Ernst ten Heuvelhof


Professor of Public Administration in the TPM Faculty at TU Delft. I'm also a professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Tell us about your personal life

"I am married and have two daughters. We live in Rotterdam. I love watching my children grow up. It is like reliving my own youth all over again, but this time in my own children. I have a lot of interests outside my work, but nothing especially active. I do like reading about all kinds of subjects. But I do not do anything out of the ordinary."

What is your favourite hobby?

"I like engaging in sport in the open air. This can include anything: I have a racing bike, I like going jogging, and I enjoy winter sports and walking in the mountains. I also like listening to music, especially religious music and opera, and I read a lot of newspapers, novels and also popular scientific literature about other disciplines."

What was the highlight of your career?

"I have had lots of wonderful experiences. I can mention the obvious things: being appointed as a professor, the TU Delft Teaching Award. But I also enjoy a lot of more trivial things. Students who respond to lectures so that you can actually see and hear how much they have improved. Public administrators who respond positively to advice. Clients who come back for more. These are the small things that make life great."

Your greatest challenge at the moment?

"There are two. Firstly, I am the chairman of the task force whose members also include administrators from our electricity networks. This task force has been instructed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs to draw up an investment plan for the introduction of what are known as smart grids in the Netherlands. Secondly, I am increasingly active in the world of water. I was involved in evaluating the Room for the River (Ruimte voor de Rivier) policy and I'm currently evaluating the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. I am also involved in the implementation of the forty Room for the River projects."

What do you enjoy most about your work?

"The combination of studying and conducting research, writing, giving advice and teaching. I consider myself fortunate to be able to do this with so many inspirational colleagues, two of whom I would like to mention. I have worked on a great series of publications with Hans de Bruijn. Our collaboration goes back some twenty years. And along with Margot Weijnen, I have the honour of managing an extraordinary and inspirational research programme entitled Next Generation Infrastructures."

Why Delft?

"For an expert in public administration, TU Delft may not seem the most obvious choice. But I find TU Delft to be a highly inspirational place where work is done on solving some really major social problems, such as energy, transport and water. The TU Delft DRIs (Delft Research Initiatives) are extraordinarily relevant to society and highly interesting in scientific terms, so it is a pleasure to contribute to them from the perspective of a public administrator."

Your best characteristic?

"You will need to ask other people about that. I have been told that I am good at engendering enthusiasm in others. If that is true, it certainly is a good characteristic."

Your worst characteristic?

"You will need to…My ostentatious body language. It seems that it is completely obvious to everyone if I'm bored, annoyed or tired."

What subject do you think should be high on the political agenda?

"It's a cliché, but education can and must be improved, at all levels."

Your source of inspiration?

"I don't have one all-embracing source of inspiration. But I do feel inspired from time to time. In such cases, it can be any random speaker or writer or a piece of music. However, I do have two favourites from the field of public administration. Aaron Wildavsky is an excellent writer on a wide variety of themes and his work is always original, makes sense and is grounded in real life. Lindblom is also inspiring because he has been able to translate his careful observations into decision-making strategies that I find extremely appealing. Wildavsky and Lindblom are convincing proof that incremental policy is not only the dominant force in the reality of public administration, it is also a sensible strategy. Adopt a sensible approach when tempted by major visions or highly promising future prospects. Improvement should be made in small steps, by tackling each problem one by one and sorting out any issues: it should be done in a way that is reversible, applying trial and error and always trying out new things. And finally: make sure you keep it all in perspective."

Your life philosophy?

"I'm not really sure I have one."

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