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ISGA received highly positive external research evaluation

In November 2023, the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) underwent its first full external research evaluation for the period from 2016 to 2021 with outstanding results. In its final assessment report, the independent external evaluation committee underlines that ‘the committee is impressed with ISGA’s academic culture.’

The evaluation committee stresses that ‘the committee is impressed with the development ISGA has shown with regard to research quality, achieving high impact and quality, as well as external funding’ and remarks that 'ISGA research is highly societally relevant'. Furthermore, with regards to the reforms carried out in support of PhD candidates the ‘committee applauds these measures to support PhD students, make them feel at home in ISGA and provide them with clear structures and support guidelines.’

With respect to the institutional innovations and extensive work advanced on Well-being, Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Access to Opportunities, the committee notes that the ‘appointment of the WIDER, who organises trainings and is involved with decisions on ISGA policy, is an example worth following by other research institutes.’ In its overall assessment, the committee concludes that ‘the work done since the 2019 midterm review can be considered impressive.’

Professor Joachim Koops, who led the institutional reforms, strategy-development and preparations since January 2019 as Scientific Director of ISGA remarks: ‘This is a an outstanding result and testimony to all ISGA staff and colleagues, who worked tirelessly over the last years on advancing excellent and high-impact publications, supported and led the acquisition of an impressive number of major research grants and build comprehensive support structures for PhD candidates and the Institute’s approaches to well-being, inclusion and equal access to opportunity. My heartfelt thanks to everyone for their impressive work!'

An impressive academic culture

The Committee noted ISGA’s impressive growth in terms of high-quality international peer-reviewed publications and the marked increase of research grant funding. From 2016-2021 a total of 242 articles were published in peer-reviewed journals. While 21 peer-reviewed articles were published in 2016 by ISGA staff, this figure rose to 84 articles for 2021. Thus, in 2021 the number of such publications was four times higher than in 2016, despite the fact that the Institute’s research FTEs ‘only’ tripled, indicating also a higher level of productivity and focus on international peer-reviewed articles in leading journals.

ISGA’s publication strategy emphasises not merely quantity, but above all quality of research. Increasingly, ISGA staff have managed to publish in leading journals such as the American Political Science Review, the European Journal of International Relations, International Affairs, Journal of Peace Research, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Global Governance, Journal of European Public Policy, Terrorism and Political Violence. In addition, colleagues published books or book chapters in leading university presses (particularly Oxford University Press) and publishers such as Routledge, Springer International/Palgrave, SAGE, Rowman and Littlefield.

Indicative of ISGA’s reinforced emphasis on PhD support, the number of finalised PhD theses also increased steadily over the years.

Grant strategy

As the Committee noted, ‘the midterm review committee advised to balance contract research funding (e.g. from ministries) better with academic research body funding, both at national and EU levels, matching the Institute’s aim to become one of the leading institutes in the field. Over 2020 and 2021, ISGA managed to increase its grant and project funding success, with NWO, Dutch National Research Agenda (NWA), ERC and various EU grants. Over the period under evaluation, ISGA researchers succeeded in gaining a total of 75 grants and projects, varying from contract research to individual national and international grants. Following the midterm review in 2019, ISGA adjusted its strategy to improve the scope and diversity of grants. The institute established a Research Support Team to help researchers in grant and project applications, and made the planning for grant applications part of the HR cycle of performance review.’

Particularly noteworthy were the ERC Starting Grant by Matthew Hoye, the acquisition as lead coordinator of a Horizon 2020 EU research grant led by Tahir Abbas (ISGA’s and FGGA’s first ever acquisition of such a grant as coordinator), various EU grants by Marieke Liem and Katharina Krüsselmann, the EU-funded PREPARE project led by Joana Cook  as well as EU-funded grants at the intersection of research and education, such as the European Network on Teaching Excellence grant led and coordinated by Joachim Koops and his Jean Monnet Chair EURISGA as well as a Jean Monnet module by Madeleine Hosli. This successful track-record continued with the successful EU-funded EU Cyberdirect project by Dennis Broeders and an ERC Starter Grant won by Graig Klein.

At the same time ISGA researchers won prestigious national NWO-funded research grants such as VENI grants (by Jeroen Wolbers, and Bart Schuurman, during the evaluation period, followed by Wout Broekema and Nikki Ikani), an NWO interdisciplinary grant for Els de Busser for Cyber Security by Integrated Design (the C-SIDE project) and NWO open competition or teaching grants for Daan Weggemans, Silvia D’Amato and Jarek Kantorowicz.

The increase of research-body grants was also accompanied with the continued strength of ISGA’s ministry-funded or policy-oriented grants, such as the Hague Program for Cyber Norms (now Hague Programme on International Cyber Security) by Bibi van den Berg and Dennis Broeders and various other ministry-financed grants

Furthermore, ISGA has been successful in acquiring university-wide interdisciplinary grants, such as the Global Transformations and Governance Challenges grant (Antoaneta Dimitrova as co-applicant) or the Social Resilience and Security programme (Marieke Liem as co-applicant).

The Institute also (co-)hosts four different journals: Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy (Wiley Blackwell, Editors in Chief Sanneke Kuipers and Jeroen Wolbers), The Hague Journal of Diplomacy (Brill, Editor in Chief: Jan Melissen), its own open access journal Perspectives on Terrorism as well as International Studies Review, the journal of the International Studies Association (Oxford University Press). This range of journals also underlines ISGA’s ability to combine policy-oriented and high impact publication activities.

Research support

While successful research depends first and foremost on the ideas and hard work of the researchers themselves, the implementation and support of a successful research strategy is also aided by an effective institutional Research Support Team (RST) and effective research infrastructure. The committee commended ISGA for the creation of its institute-wide RST in 2020 and the support it provided to grant acquisitions and project implementation: ‘The stronger focus on grant acquisition and the addition of the Research Support Team appear already to be paying off. The committee was pleased to learn that this team’s members pro-actively approach researchers whom they think could be interested in particular opportunities, and are in the process of building a database with ISGA member’s expertise and preferences in order to be even more successful here.’ Given ISGA’s growing success in grant capture, the effective implementation and further support measures have also led to a more integrated strategy with research support structures at faculty and central levels. Members of the Research Support Team included Silviu Piros, Astrid de Vries, Audrey Vrolijk, Caitlin Masoliver and Claudia Forero Madero.

Open science and societal relevance

ISGA has striven to be on the forefront of open science and societal relevance in everything it does. The committee acknowledged the strong performance and commitment to open science: ‘ISGA is committed to the principles of open science, which are part of its strategy and include adherence to the FAIR principles surrounding data and data management. ISGA aims at open access publishing; the percentage of articles published this way is on the rise, leading to a total of 87% open access publications in 2021. An increasingly high proportion of its publications followed the ‘gold standard’ open-access route.’

Societal Relevance has been ISGA’s strength from its very foundation. Located in The Hague, its research and education has had strong impact on different ministries and societal stakeholders. A large number of staff members regularly appear on national and international media and advise national and international organisations on contemporary, pressing policy challenges.  The committee evaluated this aspect of ISGA also highly positively: ‘The committee concludes that ISGA research is highly societally relevant. ISGA’s origins and location have made it a natural partner to policymakers and local or national government bodies.’

Effective support structured for PhD candidates

An important element of the external research evaluation is also the measures advanced and adopted to supervise, train and support PhD Candidates and PhD Supervisors. The mid-term report of 2019 placed particular emphasis on this aspect, which then also formed part of dedicated innovations at ISGA. Firstly, the position of a dedicated PhD Coordinator was created at Institute Board-level (with Vanessa Newby appointed as the first postholder) and a comprehensive PhD strategy was co-developed with PhD candidates and supervisors. New institutional support structures were created, including self-governance bodies such as the PhD Assembly and PhD Coordination Committee (chaired by Martina Abisso). In addition, the Institute placed strong emphasis of offering additional training courses and developed a full-fledged draft ISGA training programme.

The evaluation report stressed that ‘the committee applauds these measures to support PhD students, make them feel at home within ISGA and provide them with clear structures and support guidelines. The committee discussed these measures with PhD candidates, who highly appreciate the additional support and structure. PhD students noticed a clear improvement in supervision trajectories and felt supported by their research groups and the PhD coordinator.’

With respect to the build-up of the training programme, the report underlines that ‘the committee appreciates ISGA’s work in improving PhD training and compliments the institute with what it has achieved so far.’ During the period of evaluation, the number of PhD candidates increased significantly, as did the number of completed PhD projects. The important work carried out by Vanessa Newby is now being further advanced by Lydie Cabane.

Institutionalised approaches to Well-being, Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Access to Opportunities (WIDE)

One of the main challenges of a rapidly expanding and growing Institute is to balance innovation and work-place success with well-being and the management of work pressure. In addition, policies of diversity, inclusion and equal access to opportunities are a constant requirement for a well-functioning institute.

In response to the mid-term report, the Institute created the position of a Well-being, Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Access to Opportunity Representative (WIDER), who was tasked with advancing core policies in this field. The first postholder Joery Matthys led the development of a WIDE strategy and its implementation in close coordination with other bodies at faculty and university levels. The aim was to contribute to an open, diverse and inclusive academic culture that also tackles the often difficult tensions between work-pressure and well-being. The committee remarked: ‘The committee is impressed with ISGA’s academic culture. It especially appreciates the emphasis placed on wellbeing. The appointment of the WIDER, who organises trainings and is involved with decisions on ISGA policy, is an example worth following by other research institutes. According to the committee, the community spirit, openness to diversity, shared and explicit values, transparency about HR and promotion policy, and informality of ISGA are strong points that contribute to the staff’s wellbeing and thus the retention of good researchers.’ The WIDE strategy is now further implemented by the new WIDER Sophie Veriter.

A viable Institute with a strong future ahead

The committee underlines the strong foundations and future perspectives for ISGA: ‘Since ISGA as well as its research fields of security and global affairs are growing rapidly, the committee has no doubts as to the viability of the institute. The committee is convinced that the interest in ISGA research will remain.’

Overall, the committee concludes that ‘as a fast-growing research institute, ISGA is viable and well-positioned for the future. The committee sees a clear upward trend in terms of research quality, output and funding opportunities, and finds that ISGA research is clearly societally relevant. The committee notes that ISGA manages to create and uphold a positive, inclusive and open research culture focused on wellbeing, and forms a welcoming environment for new national and international staff members (including PhD students) with transparent and diverse career options. The work done since the 2019 midterm review can be considered impressive.’ An important part of this success is also down to the professionalisation advanced by the Institute Manager Marc Bosma and the ISGA support staff structures.

The committee also pointed out various paths for further improvement, which ISGA’s management has already embarked on implementing. This ranges from further institutionalisation of management and governance structures, a refinement of the PhD programme and further reflections on ISGA’s future strategic objectives.

Read the full report of the External Evaluation Committee.

About the evaluation

The institutional research evaluation follows the regular pattern of the external evaluation of Dutch higher education research institutes in line with the national evaluation protocol and framework. The aim of these periodic external evaluations is to ‘to maintain and improve the quality and societal relevance of research as well as to facilitate continuous dialogue about research quality, societal relevance and viability in the context of research quality assurance.’

The periodic external assessments are carried out every six years by an independent panel of international and national scholars, who ‘evaluate the unit’s developments and results over the past six years as well as its research plans for the years to come.’

The committee was chaired by Professor Richard Caplan (University of Oxford) and consisted of Professor Nina Graeger (University of Copenhagen), Dr. Mariëlle Wijermars (Maastricht University) and PhD-candidate Elke Boers (University of Groningen). For ISGA it was the first formal external evaluation since the Institute’s creation in 2016 and a process that already started with the results of the mid-term review in 2019.

The seven assessment criteria for the evaluation are:

  1. Research Quality
  2. Societal Relevance
  3. Viability
  4. Open Science
  5. PhD Policy and Training
  6. Academic Culture
  7. HR Policy (including Diversity and Talent Management)
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