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Working towards a better world together

Global problems such as diseases of affluence or microplastics in the sea are too complex to be dealt with from a single scientific discipline or by just one country. Leiden University has the expertise to bring solutions to these enormous problems a step closer. Read more in the research dossier on ‘Probing complex problems’.

Global and complex
Leiden scientists conduct research on the major challenges of the present day, such as resolving environmental, affluence and diversity questions. ‘The problems in these areas mainly present themselves as local issues,’ Judi Mesman, Dean of Leiden University College (LUC), explains, ‘but what you see is that these local problems are linked throughout the whole world.’ Maritime currents can spread microplastic pollution of the seas to all parts of the world, impacting the health of marine life, which means that fish, for example, are no longer able to reproduce or escape predators. This can have an impact on local and neighbouring ecosystems. And the consumption of contaminated fish can lead to health problems in humans, with all the attendant consequences. With complex problems, a single issue can cascade into a host of problems. Mesman: ‘All these things are connected, and can have far-reaching consequences.’

Sustainable solutions
If we are going to address these complex challenges, we need to have insight into how the different issues are related. ‘We put researchers from different disciplines together in one place,’ says Mesman, ‘so that together they can analyse the problems and their possible consequences.’ The outcomes of these studies generate valuable information that allows policymakers to make better choices.
It is not only insight into the problems that determine a sustainable solution, but also the way these solutions come about. Researchers therefore focus on the organisational aspects of problem resolution at different levels. How can major international institutions such as the UN Security Council be structured more effectively? What is the best way to build trust between different parties? How should the sharing of scientific information be managed?  

Practice and research come together in The Hague
Much of Leiden’s research on global problems takes place in The Hague, in the heart of the ‘international city of peace and justice’. With its International Court of Justice, ministries, multinationals, embassies, NGOs and numerous international conferences, The Hague is an ideal breeding ground. ‘Being located in The Hague means we are able to connect multidisciplinary research with the relevant policymakers. There is more chance that solutions will be implemented successfully if you are involved in the process from its start.’ Mesman is convinced that scientific research related to current policies can only be truly effective if every step is discussed first with experts from practice. ‘That increases the likelihood enormously that scientific insights will actually be implemented,’ Mesman believes.  

Read more about how Leiden research contributes to resolving global challenges in the new research dossier Probing complex problems.

At Leiden University, researchers from different disciplines work together on a safe, healthy, sustainable, prosperous and just world.  Read more about their work in our research dossiers.