Working together with societal partners in education

An interview with Impact at the Core’s knowledge brokers

In early 2022, two knowledge brokers were added to the Impact at the Core team: Moon Fung Fong and André Hendrikse. They focus on engaging societal partners in impact-driven education; partners who deal with complex social issues in practice. We look back with Moon Fung and André on the progress they made during their years at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

What do you do at Impact at the Core?

Moon Fung: “Since February 2022, André and I have been working as knowledge brokers at Impact at the Core. Our immediate colleagues are learning innovators and they support lecturers to make their courses more impact-driven. For example, to teach students to work in a multidisciplinary way, but also so that students work on authentic, real-life issues practice instead of purely theoretical issues. That‘s where André and I come in: for this type of education, we set up connections with existing networks in the city and region around social themes.”

Knowledge brokers, sounds vague…

André: “You’re not wrong, but it does cover what we do. Our assignment was broadly defined when we started, and we have a lot of room in how we give shape to it. If EUR is serious about collaborating with societal partners in education and realising a greater impact, we also need to work on permanent structures, service delivery and relationship management.” 

Moon Fung: “In our first few months, we worked out and defined our mission.” 

André: “Moon Fung is better at this than I am. So, I am more focused on setting up external contacts in Rotterdam in particular.” 

Moon Fung: “In addition, of course a lot of time went into getting to know EUR, as it’s a large complex organisation. The EUR community is a collective of very different organisations, programmes and projects. From faculties and research institutes to consulting organisations, study associations and temporary programmes. But many people outside EUR think it as just one organisation.” 

André: “Precisely! And we are not the only ones working on external relations for education within the university, so we work closely together with other programmes.” 

Interesting! With whom do you collaborate within EUR?

Moon Fung: “To do our work, it’s important that we have a good understanding of what is needed within our education. Of course, we work with our direct colleagues who are involved in educational innovation. We support programmes in which Impact at the Core is involved with specific stakeholder management. We also take questions from other programmes that could use our help in working with partners.” 

André: “We also have a growing network of colleagues who have many contacts with external organisations. We have called this the Bruggenbouwers & Buitenspelers Netwerk. We started this informal network together with Erasmus Verbindt, Erasmus X and RSM, to help each other by sharing knowledge and contacts. Especially if we are going to scale up impact-driven education and research within EUR, there will be many more relationships with external partners. Through internal cooperation, we also try to ensure that organisations are not approached by many different colleagues from EUR and that we maintain existing relationships well and don’t have to keep rebuilding them.”

Bruggenbouwers & Buitenspelers Netwerk, you say? How does it work?

André: “The network presents an opportunity to get to know your colleagues who have a great external network. We do this by getting together a few times a year and exchanging tips and questions through a joint teams-channel. Perhaps it would be better to call the network a community, which fits in better with the other networks that exist within EUR.”

How do your educational colleagues know where to find you? And what concrete support do you offer?

Moon Fung: “We are currently involved in several educational projects thanks to our direct colleagues at Impact at the Core. They are in contact with faculties who have expressed an interest in working with outside parties on impact issues. These range from RSM’s HR programmes and honours programme to EUC’s Health Psychology programme. Our goal for 2023 is to make our services visible to our internal community online and through newsletters. This way, lecturers will know how to find us more easily and they will also know, for example, what topics we are involved with.”

André: “Because we are active in various networks, we see more and more opportunities to make connections. We have learned that for the time being it works better to start from a concrete question on the educational side and find partners from there, rather than matching education with a question from a partner. We do sometimes start with a question from a partner. However, in that case things are still too diffuse on the supply side, i.e. at the university, to organise this well, and often there are practical conditions or educational requirements that make it more difficult. But in the future, as the internal and external networks grow and become connected, and by deploying a matching platform, we do hope to be able to properly pick up supply and demand from both sides.”

What is your process?

Moon Fung: “When a lecturer decides to work with societal partners, we send them a short form to fill out with practical questions. The idea behind the form is that we have a clear picture of what the subject is and what exactly the lecturers are looking for. Is it an undergraduate or graduate course? How many students are involved? When does the course start? What type of issues are students concerned with within this course? But also, how many external parties are they looking for? Based on this form, we schedule an initial interview with the lecturer in question. And in this conversation, we discuss the details and the process going forward.”

Why would external organisations want to work with EUR within education?

Moon Fung: “Sometimes students work on a concrete question from an organisation and this yields useful results, such as in the Impact Space minor. Two external partners were very happy with the recommendations students made on exercise and health for youngsters in Rotterdam-Zuid. In addition, external partners also participate because they want to build a long-term relationship with EUR or would like to give something back.”

André: “We will take extra steps to involve organisations that have much to offer to education, but do not immediately see the importance of collaboration. For example, some organisations work under great time pressure on urgent societal issues and see little immediate added value in collaborating with students on academic issues that often also require communication in English. We constantly ask ourselves the question: ‘What‘s in it for stakeholders?’ In this we can be much more creative, I think. Collaboration is almost always customised.”

Moon Fung: “Besides that, a relationship is not just between organisations, but is often tied to personal contacts. In that sense, we feel responsible that the relationship remains good, even when the collaboration has finished.”

How important is it that collaboration creates a positive societal impact?

Moon Fung: “Very important. If there is no clear positive, social contribution, it does not belong to Impact at the Core. Furthermore, it also ties in with my personal conviction that the big issues of our time require a different type of student/employee than, say, 20 years ago. We must prepare the new generation to deal with truly complex issues that are multidisciplinary in nature. This also requires that they know how to collaborate with external parties, rather than just staying within the familiar confines of academia.” 

André: “The same goes for me. When I applied, I asked about EUR’s ambition. Creating positive societal impact is a nice slogan, but just about every organisation claims something like that these days. When I asked how firmly this ambition is supported within the EUR and where it comes from, I was told, among other things, that students increasingly expect direct, social relevance from the university and want their education to contribute to their ability to realise impact themselves. This answer played an important role for me in my considerations. I understand well that collaboration with practitioners is sometimes a hassle, and that it’s easier to teach with fictional cases or based on existing research. But if we want to create an impact, we have to go out more and bring in more from the outside. My colleague Jilde Garst, who is part of the DIT platform, among others, recently wrote that the university ‘is struggling to set a course, torn between guarding the existing practices and norms that have shaped our identity as an academic institution, and opening up to new values and ideas that allow us to better support our communities.’ We also notice this tension and we have to deal with it.” 

Moon Fung: “You can see this, of course, in the new educational vision and in the developments around ‘engagement’ by Erasmus University. It’s great that we can contribute to this in our role as coordinators.”

If you would like to work with societal partners in your education, please contact Moon Fung Fong and André Hendrikse at; they would love to get in touch with you!

More information

Impact at the Core is a central innovation program at Erasmus University Rotterdam that works on education within which students work together on solutions for societal problems. We do this by designing, strengthening and co-developing initiatives for so-called impact-driven education. By that, we mean education in which our positive contribution to society plays a central role.

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