Four teams from different disciplines and institutions within the strategic alliance between TU/e, WUR, UU and UMC Utrecht have received a Unusual Collaborations Grants for projects set to address societal challenges. The Centre for Unusual Collaborations (CUCo) of the alliance has awarded these projects because they are unusual in their composition of the teams, the methodologies, the process or the output. The decision on the amount of each grant has been unusual as well, as all participants have worked this out together in a participatory budget meeting. A total of 830.000 euro has been divided across 4 projects.

The Centre for Unusual Collaborations aims to find solutions for global challenges by stimulating and facilitating opportunities for cooperation between researchers of the institutions of the strategic alliance. Dr. Jessica Duncan, WUR member of the working group for Unusual Collaborations: ‘through interaction between different disciplines we push ourselves outside our disciplinary comfort zones and encourage ourselves to think differently about problems and solutions’.

Participatory budget meeting

To maximize the number of projects that could be funded, CUCo invited the top 4 evaluated projects to a participatory budget meeting. Participants were asked to discuss and to decide together how to divide the money so that all four projects could be funded. Jessica Duncan explains that this approach, “while risky, encouraged all of us to think outside the box. It was challenging for everyone, but in the end it meant that all four projects got funded on a collaborative basis”.

Unusual Collaborations Grant

The Unusual Collaborations Grants are designed to take an idea or project further by enabling innovative, interdisciplinary science and scholarship that aims for societal impact. The teams include researchers from at least three institutes.

Awarded projects

Structures of Strength: Unusual Collaborations on Porous Material: A Solution for Health, Food and Environmental Challenges – Maarten Smulders (WUR), Pariya Behrouzi (WUR), Amir Raoof (UU), Sanli Faez (UU), Mike Boxem (UU), Marjolijn Bol (UU), Noortje Ijssennagger (UMC Utrecht), Yvonne Vercoulen (UMC Utrecht)

Within this project a platform will be created where a team of researchers from diverse fields such as biology, medicine, culture, history, engineering and mathematics come together around the problem of porous materials. Around this common ground – porous materials are everywhere – they will work together and learn from each other in order to combine their knowledge and create solutions related to health, food, energy, cultural and environmental issues. Knowledge and insights related to bio-medicine and cultural heritage are combined to find innovative solutions. These – at first sight unrelated – disciplines have hidden similarities related to porous materials.

Jury report: “Porous materials are everywhere – body tissues, bones, foods, fabrics, batteries, filters, bricks and paints. This seemingly simple observation reveals the hidden similarities, the  common ground between all these disciplines. From there, a unique kind of synergy can be created, with broad applicability.”

“This excellent and original project will bring together a great variety of disciplines working on porous materials in order to effectively learn from each other’s methodology.”

Towards a Data-driven Dashboard to Support a Socially-just Transition to Circular AgricultureRuud JG van Sloun, (TU/e), Fons van der Sommen (TU/e), Hilje van der Horst (WUR), Wilma Steeneveld (UU)

The project proposes to develop a unique data-driven circular farming dashboard that provides actionable insight at a local, regional, and ultimately national level in order to support a socially just transition to circular agriculture, with the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders. This dashboard incorporates knowledge from a large-scale sensor, vision, and data logging network.

Jury report: “This project is unusual in its combination of young academics with expertise in data science, agricultural business economics, veterinary sciences, and sociology, together with agricultural and societal stakeholders.”

“This project will engage and bring together a truly unusual variety of societal stakeholders, such as farming organisations, consumer organisations, and environmental organisations such as bird protection organisation, nature conservation organisations and rural recreation organisations.”

“This collaboration is not only unusual, but necessary!”

The Power of One: Towards the Representation of Unheard and Unseen Individuals in the Hospital, Workplace and NeighbourhoodDaniel Lakens (TU/e), Mathias Funk (TU/e), Daniel Tetteroo (TU/e), Monique Simons (WUR), Jojanneke van der Toorn (UU), Merel van Goch (UU), Martine Veldhuizen (UU), Lieke Stelling (UU), Marianne Boes (UMC Utrecht)

The project aims to find ways to collect data of people currently not included in abstract categories, datasets, or algorithms and will thus improve understanding of the mismatch between the studied sample and the underlying population, and formulate suggestions to make data collection efforts more inclusive. The project will do so by collaborating with professionals in the field to identify people who are not represented by the data used by researchers and governments to make decisions. The project sees the unseen and hears the unheard.

Jury report: “This project is truly uncovered ground and the highly unusual team will reach and engage people who are not the usual suspects.”

“One of the promised outcomes is a glossary of research terms that create confusion when used across disciplines. This self-reflexive and meta-level approach is a model of a successful unusual collaboration.”

Defeating Chronic Pain – Yoeri van de Burgt (TU/e), Sylvia Brugman (WUR), Laura Winkens (WUR), Tessa van Charldorp (UU), Madelijn Strick (UU), Janny de Grauw (UU), Frank Meye (UMC Utrecht), Martijn Froeling (UMC Utrecht), Hanneke Willemen (UMC Utrecht), M. Rijsdijk (UMC Utrecht)

This unusual collaboration aims to better understand what chronic pain actually is to those experiencing it, before redefining pain phenotypes. The project’s approach will be first to explore how to come to a multidisciplinary, multifaceted (re)definition of chronic pain in both animals and humans by combining the available expertise and knowledge within ten research disciplines. It will supplement this with input and feedback from chronic pain patients. Second, the project will uncover what new pain phenotypes can be defined to better understand a patients’ pain experience.

Jury report: “This project is unusual not only because it brings together such a diverse set of disciplines around the urgent problem of chronic pain, but also by involving chronic pain patients and animal owners in the process. This will enable them to tackle chronic pain from many different perspectives.”