As well as universities and NWO and KNAW research institutes, the Netherlands also has a varied group of knowledge organisations, including research agencies RIVM (National Institute of Public Health and the Environment), TNO and the Trimbos Institute. Known as public knowledge organisations, they are funded partly with public money, serve the public interest and are directed by a core ministry. They perform research and gather knowledge while also performing services for the government, business and society in the form of innovations, testing, education campaigns and dissemination of knowledge. In this way, they help the government fulfil its duties and meet its responsibility for safeguarding the public interest. These organisations account for a considerable proportion of new knowledge and innovation in the Netherlands.
Public knowledge organisations operate in a constantly changing context. This has an impact on their legitimacy, which lies in responding adequately to the needs of government, business and society. Those needs are changing because the supply of knowledge is changing. Universities are for example producing more and more socially relevant knowledge, and services that have traditionally been the responsibility of public knowledge organisations are increasingly being offered by commercial parties. On the other hand, demands are also changing. The government’s vision of its responsibilities is shifting. New political developments raise new questions, as old ones become less urgent. Issues are increasingly becoming either international or more regional. The focus and substance of the questions public knowledge organisations are called upon to address are therefore becoming steadily more varied.
This raises the question of what this implies for the mission and position of public knowledge organisations, and the public interest they are tasked with protecting. This Rathenau Institute project is designed to reveal the unique position of these organisations in the Dutch knowledge infrastructure and identify their contribution to efforts to ensure that the various social domains in which they operate function properly. It will reveal for instance what is at stake in the changes these organisations continually face. In this way, we hope to initiate and inform the policy debate on the importance of public knowledge organisations.