Gerard Straver: “The people in the field and in the street inspire me”

Gerard Straver

Kick-of interview with Gerard Straver, InSPIRES Advisory Board member

When we ask Gerard Straver how Science Shops emerged, he thinks on May, 1968. He thinks on a time when students and researches wanted universities to be more open. A movement in Europe, and maybe worldwide. According to our interviewee, there was a germ there for the Science Shops idea, a germ that was later taken up in The Netherlands.

Gerard Straver (GS): Also in Wageningen, where I was a student, we had the wish to work with local people. Our discipline —Tropical Agriculture! — came from our colonial roots. But we, the students, said: “Well, we don’t want to learn about plantation crops, market crops… Coffee, tea, sugar cane. We also want to know about the crops that are important for the farmers. We want to know about farming systems which were developed during ages by the farmers theme selves. Probably they have found solutions for the problems we are now facing worldwide. So, I was in the movement: students that wanted to do research with and for farmers.

InSPIRES: That is how you got involved…

Gerard Straver: After I finished my studies, I had the chance to work in research projects with farmers, government agencies… I learned a lot. When I came back from a period abroad, I had the possibility to join the Science Shop, which was there already for a long time, and to contribute to its development with the ideas and experiences I brought from the field of international development cooperation.

InSPIRES: As you know well in agriculture, every entity comes from another one. We come because there was someone before us, right? We bring this to the conversation because our idea of calling our models “Science Shops 2.0”: Do you think it is accurate?

GS: It is not accurate; but I don’t think that it is very important. The “Science Shop 1.0” was not pre-defined from the beginning. We are trying together to define what is going on and how we can call it. Where do we want to go? It is not that we want to go in only one direction. Maybe we can develop a spectrum of different approaches adapted to different situations or different contexts. I don’t know if “Science Shop 2.0” is the best name, but it shows things can be done in a better way, in a different way. And we should learn from the things we have done already.

InSPIRES: Our project could follow its path…

GS: I think it is very important to be ambitious, to have the will to do something, to improve something in a constructive way. And for that reason, I think it is very good that a lot of attention is given to communication but also to impact evaluation. And to see to what extend Responsible Research and Innovation tools can be integrated in the concept. But it should not be a scientific definition: “Science Shops 2.0 is this; and if one of the criteria elements is not there, you are out”. It’s a developing model that we are constructing together.

InSPIRES: Gerard, how do you manage to be so positive toward beginners?

GS: Well, it’s my personal experience. When I started working in the Science Shop in Wageningen, there were plans to close down it. We had to change, of course, but happily enough, we got a new chance. It was thanks to the Dutch Living Knowledge network and the international LK network, that I could show the importance of doing this kind of research. We could convince the decision makers in my university to nurture it, to understand it would not give immediate benefits in terms of Euros but it would, in a long term, help students to learn important things.

InSPIRES: What about the idea of a mentor? A human that helps a human. Do you believe in it?

GS: I have been inspired by others and that increased my self-confidence. The idea of mentoring may help, and it is not very difficult. Because people do it themselves; but hey feel more comfortable when there is someone they can ask for help or for an advice. It makes things easier. A mentor could help someone who is hesitating “Should we develop a science shop in our institution? Where should we start? In the field or in the street, with the CSOs, with the directory board, or with the European Commission in Brussels?”

InSPIRES: Regarding our project, any first advice?

GS: Continue! I feel there is a good atmosphere. . The members of the InSPIRES team are all very constructive, positive and willing to learn. This is now the beginning and of course there will be hard moments. For example when project reports must be finalized.

InSPIRES: Where and doing what do you see yourself in five years?

GS: Ohh! (He smiles). That’s a difficult question. I have a lot of wishes, a lot of ideas. I want to help my three sons.

Now I have a colleague and we run the Science Shop together. I am very happy about this. But you can never say: “Okey, we are there and it is fine”. Every year and every day there are new challenges and you have to be active.

And besides, our Science Shop will soon be part of a very new department. Again, we have to re-invent the idea. This morning I received an invitation from my boss. The new department is going to be about “value creation”. Its objective will be to create more value with research. Economic value but also societal value.  For the coming three-four years this will be our new challenge. And what will I do then? … I don’t know (He laughs).

(Interview by Leonardo de la Torre, InSPIRES team)