Guiding principles for societal impact of research practises in urban environments

Shiwei Chen from Erasmus University Rotterdam is researching the societal impact efforts and principles of the Erasmus Initiatives. Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC), one of the Erasmus Initiatives, aims to enhance urban life by addressing societal challenges like inequality, diversity, and digitalisation. Shiwei: “A key focus for VCC is critically evaluating academic research approaches to better understand and develop societal impact research practices. In that process, they are guided by seven core values: inclusiveness, sharing, justice, commitment, reciprocity, empowerment, and reflexivity.”

Inclusiveness: Challenging Research Conventions

First, VCC challenges conventional research practices by prioritizing inclusiveness. The goal is to give a voice to citizens who are often viewed merely as research subjects, turning them into active participants. For instance, within the (Re)mapping Rotterdam project civil society actors and researchers are brought together by way of Diversity and Inclusion city tours. Like that, VCC forms connections and ultimately includes traditionally marginalized communities in our research.

Sharing: Fostering Knowledge Sharing Between Academics and Urban Professionals

We aim to bring academics and urban professionals together to stimulate them to share their knowledge, lessons learnt and (positive and negative) experiences on solutions for sustainable, inclusive, just, and resilient cities. In this way, knowledge is co-created, transferred and upscaled to new locations and practices. The Closer Cities project aims to unravel the mechanisms of knowledge sharing and city-to-city learning. It connects urban science and urban practice by translating scientific insights into pragmatic guidelines and tools for urban professionals. We strive for a global movement for knowledge sharing through our online platform.  

Justice: Reflecting on Power Structures

Furthermore, within its research, VCC critically examines existing power structures, adopting a humble attitude to listen to diverse stakeholders' needs. Importantly, the initiative is transparent about both the positive and negative impacts of urban policies, striving to create positive change and rectify the negative consequences of past academic work and policies.

Commitment: Ensuring Sustainable Impact

Importantly, VCC emphasizes that societal impact requires continuous effort, commitment, and care. More specifically, its research envisions long-term impact by cultivating enduring relationships with society. That can be seen in the Sustainable and Just Cities initiative's cities network (JUSTRA) which brings together researchers, activists and policy workers on the topic of just sustainability transitions

Reciprocity: A Two-Way Street of Benefit

Another important value promoted at VCC is reciprocity: a two-way relationship between society and academics, emphasizing co-creation and interaction with societal stakeholders. Projects like Recht op Reyeroord exemplify this approach. There, stakeholders were brought together to co-create a safe space for youth in Reyeroord – a youth hub. The project contributed to rethinking how the city council can better relate the siloed system world to the living world. 

Empowering: Inspiring Stakeholders through Action-Oriented Initiatives

VCC achieves impact by inspiring and empowering diverse stakeholders through practice-oriented projects and training. The Nairobi Urban Hub project in Mathare, Kenya, is a testament to this approach. Within this project, VCC researchers collaborate with community researchers in Mathare, Kenya, developing digital repositories, and emphasizing that research should empower.

Reflexivity: Learning and Adapting for Impactful Research

Lastly, a strong emphasis is placed on reflexivity, encouraging critical reflection on research practices. The initiative transforms experiences into cumulative knowledge, informing future research and education. The researchers actively engage in theorizing impactful research practices and redefining the relationship between the university and the city it serves.

In summary, the Erasmus Initiative VCC not only tackles urgent societal challenges but also sets a transformative example in research and education, promoting inclusiveness, justice, commitment, reciprocity, empowerment, and reflexivity to maximize its societal impact.

More information

Vital Cities and Citizens  
With the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC) Erasmus University Rotterdam wants to help improve the quality of life in cities. In vital cities, the population can achieve their life goals through education, useful work and participation in public life. The vital city is a platform for creativity and diversity, a safe meeting place for different social groups. The researchers involved focus on one of the four sub-themes: 

  • Inclusive Cities and Diversity 
  • Resilient Cities and People 
  • Smart Cities and Communities  
  • Sustainable and Just Cities 

 VCC is a collaboration between Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) and International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). 

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