The Faculty of Social Sciences (FSW) has gained its first incubator: GovernEUR. The Faculty considers it ‘an important step forward on the road to valorisation’. Professor Arwin van Buuren explains what an incubator is, and what it’s used for.

The term incubator was originally used for hatching machines. Similarly, GovernEUR will serve as a hotbed for the development of methods and tools for the public sector and public administration by EUR business administration experts.

Arwin van Buuren.

Public administration experts have always performed a lot of contract research in connection with consultancy, evaluations and research into specific issues, among other things. However, these types of projects have often been on an ad hoc basis. Furthermore, researchers were forced to schedule this work side by side with research programmes that were already underway. High time, according to the team at FSW, to create more consistency in these efforts – in a way that yields long-term benefits for researchers and private-sector clients.

“The incubator stems from the growing importance of valorisation – i.e. the social impact of academic research,” says Van Buuren. “It all comes down to the question ‘How can research in the field of public administration contribute to public governance?’ But it works both ways, actually: if researchers come up with a good idea, GovernEUR can help them turn it into a consultancy service or product, and find potential clients.” Valorisation’s increasing importance is also reflected in the Executive Board’s decision to establish the Erasmus Centre for Valorisation (ECV).

Win-win situation

Everyone involved will need to work hard to make the incubator a success, because there’s no budget for this programme. “It will need to pay its own way,” says Van Buuren. “But our researchers are investing time and energy into the development of relevant products and services.” According to Van Buuren, the current research programme already includes a number of paths that allow for the development of new, marketable products.

One example is determining how effective a brand is – ‘I Amsterdam’, for example. “We know which conditions need to be in place for a brand like that to work – which actually means we’re sitting on a gold mine. If we were to translate this academic knowledge into a number of tools and methods, we could offer them to Amsterdam’s municipal administration and other potential clients. At the same time, this field-testing of our theories can yield new publications, which can be used to hone our insights and contribute to scientific knowledge. It’s a win-win situation.”

Careful thought

The incubator is a collaboration between FSW and Erasmus Business & Research Support (ERBS), which is helping a number of faculties to make the transition towards valorisation. “You could say ‘from learning to earning’, but I wouldn’t like to put it as banal as that, because it’s definitely also about social impact,” remarks Van Buuren

After all, the intention is for contract research at FSW to be more than just a ‘side job’ – by appointing experienced professionals who can serve as a link between the public sector and the University. In addition, no private-sector companies will be setting at the incubator.

“For the time being, all products will remain under GovernEUR’s banner. But if certain products or services prove a success, they can of course be ‘privatised’ or ‘hived off’. In other words, we will continue to do contract research, but the incubator will lead to new interactions with academics, which will help them to increase the impact of their research. This may take some getting used to for many of us, but it will also force us to give more careful thought to what we are doing, rather than drifting aimlessly from project to project,” concludes Van Buuren.