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Public Administration students take a close look at societal issues in Multi-Level Governance

During the course BBO II: Multi-Level Governance, students learn to make the link between theory and society by completing a challenging practical assignment. Last term, they worked on real-life issues involving several civil society organisations and stakeholders. On 17 May, they presented their findings and recommendations that the different bodies will actually be able to implement within their organisations. A look behind the scenes: what is the process involved in such practical research?

Assistant Professor Carola van Eijk has been teaching this course for several years, This year she taught the course together with lecturers Jelle van der Wal, Michel Michaloliakos, and Rajeev Lachmipersad. Carola van Eijk always looks forward to the last session of the block when students come together to present their various research projects. These projects are at the heart of what this course is all about. 'In Multi-Level Governance, we look at how different layers of society and governance perceive certain issues,' says Van Eijk. 'The focus here is on how different interests need to be balanced against each other. By having students work in groups and focus on one stakeholder, they can apply theory in practice based on relevant and topical issues.'

Students discuss their research questions

Ongoing social issues

This year, two social issues were examined. One is the Environment Act, which comes into force next year. This law, with its rules for spatial development, affects several layers of government and various stakeholders in society. With such a topical issue, students directly experience how their studies relate to society.

In groups, BBO students focused on specific organisations and agencies that have a stake in the Environment Act. They conduct interviews with the organisation, but also with other stakeholders in that organisation's network. They compile the insights gained from those interviews into a research report, and in the process, they also issue several recommendations. In addition, they translate their research findings into a podcast that is intended to address a wider audience.

In an adjacent room, the results of the other project are discussed: here, students have researched Regional Energy Strategies, in which agreements from the Climate Agreement are put into practice. Here too, many different bodies and organisations are involved, from Drechtsteden to Food Valley. Students presented the insights they had gathered in interviews as a small group with enthusiasm.

Innovative form of education

Student Scott Engelen is excited about this consultancy-like teaching method. 'The great thing about it is that you immediately test theory against practice. Normally, you start with the theory and work on a project at the end of a block. This way, you see the theory in action from day one.' This was the first time that he and his group conducted such practical interviews, and they were welcomed with enthusiasm by the regional organisations: 'People enjoy talking about their working environment, but above all they find it interesting to hear more about the way things work in other areas. You really get a look behind the scenes of such an organisation.'

The posters presented by the students during this session will eventually be made into a podcast episode. Such a creative end product, explains lecturer Jelle van der Wal, is an innovative testing method that fits the innovative design of this course. The results of the students' research projects are also shared with the organisations where the students have conducted research. Van Eijk: 'Last year, the municipality of Leiden, which commissioned that year's project, actively engaged with the results of the reports. That's also where the added value of this course lies: the work students do during this course actually has an impact on society and the people who are involved.'

Text: Hester Groot

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