Organisatie - 27 januari 2016

Van der Vorst aims for collaboration

Albert Sikkema

Since September Jack van der Vorst is general director of the Social Sciences Group. It took a bit of getting used to for the Chain Logistics. ‘In the first two weeks I suddenly had 1000 emails to go through.’ But he thinks it's a wonderful job.

<foto: Guy Ackermans>

Whoever talks about the Social Science Group, is talking about the chair groups in Leeuwenborch, the LEI and the CDI. Three chair groups with different cultures, the new director Jack van de Vorst noticed. ‘For the staff in the chair groups in the Leeuwenborch I am a colleague and a ‘first among equals’. At the LEI I am the director and at the Centre for Development Innovation I am Jack. The LEI works a bit more formally and hierarchically than the university. The CDI is more of a collective of independent people who approach you personally and tell you about their problems straightaway, and with whom you eat your sandwiches at lunchtime.’

He is from the university, where he spent ten years setting up the chair group Operations Research and Logistics. ‘I started with a small education group and together with colleagues we won many of the research projects of the EU and top sector Logistics.’ In the past year his group was evaluated as excellent by the international visitation commission. ‘I had been busy for ten years, and I was fidgety.’ From an assessment it was found that he had the capacity to do more. When his predecessor Laan van Staalduinen left, he started thinking. Now he wants to build something new.

The chair groups are getting good grades but do not form one whole, noted the visitation committee. Are you going to do something about that?

‘Seven new chair-holders have started in the past few years and next year two more will join us. The new professors are highly committed and bring in new ideas. On a team-building day with them we concluded: we need to know more about each other, work together more and create a shared vision. A vision like that will help us decide on our research priorities as well as shape our education.'

One Wageningen, starting at the Leeuwenborch?

‘I believe in One Wageningen. We must aim at collaboration and clearing obstacles to it. I’ve been tasked with giving some thought to how to create robust chair groups. Currently every chair group gets its own core funding. Imagine if two groups want to merge. In the current setup they would lose half their core funding. Obviously that doesn’t provide much incentive for cooperation. We are looking into how that can be improved on. But I also want to see more consultation and collaboration on submitting research proposals. Sometimes six research proposals are submitted to a European innovation programme by groups in the Leeuwenborch, when you know that only one of the six proposals can be accepted. By consulting each other beforehand and choosing the strongest consortium, we can be more effective in the way we submit projects.’

LEI is having trouble acquiring enough research too.

‘LEI has been making a profit in recent years. That is quite an achievement because the market is tough. The government is pulling out so LEI has to make more of its money on the market. Given that a lot of research takes place at sector level, and the product boards have been scrapped, this is a big challenge. For example, for years LEI has managed a large information network with which we monitor developments in the businesses and incomes of 1500 farmers. The farms are not going to fund that themselves. It provides very useful information for the government and the agricultural sector, but there is increasing pressure on the funding for this sort of data collection.’

Does LEI need to do more work for private companies?

‘We are not going to become a consultancy firm; we provide independent knowledge of the sector. But finding the setup in which to produce that knowledge is a puzzle. The agricultural sector produces more and more knowledge and companies are making more and more use of that knowledge. LEI is working with partners on setting up an independent data platform that everybody can use. LEI has developed proposals and is ready for it.’

What about the Centre for Development Innovation. Does CDI also need to collaborate more?

‘CDI has been collaboration with partners in and outside of Wageningen for many years. We have brought in various big development projects, but the work we do is not visible enough to the rest of Wageningen UR. Our big international network is also not being utilized enough by Wageningen UR, which means we are missing opportunities. The new manager Hedwig Bruggeman is working to improve that.’