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Introduction: Society, Expertise and the Governance Lab



For all kinds of problems, scientific knowledge may help in addressing them and in producing innovative solutions. But in practice, and often to the frustration of experts, scientific knowledge is brought into decision making processes within public and private organizations, too late, in deformed ways, or not at all. How can we understand such limited use or neglect of knowledge produced within universities, think tanks and advisory bodies? Decision makers sometimes engage in ‘fact-free politics’, disqualifying scientific knowledge if it does not provide them the political ammunition they need. Yet, at the same time, addressing complex problems without a good understanding of their causes, effects of proposed solutions, and how they may relate to other issues, is practically unthinkable. Such knowledge is important for problems of today and also when we start to think about what may be the problems of tomorrow.

This course introduces you to a track that explores in depth the sometimes tense relationship between society and experts. The course shows the different ways in which problems and issues in society, business and politics are identified, how they can be addressed, and how you may orient yourself on advising on such problems and issues in your future career. Throughout the course you are made aware of scientific ‘lenses’ on reality to get a sharp analytical view on problems and issues, and what it means if we speak about ‘innovation’ in science and research for addressing problems in the real world.

Course outline

In this first module in the track, you are introduced to a 360° perspective on the world around you. In addition to your regular bachelor programme, you learn about theories and analytical techniques used to look at major problems and issues. For example, how does the big data revolution as we experience it lead to new issues of governance of security and privacy? In what way can we understand problems emerging in our economic sectors, in food production and consumption, in securing our energy needs and our health? How do the ever expanding opportunities for mobility (for example the free movement of people in the EU) relate to concerns about identity, labour market, and citizenship? Such problems may creep, they may lurk and suddenly top the agenda. Often they appear hard to solve; many problems are ‘wicked’. Are the problems of today also the ones of tomorrow? This module offers you a firm orientation on these questions.

Once you have identified important issues, we move on to explore which knowledge is available and ‘in store’ in various domains, also outside the university, to understand and address these issues. This is where the module in the track connects closely to your own bachelor programme, which builds your academic body of knowledge and skills. Here, we study and use theories on knowledge dissemination. The next step in this first module is an exploration of how knowledge is or is not used.

The last two sessions in this module focus on further inquiry of into what we call the ‘nexus’ between knowledge producers and decision makers, using real world cases. The Living Lab at Campus The Hague is the centre of this activity.
You will work in small groups on one of the issues identified at the beginning of this module, and you apply the knowledge and skills you have acquired for preparing and presenting a final product: a poster, video, newspaper special, or a website. You will be trained in mining various databases, to critically assess the quality of the information you have collected and then convert it into accessible information by using smart design techniques.

In the final assignment you present an issue analysis, using several analytical lenses provided in this first module, and you indicate how scientific knowledge can be used for addressing the issue – and what may the limits to such use in practice. This final assignment also should include some new knowledge questions that will be relevant for the future.

Learning Aims

When you have successfully participated in this module, you are able to:

  • Use a 360° perspective to identify main trends and issues in society.

  • Apply a scientific lens when looking at these trends and problems.

  • Focus on one of these trends and a key issue related to it, and argue why it is important to consider.

  • Present the way in which the problem has been addressed thus far in practice, and how scientific knowledge was used, or not used, in addressing this problem.

  • Present your analysis and conclusion in an accessible way to a public.


This module provides an integrated use of theory and practice based on the fundamental idea that each influences the other. The practical part includes the study of sources such as blogs, articles, reports and interviews with experts and decision makers who addressed or may address the issue . The use of sources like TedX videos, blogs, tweets, electronic newsletters will be combined with more classical sources of knowledge like scientific journals, databases and reports.

Learning through dialogue is important in this module and throughout the entire honours track. You are expected to have an open mind to go into dialogue with each other, examining your own ideas and knowledge about the topic, and also learn by analyzing the interaction between knowledge providers and users in practice. In order to stimulate such an open orientation, we involve not only academic staff in teaching but also work with invited speakers from professional practice. We hope that students from different backgrounds will join this track in order to create a stimulating exchange of views and academic knowledge you take along in the sessions.

The course takes place in the Living Lab in The Hague. This is an environment designed for various kinds of interaction and is equipped with state of the art IT facilities.

Structure of the course

The module consists of six weekly sessions of two hours, feedback sessions and a closing event that takes four to six hours. The weekly sessions take place on Wednesday evenings from 18:00 to 20:30.

The course starts in week 9 (February 26) and has its closing event on 23 April 2014. There are six sessions and a two week break between the last session and the closing event. In this period feedback hours for progress and finalization of the project work are offered, so that you can sharpen and refine your analysis and presentation. At the closing event you present the results of the project to all students in this introductory course.

The week sessions:

February 26:
The 360° view of trends and problems in society. In this first week session you read and hear about the way in which problems may be identified, how you may develop a view around on the landscape of issues in society without getting dizzy. You also will learn and discuss about the relationship between experts and decision makers as it developed since long ago, and how this relationship can be seen today. Lecturer: prof.dr. Arco Timmermans.

March 5:
What do you see? The answer to this often is different for people and organizations. Looking at trends and problems happens through a lens. What kinds of lenses can we distinguish, what are their characteristics, and what risks and biases are involved when we look through them? Lecturer: prof. dr. Arco Timmermans.

March 12:
How do organizations and institutions use information? Like individuals, organizations must process all kinds of information, but they face capacity limits when doing this. Issues can be routine matters to deal with many at once, but prominent problems often compete for attention. What are the consequences of this in the real world? And how do private and public organizations use what in an earlier lecture was called a ‘lens’ in order to filter the information they think is necessary to know? How does this involve a risk of bias and ‘missing the point’, and what can be done about this? With guest speaker.

March 19:
What knowledge is relevant? When you think about an important problem, what knowledge is available, and where, and what is relevant in understanding the problem? This session is about Knowledge production: search databases, google scholar, TedX, reports, memos etc.
In this session you are (further) familiarized with the art and science of gathering useful data. Not only do we discuss the more ‘traditional’ sources of information, we also look into contemporary and new sources. This session connects to the central theme about how problems may be identified and what are the role and function of scientific knowledge in addressing these problems. How can we find ‘facts’ – and how to deal with uncertainties? This week also provides the basis of the Informatics Lab session, in which we deal with Design Thinking.

March 26:
Informatics Lab: this session is about how to design information for communicating about a problem. Lecturers: Sjoerd Louwaars MSc, Mark Reijnders MSc. Design Thinking, while originally developed in the design business, is spread ever more widely amongst scientific and professional audiences. We ask the question to what extent Design Thinking can be used to cope with so-called wicked problems, the ones that are disputed intensely and involve uncertainty. In this session both the underlying theoretical perspective as well as the more ‘practical’ side of Design Thinking is explained. During the meeting you are provided with (web)design tools to help you develop your assignment product.

April 2:
The nexus between expertise and decision makers in practice, part 1: In this lecture we go into what is called ‘fact free politics’ and the way in which knowledge providers sometimes are disqualified by decision makers. With guest speaker.

April 9:
The nexus between experts and decision makers, part 2: How is knowledge used, or not? In this session we look further into the relationship between experts and decision makers, the way they arrange their contacts, how scientific knowledge based advice is produced and how decision makers often request such advice to improve the quality of their decisions or to invoke external arguments for their claims and policies. This session includes cases of the real world with a guest speaker.

April 16:
Feedback sessions per team on their project.

April 23:
Closing event: presentations of the issue analysis, the use or non-use of scientific knowledge by decision makers dealing with this issue, and the new questions to be asked about this for future expert advice and informed decision making.


You are assessed in several ways:

  • Preparation of small team assignments before the sessions 1-4, for example through a blog post, online assessment of terminology or reading questions.

  • Preparation and participation (individual) in the discussion of the nexus between experts and decision makers.

  • An analysis in a paper focusing on a major issue for which you show how scientific knowledge was used, or not used, in addressing it.

  • Final product presenting the analysis, which may take the form of a poster, a video or website through which you communicate to findings to the audience (all students participating in this first module of the honours programme at Campus The Hague).