Seed money project highlight: transitions in food-water-energy infrastructures

Interview with Prof. dr. Petra van Dam and Joëlle Koorneef.

06/19/2020 | 3:35 PM

Sippora Zoutewelle interviews Prof. dr. Petra van Dam – Faculty of Humanities, co-founder of the Environmental Humanities Center and Joëlle Koorneef – Humanities Research Master student. 

Subject: Workshop Transitions in food-water-energy infrastructures.

What was your motivation to apply for ASI seed money?
Petra van Dam: My fellow organizers (Sjoerd Kluiving, Kees Boersma, and Ted Veldkamp) and I felt it was important to better understand how transitions concerning the development of food-water-energy infrastructures become effective. The reason being is that we are facing large transitions, which demand overcoming all sorts of resistance. Therefore this transition requires an interdisciplinary approach, so it was important for us to include different faculties at the VU and start a discussion. Hence, we applied for seed money with the aim to organize a workshop around this topic.

Can you share some highlights of the workshop?
Joëlle Koorneef and Petra van Dam: We are very happy with how the workshop turned out. We had an excellent keynote by Derk Loorbach of the Rotterdam DRIFT center, who introduced us to the subject of transitions. He placed it well in the societal context and in current discussions, and also reflected on the role of the scientist and ‘action research’. Additionally, we had presentations from scholars and experts in the field covering a wide array of topics, such as the challenges associated with recycling solar panels. The workshop was also an invitation for people to network, which turned out to be particularly relevant for foreign participants. The day ended with an inspiring presentation by Marc van den Homberg and Sterre Bierens of the Red Cross. They shared valuable insights regarding their 510 project, in which they use data to realize faster and more effective humanitarian aid before, during, and after a disaster. It was nice to end the day with a message of hope for the future.

How did everyone at the workshop, coming from different academic fields, get along?
Mostly everyone present at the workshop was familiar with interdisciplinary research, so they knew what to expect. But it was a good way to further promote interdisciplinary collaborations and stimulate a wide range of debates and interactions in transitions in food-water-energy infrastructures.

The workshop clearly had a very interdisciplinary nature. What about your team?
We think that the participants of the workshop were a good reflection of the diversity within our own team. The workshop was basically a collaborative effort between researchers of the Faculty of Humanities, the Faculty of Social Science and the Institute for Environmental Studies. During initial meetings with the team we realized that every researcher speaks their own language. Interdisciplinary language acquisition definitely played an important part in achieving a successful collaboration.

What challenges did you encounter along the way?
We actually didn’t have many challenges. The only difficult part I would say is time management. Getting people from different faculties together at the same time can sometimes be challenging.

Do you have any recommendations for the next round of teams working on ASI Seed Money projects?
Don’t make your team too big. It is nice to work with many different people, but at the same time it makes it harder to get everyone together and make progress. Also, get a student-assistant on board. For us this really added value, since she took a big part of the workload off our shoulders.