A promising marriage between dreamers and engineers

The coalition Responsible Societies coalition is at the beginning of a dynamic and diverse building process. The vibe within the coalition is positive and there is optimism about the projects that have been set up. What helps is that the coalition is building on existing research and linking up with topics that are already alive in Amsterdam and Enschede. Sufficient time seems to be the most decisive success factor. ‘So far, this has been a promising marriage'.  

Social scientist Daniel Petrovics and engineer Peter Chemweno are the coalition coordinators of Responsible Societies on behalf of VU Amsterdam and the UT. ‘As social scientists, we sometimes tend to dream and forget that the world has its physical limitations. It is then great to work with engineers who teach us what is and what is not possible. That is really an enrichment,' says Petrovics. Chemweno also sees this enrichment. ‘As engineers, we like to build things. And sometimes we think too little about the social and human touch. This coalition broadens my horizon and allows me to add new perspectives to my technical focus. In addition, we can make new contacts and further expand our network.'

Breaking the ice
According to Chemweno, 2021 was mainly the year of planning, bringing groups and people together, organising workshops, making acquaintances and breaking the ice. ‘It was a year of talking a lot and identifying what our similarities and differences are. Based on our three focus areas of net zero emissions, adaptability and circularity, we have chosen to concentrate first on net zero emissions. We now want to take the first steps, hopefully with financial help from the internal call that VU Amsterdam and the UT have set up together.’ Petrovics is pleased that 2022 will be the year of action. ‘As a coalition, we mainly want to build on existing research and link up with subjects that are already current in Amsterdam and Twente. On that basis, we will start several new projects.’

Fertile ground for making project proposals
In terms of content, Petrovics says the projects are about keeping fossil fuels in the ground, clean energy communities, blue-green infrastructure, land use and emissions and low-carbon data centres. ‘We have held several sessions on these topics in the past and this has been a fertile ground for making project proposals for the internal call. This year, we will also hold live meetings for all coalition members. There, we can exchange experiences and look together at how the coalition can best support the work of the researchers. And it will be nice to see each other in real life for once.’

“It’s great to work with engineers who teach us what is and what is not possible.”

Part of a bigger picture
Working within the coalition also means doing extra work. ‘Yes, that's right, we put in a lot of time and energy, and meanwhile your regular work continues as usual. That is why it is so good that the projects within the coalition are strongly linked to the work we are already doing. We don't have to reinvent the wheel,' says Chemweno. Petrovics recognises the extra steps of working within the coalition, but that also has its advantages. ‘It reminds me that we are not working in a bubble but that we are part of a bigger picture and really need each other. Multi- and interdisciplinary research is becoming increasingly important. It is therefore a great challenge to bring everyone together.' What helps is the positive vibe within the coalition. Many people are enthusiastic and know how to find each other quickly. ‘We expect that the funding from the internal call and the exchange of researchers and support staff between the two universities will ensure a further acceleration.’

“This coalition broadens my horizon and allows me to add new perspectives to my technical focus.”

Different objectives and outputs
Chemweno and Petrovics are optimistic about the projects that have been set up but are also careful not to be too ambitious. ‘They are pilot projects, so you have to take into account that not everything will be an immediate success. Moreover, the projects have different objectives and therefore different outputs. In one project, the main objective will be to identify and bring on board external partners; in another project, the idea is to work out various scenarios and yet another project is heading straight for a concrete product or application.’ 

Dynamic and diverse building process
According to both researchers, the coalition is truly at the beginning of a dynamic and diverse building process and they are very curious about what it will bring them. And what do they see as the most decisive success factor? ‘Money is obviously very important, but time probably plays an even more important role. Researchers must also be given enough time to be able to work together within the coalition. It has to be more than an additional task. And it would be great if, in the future, this collaboration could also be included in the assessment of your work.’ And communication about the coalition also plays an important role. 'As many people as possible at all levels need to tell in a clear and appealing way what we are doing, how we are doing it and most importantly why we are doing it.'