Independent scholar, cat addict, tattoo lover


Life and work of an indy scholar part 1 - It’s that time of the year that I start to think about my ambitions for the months that follow. I know most entrepreneurs start their planning and preparations as soon as September and as late as December, but after summer is my busiest time and I like to keep December as appointment- and deadline-free as possible. This helps me clear my mind and start the new year afresh with thinking about what I want to do the upcoming eleven months. As a bonus, I have time left to spend the holiday season with my loved ones in a relaxed mode. A few years ago I used December fulltime for writing final reports. My standard responses to my impatient partner were “Just one more email” of “Just finishing this paragraph”, so we always arrived late at diner and I always left early on receptions. I decided that that was not the way to end a year and drastically cut down my work load which, for a workaholic like me, hasn’t been easy. I’m still recovering.

The advantage of being an independent scholar is that I’m being hired by a diversity of clients for a broad range of projects. That’s also a disadvantage. On the upside, I develop a broad expertise in societal issues, but on the downside, it’s difficult to create a clear research profile that potential clients can relate to. After all, ‘societal issues’ is quite a container and my projects range from creative economy to poverty relief, from urban renewal to soil sanitation, from educational innovation to public services, with a lot of side steps to adjacent areas. My challenge was to find a common denominator in all this. It has helped me a lot to reconstruct the at first glance diffuse activities into a program with clear headings, which I use to plan further ahead. When I feel overwhelmed by the diversity of projects and leads, I revisit my program and make clear choices about which activities to continue and which ones to stop. Key words in my program are bottom-up social innovations by citizens and entrepreneurs, and tools for civil servants and public professionals to participate in the society that thus emerges. This has been my recurrent passion since 2000, when I was a postdoctoral fellow in a European research project about active citizenship. My method of choice is narrative research, for which in 1998 I developed a strategy for my PhD thesis. I like narrative research, because from the outset the voice of all participants is explicitly included. With my background in both humanities and social sciences, narrative research is ideal as it combines meaning and language with everyday-life experience.

So, what have I been up to this week? I know I could’ve blogged about this week’s violent attack on Charlie Hebdo, but I don’t like to speculate about the motives of the killers nor grant them the too easy victory of reviving an us-versus-them or ‘clash of civilizations’ type of discourse. The relation with Muslim fundamentalism is too superficial for me. It takes a specific kind of person and specific kinds of circumstances for individuals to escalate to such extremities. In a different time in a different place, they might have taken the path of neo-Nazism or hooliganism. In other words, there is nothing inherently violent in enthusiasm for a religion, a country or a sport, but all can have their extreme adherents whose obsession can turn into insanity and pathological behavior. So there you have, a small comment anyway, but I’ll leave it with that.

On Monday, I’ve been working on the final report of a project I did last year and probably I’ll be working on it tomorrow as well. The project was about local entrepreneurs and their value for the city (i.c. Nijmegen, where I live). I always start late with reports because I need the time to process the data in my mind and create the overall picture. Writing that up always takes extra time, because I want to put that overall picture on paper as accurately as possible. On Tuesday I had a meeting with some fellow entrepreneurs. We want to create a method that enables publics (i.e. the people involved in a certain issue) to research and discuss their concerns and experiences, facilitated with both web-based and large-scale narrative research and small-scale meetings. This may sound a bit abstract, but it finds its specific manifestations in concrete projects (our pilot is about living with cancer). Wednesday is our weekend this year, due to the working schedule of my partner. We drove to the south to bring my family New Year’s wishes and of course for drinks and catching up. Yesterday and today I’ve been doing desk research about social entrepreneurship. The aim is to create a typology and to map size and impact of different types of social entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. And of course, I’ve been working on my list of upcoming and desired activities in 2015, of which you’ll be hearing in the following weeks. As I was compiling my wish list, someone called me to ask if I could supervise a research about client priorities in health insurances (a small assignment) and someone else emailed me an update about a research proposal about urban renewal, in which, if all goes well, I’ll participate as trainer and consultant (a large assignment). Next week will be pretty busy too, so this entrepreneurial year starts well. I’ll keep you posted.

Part 2: Many ups and one down for this indy scholar          All weekly blogs