calendar tag arrow download print
Skip to content

Knowledge for transitions

Cyclists by the IJsselmeer. (T.w. van Urk / Shutterstock)
Fietsers langs het IJsselmeer met op de achtergrond windmolens
Tackling major societal challenges, such as climate change and health, requires an approach in which knowledge and innovation are viewed as the outcome of a complex interplay of organisations and people, working together within an ecosystem towards a common goal. Transitions can only be achieved in a socially responsible way if all kinds of knowledge, experience, and expertise are combined. It is precisely the interaction between scientists, practitioners, civil servants, entrepreneurs, and citizens – and between different sectors and technology areas – that is needed in order to tackle societal challenges in an effective and coherent way.

In this theme, the Rathenau Instituut will investigate how challenge-oriented ecosystems for research and innovation can be organised in such a way that knowledge contributes to achieving the necessary transitions.


Focus areas

Impact pathways
Despite a decades-long debate on knowledge valorisation (society’s use of scientific research), there is still insufficient understanding of the diverse ways in which knowledge and research can contribute to transitions. An ecosystem perspective that takes account of the diversity of actors, including citizens, businesses, and civil-society organisations, and their mutual interactions, helps to gain a better understanding of this. Such understanding is needed so as to better comprehend the different types of contributions that knowledge and research can make to transitions. Over the next few years, we will investigate this issue so that targeted policies can be developed to underpin the various pathways for knowledge to achieve impact.

Public engagement
In order to shape societal transitions in a responsible manner, citizens are increasingly involved in scientific science and knowledge production for policy. Recently, there has been a growing interest in citizen panels, citizen science, and other forms of public engagement in designing, implementing, and setting the agenda for research and innovation. Citizens are increasingly relevant players in challenge-oriented ecosystems of research and innovation. The best way of organising such public engagement is often unclear, however, and there is therefore a risk of getting bogged down in cooperation that makes only a limited or ineffective contribution. With research and dialogue, the Rathenau Instituut aims to contribute to a more meaningful involvement of citizens in the development of knowledge and innovations for transitions.

Funding research and innovation
The way research and innovation are funded influences which researchers and consortia investigate particular issues, and which issues they investigate. In practice, there are many ways in which government can fund scientific research, ranging from base funding of knowledge institutions to grants for individual researchers and multi-year programme-based funding for public-private consortia. The question is which funding arrangements help researchers, businesses, and civil-society organisations to work together on challenge-oriented knowledge and innovation agendas for a lengthy period. Over the next few years, the Rathenau Instituut will examine the funding of research and innovation from this perspective, considering, for example, the linking of research funding to education funding in the lump sum base funding of universities (the “first flow of funds”), and the requirements for co-funding in competitive project funding (the “second and third flows of funds”).

Geopolitical dimensions of knowledge for transitions
Given the cross-border nature of the societal challenges, transitions call for an international approach. Knowledge and innovations for transitions will also need to be produced largely in international collaboration. However, today’s rapidly changing world order is putting pressure on international cooperation. The European Union (EU) and its Member States are therefore seeking new forms and strategies for international cooperation in research and innovation. For example, the EU is pushing for greater “strategic autonomy” of Europe vis-à-vis China and the United States. Recent actions and measures regarding knowledge security at both national level and at knowledge institutions have repercussions for international cooperation. The Rathenau Instituut will investigate the implications of the changing geopolitical context for international cooperation in knowledge and innovation for transitions.