News - June 20, 2019

Four tips for better consultative bodies

Albert Sikkema

Directors and managers at WUR could improve its consultative bodies, says ‘(Mede)zeggenschap 2.0’, a commission looking at this issue. The commission will come with specific proposals in September.


Student and staff councils at WUR should be more fun, more challenging and spend more time debating matters of substance and issues on the ground. These were arguments made by the Kampman commission, which came up with proposals a year ago for increasing the attractiveness of university and institute councils. Then another commission got to work turning these recommendations into detailed suggestions. That commission is nearly finished, say the members Martijn Scheen (corporate HR director), Sophie Galema (Student Council chair) and Mark Sterken (PSG works council).

Managers should be more appreciative of council work

Top four
The commission spent the past few months visiting the local consultative bodies and the Board of Directors and asking them what tips they had. That resulted in a top four, which the commission is now working out in more detail.

  1. Managers should be more appreciative of staff who are appointed to a consultative body. ‘At present, council work is often seen as difficult to combine with your real job,’ explains Sterken.
  2. Communication between the members of the councils in the different science groups and the central council needs to improve a lot. The councils should talk to one another more often; just sending your minutes is not enough. Better communication could help, for example, in getting a proper discussion of work pressure going. That is a complex topic that operates at different levels.
  3. The directors should get the consultative bodies involved at an early stage in tricky issues such as reorganizations. Too often, plans are fleshed out first. If the directors inform the council immediately, they will know what kind of problems they can expect and can adjust the plan in good time.
  4. Consultative bodies need to develop new procedures that allow non-members to be brought in temporarily to discuss policy. The councils could, for example, invite working groups and experts to contribute their ideas. That would make the consultative bodies more diverse, with a greater say for professors and PhD candidates, for instance.

The suggestion by WUR Council chair Daniel de Jong to make the councils smaller did not make the list of recommendations. ‘That is difficult from a legal point of view,’ says Scheen. Neither is a recommendation being made to limit the period in office of council members. Galema: ‘We don’t want to impose restrictions on anyone. We hope that a positive approach will boost the number of candidates and bring an end to the situation of “lifelong council members”’.