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Now is a challenging time for science. Here, we learn about the importance of funding Dutch science and research to help tackle complex societal issues

Today is a challenging time for science. It is increasingly being called upon to help tackle complex societal issues and is reaching more aspects of everyday society more than ever. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) places the utmost importance on funding top researchers, steering the course of Dutch science by research programmes and also managing the national knowledge infrastructure. NWO’s core task is to fund talented scientists and research facilities. The selection process of research proposals is through a peer-reviewing process, based on the advice of specialist scientists and relevant experts in the Netherlands and abroad.

NWO successfully manages this competitive research funding and ensures that the money reaches the best scientific talent and the best research proposals. NWO funds specific scientific research that contributes towards solving societal challenges, showing its belief that this funded research is beneficial to all corners of society. Today, it funds more than 5,800 research projects at universities and knowledge institutions every year, focusing on all scientific disciplines and fields of research attempting to leave no stone unturned.

NWO operates within the following core values that are vital for successfully realising its ambitions and accomplishing its goals:

  • Ground-breaking

Both pioneering and exploring the boundaries of existing knowledge.

  • Committed

Always anticipating developments in science and society.

  • Connecting

Maintaining an open attitude, connecting expertise and agendas.

This final core value – ‘connecting’ in modern society is, in fact, the main aspect of the NWO’s strategic plan from 2019 – 2022 ‘Connecting Science and Society’. NWO emphasises its vision as a connecting role by making connections within science and between science and society together with its knowledge partners. For- ward-thinking developments require more collaboration in the science system and more dialogue between science and society. Besides a strong disciplinary basis, facilitating collaboration between disciplines, across sectors and throughout the knowledge chain and with societal partners is undoubtedly more necessary than ever before. NWO facilitates excellent, curiosity-driven disciplinary, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, connecting researchers from various disciplines and across the entire knowledge chain and thus bringing researchers and societal partners together. Furthermore, NWO invites partners from industry, the government and societal organisations to contribute with their own knowledge agendas and questions to the programming, realisation, and co-funding of research.

Here we can see active examples of how NWO will continue to place considerable emphasis on collaboration in light of developments in science and society today. Harmonising the current funding instruments to facilitate collaboration which, as a result, researchers, irrespective of the research domain, will be subject to the same conditions, is, in fact, an extremely effective way of ensuring accessibility to all, and also contributes to NWO’s focus on inclusivity within research. NWO states that it wants to be an organisation where every- one feels welcome and can bring out the best in themselves and teams. Striving for a diverse organisation with an inclusive culture where everybody is needed, irrespective of cultural, ethnic or religious background, gender, sexual orientation, health, and age is something that NWO prioritise. “We can only achieve that if we shift the goalposts and change patterns, structures and processes. We will do this by focusing our attention on our granting policy and employer’s policy.” (1) This will strengthen research in the Netherlands, breaking down the barriers that still prevail today in science.

Here NWO emphasises its connecting role, and does this yet again through the importance it places on open science. An important part of the budget is spent on open research and talent programmes. NWO believes that research results paid for by public funds should be freely accessible worldwide, (including both scientific publications and other forms of scientific output.) In principle, it must be possible to share research data with others as well. This allows valuable knowledge to be used by researchers, companies and public organisations throughout the Netherlands and other parts of the world.

It is true that the Internet has radically changed the possibility to disseminate scientific knowledge. Therefore NWO’s open access aims to make the outcomes of scientific research freely accessible worldwide for everybody. It is beneficial because open access increases the impact of research results, open access publications are easier to find and are more likely to be cited, and it also ensures that public organisations and companies have access to the most recent and up to date scientific insights. Emphasis on these areas can only have positive results on Dutch research. Cooperation is key.

It is clear to see that as well as funding, NWO influences, supports and connects. As its mission is to advance world-class scientific research that has scientific and societal impact, ensuring not just quantity, but high-quality research, this causes us to question, why is fundamental research the basis of excellence and innovation? This research allows for opportunities to innovate the world as we know it, from anything as vast as “purifying wastewater under extreme conditions” (2) to a cafe that is “challenging masculinity to stop violence against women in Bangladesh.” (3) Thousands of scientists can conduct their research thanks to financial support from NWO. There are without a doubt numerous benefits of research, and research leads to results. Dutch research is highly regarded and is effective thanks to a smart combination of collaboration, competition, quality assurance, and a good infrastructure. The Netherlands wishes to maintain and strengthen this leading position. Promoting research is vital to ground-breaking innovation in the Netherlands.




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