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‘I look forward to establishing cross-links between various organisations in the coming years’

In November 2023, Anne Fleur van Veenstra, scientific director of TNO Vector, was appointed professor by special appointment of 'Governance of data and algorithms for urban policy'. The chair is established at the the Institute of Public Administration and is affiliated with the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities.

Sarah van der Zeijden from the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities asked Anne Fleur a few questions about her academic background, her work at TNO Vector, and her plans for the coming years.

Anne Fleur van Veenstra

Can you tell us a bit more about your academic background?

‘I studied Technical Public Administration at TU Delft and completed a second master's degree in International Relations at the UvA. During that second master's, the difference between my technical background and the way of thinking in the social sciences stood out to me. At TU Delft, I learned to think very solution-oriented, like an engineer. During the master's in International Relations, it was much more about structured analysis and reflection. I really enjoy combining these two different perspectives of science.’

You hold the special chair for one day a week. The rest of the week, you are the scientific director of TNO Vector. What is the research focus of that department?

‘My current research team at TNO Vector is involved in two main areas. Firstly, we explore how governments can utilise digital technologies to improve or streamline their work. We maintain a clear focus on the future: what could these technologies mean for us later on? Secondly, we aim to establish regulations in this regard. We focus on questions such as: how can data and AI be effectively employed? Can AI systems behave responsibly? What are the implications for public values, such as an inclusive society or citizens' privacy? We provide advice to entities like the European Commission and the Ministry of the Interior on these matters.

We also have the flexibility to set our own research agenda. This includes initiatives like the Policy Lab projects, which examine the use of AI for societal challenges in urban environments. For instance, in collaboration with the municipality of Rotterdam, we investigated the use of data and AI in youth policy, and with the municipality of Zoetermeer, we studied the role of different types of data in a just energy transition.’

‘What I hope to achieve with my research is broad, democratic control over technological developments’

Your chair is established at FGGA and embedded within the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities. Could you tell us about the potential collaboration between these two organisations and TNO Vector?

‘At TNO, various projects are carried out, resulting in practical analyses, advice, and guidelines, for, for example, governments. Simultaneously, these projects also yield new insights into regulations and governance. Through this collaboration, I aim to integrate the applied research conducted at TNO with the research of the Centre for BOLD Cities and the FGGA. By doing so, I hope to achieve greater academic embedding of TNO's research and, at the same time, share the insights gained from our applied research with a broader audience, such as students.

I look forward to establishing cross-links between the various organisations in the coming years. Ultimately, all with the common goal of expanding knowledge about the impact of digital technology on government and continuing to address it in both the public sector and academia.’

Interdisciplinary research plays a significant role in the research conducted at the Centre for BOLD Cities. Do you consider an interdisciplinary approach important?

‘At TNO, we have always conducted interdisciplinary and even transdisciplinary research. I have always used sources and research methods from different fields. In the field of 'digital governance,' you can't really do otherwise. It is a research field that has emerged from interdisciplinary collaboration. It involves organisation, governance, as well as technology. You need to bring together these different perspectives if you want to say something meaningful about digitisation in the public domain. Interdisciplinarity is therefore almost a prerequisite for me to conduct science.’

What impact do you ultimately hope to make with your research?

‘What I hope to achieve with my research is broad, democratic control over technological developments and the use of digital technologies in a way that contributes to addressing societal challenges. I do not want policymakers to 'hide' behind "I don't understand technology" and therefore inadequately address topics related to digitisation or data collection. Hopefully, I can make clear that you do not need a lot of technical insight to be able to ask questions about digitisation.’

Text: Sarah van der Zeijden

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