An innovative approach brings climate-resilient society closer

November 28, 2023

Linking climate research to practice and accelerating system change in collaboration is the goal of Klimaatonderzoek Initiatief Nederland (KIN), formally established this month. KIN connects, broadens, deepens and unlocks knowledge for transitions to a climate-neutral and climate-resilient society. ‘We have noticed in the start-up phase, in which we have already made great strides, that there is broad support for the KIN. That is good news because working together – scientists, policymakers and societal partners – is badly needed towards a climate-neutral and climate-resilient world. There is no time to lose,’ said Gerard van der Steenhoven, interim president of the KIN.

The KIN wants to contribute to changes towards a just, globally sustainable society. This requires an innovative approach to science and research: commitment to collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and with societal partners. For this, restrictive conditions and counteracting incentives in the scientific system must be removed as much as possible. Collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and outside science must become more effortless.

Van der Steenhoven explains: ‘Research and knowledge are essential for tackling together the biggest societal challenges we all face. The starting point is cooperation rather than competition. This innovative approach must bring us closer to a climate-proof society.’

First work program

The first concrete work program of the KIN is already being developed with the theme ’transition in urban areas through the lens of justice’. The ideas in the proposal originated during a “Crutzen” workshop, in which all stakeholders  (researchers, policymakers and civil society actors) defined the contours of the work program in a short period of time. ‘The first work program is so special because it shows that it is possible to bring together people from completely different and diverse backgrounds and have them work together toward a common goal: to identify actions and research needed to make the transition to a sustainable and equitable urban environment (quickly) possible. I find it truly incredible that this has been achieved,” Van der Steenhoven said.

New approach

Quartermaster Michiel van den Hout explains what is new about the KIN’s approach: ‘Fortunately, a lot of climate-related research is already being done. That is and will continue to be important. But to bring about system change, we need a different kind of research: transdisciplinary research, in which scientists from different disciplines, companies and social parties work together. Such research is typically action-oriented, by trying new ideas in practice (learning by doing) and drawing broadly applicable conclusions. The design of this type of program must be as flexible as possible, in the subsidy conditions (for example, you must be able to reimburse companies or governments to allow them to participate), but also in the implementation: it must be easy to make adjustments if, halfway through a project, you discover that the collaboration is not working well after all, or that new partners are needed.’

‘Some aspects of this approach to research are fortunately becoming more common recently, for example within the NWA, but organizations like TNO are also experimenting with it. We want to encourage much more of this type of research and work towards more national coordination, prioritization and direction. We will also focus our efforts on ensuring that existing knowledge is applied where it is needed. Many agree that there is a great need for that.’

‘It is actually a systemic change in science itself. Our philosophy is that you participate because you wish to contribute to solutions to the climate problem, not to score the best publications. We talk to people about this and challenge them to step out of the old pattern by steering toward cooperation and avoiding competition. We try to entice parties not just to apply for money but to add something. In setting up the first KIN program, I encountered some people who said: I don’t need money from this program, but I have a PhD student who can help for part of her time because I think the subject is essential. That’s the mindset we propagate from KIN.

Support

Many organizations and individuals cooperated in establishing the KIN, both knowledge institutions and umbrella organizations, as well as the top institutes (TO2), national knowledge institutes, and university medical centres (s), contributing ideas and expressing their formal support for the establishment of KIN. The development phase of KIN was made possible with financial resources from NWO and KNAW for the initial activities, deployment of personnel and strategic support. ZonMW also contributed to the support activities of the KIN, which has now been established as a separate organizational entity of NWO. View the founding document [PDF in Dutch on the new website] describing the purpose and operation of the KIN.