves the works council thinking colla­boratively during the process, is often more effective than a purely reactive approach, such as when the works council only gives advice on a proposed decision.’

Rianne van Binsbergen

PhD candidate at Livestock Research

‘Personally, I’m not interested in joining the works council. You are here for only four years, and then you are gone, unless you are lucky enough to get a follow-up job. That prospect plays a part in the decision. I think as a rule PhD candidates do have enough time for the works council; we are no busier than other employees. The fact that there aren’t any PhD candidates in the works council has more to do with priorities and interests. I’m not involved so I can’t express an opinion of how it functions. Sorry.’