A very brief history of “Smarter Choices for Better Health”

A blogpost by Roel van den Berg, Programme Manager SCBH
Header - Striving for better health and healthcare
Xray of a hand forming the OK sign

With the launch of SCBH 2.0 only a small number of members remains who have been around since the earliest meetings in 2016. This blogpost is targeted towards our new members and will answer why we find us here in our current form and shape. We had a kick-off meeting for the 2.0 phase recently, but that event was primarily forward-looking. This brief post on the other hand is meant to shed more light on some elements of our past.

The Erasmus Initiatives are EUR’s response to broader encouragement of academic research characterized by a larger scale of projects, more interdisciplinary work and a stronger focus on the needs of society.  Those three elements - scale, spread, and society – are reflected in everything we do and all new projects we start.

Society has many needs and EUR cannot address them all. The Erasmus Initiatives are focused on challenges in which EUR has substantial expertise in various schools. In 2016 three themes were defined on that basis and corresponding Erasmus Initiatives were started in 2017. One aims to improve the quality of life in cities (Vital Cities & Citizens or VCC), another to make prosperity more inclusive (Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity or DoIP) and we, Smarter Choices for Better Health or SCBH, aim to improve health and health care in an interdisciplinary fashion. In 2021 a fourth one has been added, around Societal Aspects of AI or AIPact. While the thematic scopes of these Erasmus Initiatives differ, they tend to overlap in areas in which research deals with inequality in society. That is an interesting fact, because EUR was founded and has been popularly perceived ever since as an institution that trains “suits”: future members of the establishment such as bankers, lawyers, doctors, consultants, and accountants who play a vital role in society but essentially prosper by preserving the status quo (at least according to popular perception). Yet, the knowledge EUR possesses and shares about how the world works, how companies are run, and how people behave and the network it maintains with the movers and shakers in society put it in an excellent position to effectuate change from within. In this respect as well the Erasmus Initiatives have the potential to play an innovative role, by showing how EUR’s expertise can be used in a different way.

The three initial Erasmus Initiatives received a first round of funding till the end of 2021. After preparations and hiring in 2017, each one was up and running in 2018.  In November 2020 an external committee, chaired by the Global Head of Government and Public Affairs of Royal Philips, evaluated our progress during a two- days visit (online, because of the Covid-restrictions). This was a combined assessment for the three Erasmus Initiatives, with some sessions dedicated to each of them separately. Before the visit, the Erasmus Initiatives had prepared a self-assessment which contained a common part and more detailed chapters for each one of the three initiatives. During the visit the committee met with the management teams and members of the advisory boards, with the research teams and with the doctoral students. They assessed the objectives and alignment with EUR strategy, the governance structure, the challenges of interdisciplinary work, our approach to creating impact and the long-term perspective for the initiatives. The committee’s conclusion was very positive, both at the general level and per Erasmus Initiative. The committee concluded “this is an example that could, and should, be followed”. Soon after their positive report, the Executive Board extended the funding for the Erasmus Initiatives until the end of 2025. Based on that commitment each one of the three Erasmus Initiatives started preparing for a second phase, taking into account their own conclusions from the self-assessment and the recommendations from the review committee. In parallel, AIPact started as a fourth initiative.

For SCBH that has led to the following main adjustments for the years 2022-2025:

  • We now have a more comprehensive management team, with four members including the academic lead. Each MT member bears responsibility for management issues that are more or less specific for an initiative like SCBH, including external funding, interdisciplinary doctoral training, alignment and coherence between our four Action Lines, and external visibility and collaboration with third parties.
  • Each Action Line now has two leaders, instead of one, to increase the interdisciplinary orientation.
  • We expanded our support capacity, e.g., for marketing and communication and to organize events, by part-time secondment of two operations managers who are based at DoIP.
  • Some researchers have appointments in two Action Lines, to stimulate cross-fertilization.
  • We reduced the involvement of visiting scholars, while preserving our international orientation.
  • We created dedicated budget to support work in new projects inside or outside SCBH, with small grants.
  • We maintained the budget for an Open Call for additional doctoral projects supervised by professors outside the SCBH core team, but for those projects we put stronger emphasis on alignment with ongoing SCBH work.    

More can be said about the history of SCBH, of course. If you have further questions do not hesitate to contact me.

Roel van den Berg

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