Prof.dr. Wim van Vierssen

Science System Assessment of Water Related Research at Delft University of Technology


Research Profile

Multidisciplinary partnership team

Delft University collaborates in a multidisciplinary partnership team with KWR Watercycle Research Institute and the Rathenau Institute. The partnership is bridging the Knowledge and Programme Management group of KWR Watercycle Research Institute ( and the Department of Science System Assessment of the Rathenau Institute ( The team is lead by professor Wim van Vierssen.

Research programme

The multidisciplinary team studies the dynamic interactions between actors from science, society and industry (the Triple Helix) and the rules that govern them. The group is focussing on a number of today’s complex challenges such as managing climate change in low-lying deltaic areas and sustainable water resources management. The research aims at enlarging our understanding of the water-related science system in order to improve the water sector’s operational performance, its collaboration strength and innovation power.

Main research questions are:

  • What are the mechanisms through which the interaction between scientific research and the societal needs for scientific knowledge are taking shape and how are they explained?
  • What is the contribution of the different institutional and functional characteristics of the science system – such as agenda setting, financing, research execution and evaluation – to this interaction?
  • What are the similarities and/or differences between the institutional and functional characteristics of water-related knowledge systems across countries and regions and how are they explained?

To answer these questions three important problem areas (PA) are distinguished:

  • PA1 Water Safety: climate change in deltaic areas
  • PA2 Water Security: water resources management
  • PA3 Water Supply & Sanitation: water technology & public health

Case studies include water-related science systems and science networks at the regional, national and global level. This allows for comparisons between levels, between countries and between regions across the globe. Additionally, comparisons between water science systems and networks and other fields – such as energy – are foreseen. This enables to determine the importance of factors such as market form, societal demand, character of the problem and political and administrative culture for the water sector’s operational performance, collaboration strength and innovation power.

Methodologically, the research programme contains a mix of different instruments such as in-depth interviews, questionnaires, social network and semantic web analysis, data mining and agent-based modeling.


  • PA1 Water safety: climate change in deltaic areas

Tjerk Wardenaar (2009-2013): The effects of MAPs on incentive structures

Research programmes that require researchers to cooperate with societal actors have become increasingly popular over the last decade. Little is known, however, about the dynamics and effects of these multi-actor multi-measure programmes (MAPs). This project is trying to fill this knowledge gap. The aim is to get insight into the organisation, dynamics and effects of these programmes. The focus is on the position of these programmes in the science system and on their effects on incentive and opportunity structures.

  • PA2 Water Security: water resources management

Andrew Segrave (2009-2012) Dealing with the Foreseeable Future: How professional and cultural characteristics shape water management and research agendas through time perceptions

People and societies conceptualise and experience time in fundamentally different ways. This basic aspect of perception significantly influences the way we frame problems and conceive solutions. The hypothesis of this project is that different Time Perspectives lead to different perceptions of problems and beliefs about what is sustainable. Such differences are likely to be especially evident with 'wicked problems' like Sustainable Water Resources Management and Climate Change that involve (culturally and professionally) diverse stakeholders. Ironically, response strategies to such problems inherently require concerted action (1) because of the large spatial and temporal scale on which they take place and (2) to minimise the occurrence of conflicting interventions. This disparity between diverse problem perceptions and the need for collective understanding and united action is increasingly recognised as a concern in the field of resource management.

Bei Wen (2010-2014): The knowledge infrastructure in the (Dutch) water sector and its scientific and societal impact

The project’s aim is to develop a model which can predict and explain which knowledge is developed where, by whom and with which impact. Such a model can offer assistance to policy makers, scientists, businesses and societal organizations at various levels in making choices on 1) the content and organization of knowledge development in the water sector, and 2) the scientific and societal impact of knowledge developed in the water sector.

  • PA3 Water Supply & Sanitation: water technology & public healt

Pieter Heringa (2010-2014): Research networks and innovation in the water sector

This project focuses on collaborative networks of actors from science, industry and society and on innovation as a result of cooperation between these actors. The project pays special attention to the question how spatial, organisational, institutional and cognitive proximity factors explain collaboration in multi-actor research networks and innovation. The water sector harbours such networks, which are often strongly institutionalized.

Team Members:

  • Prof. Wim van Vierssen
  • Peter van den Besselaar
  • Mariëlle van der Zouwen
  • Edwin Horlings
  • Femke Merkx
  • Andrew Segrave
  • Bei Wen
  • Pieter Heringa
  • Tjerk Wardenaar

PhD Students:

  • A.J. Segrave

Prof.dr. Wim van Vierssen