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Wim van Saarloos and Stan Gielen are confident

Stan Gielen and Wim van Saarloos, the heads of NWO and KNAW, were closely involved in the portfolio evaluation.
How do they look back on the process and what are their expectations for the future?

Let's start with a typical sports question: how did you feel when you read the portfolio evaluation?
Stan Gielen sets the ball rolling: ‘Pleased with the conclusion that the institutes have important added value for the Dutch knowledge landscape and pleased with the transparent criteria: institutes must have academic excellence and a national function.’ Wim van Saarloos refers to a previous occasion: ‘Following the oral feedback from the committee in November 2018, I thought: OK, that’s something we can build on. I slept well that night.’

What's the recommendation that you would like to act on now?
Both men indicate that they are already hard at work. For instance, with the matter of how the joint institutes can be better positioned. Wim van Saarloos explains: ‘I said right at the beginning: I see this evaluation not as an end point, but rather as the start of a more conscious institute policy.’ Stan Gielen would like to focus on the blank spots (research topics that receive insufficient attention): ‘Actually, I'm pleased that the committee did not identify the blank spots, because that is really a task for the entire Dutch knowledge community.’

What changes will the KNAW and NWO staff notice?
‘Most of them will notice little in the short term’, says Stan Gielen, ‘If we make changes, we will do so very carefully.’ Wim van Saarloos believes that staff will soon notice that there is greater cooperation. ‘In April we had the first-ever meeting of all NWO and KNAW institute directors. That was very much appreciated. We will be continuing this initiative. Staff will hear: “That's how they solved it at that institute, and that might be a good idea for us too”. We will exchange best practices far more frequently and try to bring about meaningful collaboration. As a result of the evaluation, cooperation between one of our institutes and one of the NWO institutes has already commenced.’

NWO and KNAW worked closely during the portfolio analysis. How was that?
Stan Gielen is very content: ‘There was a lot of trust, we debated openly and there was no lack of coordination. An excellent basis to build on, in accordance with the advice of the committee. And I am looking forward to it.’ Wim van Saarloos adds: ‘We met with the evaluation committee in October and the committee noted even then that the chemistry between NWO and KNAW was very good. With these two organisations, you automatically have the required checks and balances. Everyone has his or her own position in the field. So you can question one another critically as friends.’

What will the Dutch knowledge landscape look like in 2030?
Wim van Saarloos considers that a very broad question: ‘Let me focus on the institutes. They will be widely seen as an essential part of the Dutch knowledge landscape.’ Stan Gielen too restricts himself to outlines for 2030: ‘Of course there will be developments, such as climate and artificial intelligence. That's where things will definitely be happening. But all in careful consideration, naturally. Because if we start to build something new here, we will have to dismantle something elsewhere. But the aim for KNAW and NWO remains unchanged in 2030: serving science and academia – and therefore society – as well as possible.’

Newsletter Inside NWO-I, February 2019

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