From the chair of NWO Domain Science - 3

New tracks for NWO Domain Science 2019 - 2022

In the summer of 2018, the board presented “Off the beaten track”, the strategy manifesto of NWO Domain Science. In this blog, the chair of NWO Domain Science sketches the contours of this.

Dear colleagues,

In the summer of 2018, the board presented "Off the beaten track", the strategy manifesto of NWO Domain Science. In this blog, I sketch the contours of this . To start, the title "Off the beaten track" expresses two essential aspects of the strategy.

Niek Lopes Cardozo, acting chair of the Board of NWO Domain Science.  Photo: Bram Saeys.Niek Lopes Cardozo, acting chair of the Board of NWO Domain Science. Photo: Bram Saeys.

Firstly, NWO Domain Science values fundamental science and high-risk, explorative research. NWO Domain Science aims to give space to wonder and curiosity, discovery, unexpected connections and inspiration by providing researchers in the natural sciences with a platform and appropriate forms of funding.

Secondly, the title refers to the fact that with the refurbishment of NWO, the publication of the new NWO strategy, and structure of the OCW research budget, the way in which funding of scientific research is organised has undergone fundamental changes. These changes do provide a unique opportunity to simplify funding schemes, to review criteria for the awarding of grants, to shorten processing times, and to remove barriers for interdisciplinary research.

A clear allocation

The current Dutch government has substantially increased the structural funding for research. The NWO strategy clearly formulates the allocation of this budget. Besides the budget for large-scale infrastructure, the NWO institutes and the Gravitation programme, there are four funding pillars of roughly equal size: the Talent Line, the NWO Open Competition (OC), the Knowledge and Innovation Contract (KIC - the NWO contribution to the top sectors) and the Dutch National Research Agenda (Dutch acronym NWA).

Strategic research

Research in the NWA and KIC is strategic in nature. Strong, new consortia will work with a long-term perspective on themes of societal (NWA) or economic (KIC) relevance. The research covers the breadth of scientific disciplines and connects the links in the knowledge chain: from fundamental research to proof of concept. In the NWA and KIC, other parties co-fund the research and articulate the research questions together with the researchers. The NWO Domain Science office supports the formation of strong consortia.

Dutch science research is amongst the best in the world and has much to offer both the NWA and KIC. Via its strategic agenda, NWO Domain Science can make the opportunities for effective collaboration with the NWA and KIC visible. In its nexus role, the domain will stimulate the field to identify its strengths, and so build a research profile that enables Dutch science to most effectively compete in the international arena. The disciplinary round tables provide NWO Domain Science with an effective organisation for consulting and mobilising the field.

Three categories of Open Competition

Besides this strategic research, NWO Domain Science will also strengthen its support for explorative, curiosity-driven research via open competition without disciplinary boundaries, in which the strength and originality of an idea are key. The NWO Domain Science provides a staged granting scheme. For small, explorative and risky research projects - the "wild ideas" -  a low-threshold granting scheme (‘XS’) will be launched. there are grants for projects ('Small') and for larger programmes ('Large'). The Open Competition in these three categories will provide plenty of opportunity for research that is ground-breaking and inspiring and whose impact often cannot be foreseen.

NWO Domain Science, the institutes and academia

With the missions of the institutes, NWO has made a long-term choice for subjects of national importance that are often associated with large-scale infrastructure. NWO will safeguard the coherency between research at the institutes and research that takes place outside of these. For NWO Domain Science this means, amongst other things, ensuring that the design of funding instruments does not hinder collaboration between the institutes and academia. The domain will ensure a two-way advisory process so that the domain and institutes can benefit optimally from each other.

Societal and scientific impact

NWO Domain Science is keenly aware that its impact extends far beyond the direct funding of top research and the impact of its scientific outcomes. The majority of young scientists, after having worked in research for some time, finds a career in industry, the government or education. These highly qualified people embody an important societal and economic impact of NWO. NWO Domain Science supports initiatives such as Industrial Doctorates and Societal Doctorates, and actively implements the NWO diversity policy. Together with the university partners, the domain contributes to the broad development of skills.

This new strategy marks the start of a period of innovation, in which “Off the beaten track” will be vital as a guiding framework. I invite you to become familiar with the strategy and encourage you to give the Board of the NWO Domain Science feedback about this at any time.


Niek Lopes Cardozo, acting chair of the Board of NWO Domain Science