Researcher and Sociology ‘impact manager’ Thomas Martens and Professor Tanja van der Lippe have obtained ERC Proof of Concept-grant to investigate whether the outcomes of the Sustainable Workforce research could be shared internationally with businesses and other organisations through a platform.
Researchers can apply for such Proof of Concept (PoC) grants when their project funded by the ERC is nearing its conclusion. If the ERC awards the PoC grant, the researchers will have a (relatively modest) budget to explore whether their findings are marketable and have applications within society. ‘So far, this final step seems to be less of a priority within the social and behavioural sciences’, says Thomas Martens. ‘This is the first time that anyone at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences has obtained such a grant.’
The Sustainable Workforce research is yielding knowledge on which investments can help organisations to employ staff sustainably. Thomas: ‘We studied the effectiveness of a number of investments, ranging from providing training courses, for instance, to offering flexibility in terms of allowing employees to occasionally work from home.’ All this research generated a wealth of research data. ‘We have information on over 11,000 employees within 259 organisations all across Europe. This data can be useful to companies in establishing a benchmark: what are other businesses in their sector doing? What’s the international landscape like? What might they do to improve? Large businesses and concerns typically purchase this kind of organisational advice, or conduct their own research. Yet there is also a large middle group of smaller companies for whom our research is identifying valuable points for attention. Businesses from poorer countries such as Bulgaria and Hungary are also taking part in the Sustainable Workforce project; we feel – and the EU agrees – that we can use our research to assist them.’
In order to serve that middle group’s needs, Tanja and Thomas envision a platform employers can access themselves to participate in the study and receive an automatically generated advisory report. Thomas: ‘That platform will become our utensil for spoon-feeding knowledge to businesses. We have been given a €150,000 grant, with which we intend to build a beta version, gain answers to a number of legal questions involving intellectual property and ownership of the data, and bring the various stakeholders together in order to figure out what else we might do with our data set.’
According to Thomas, after 18 months, it should be clear whether the research is generating marketable results. ‘If it is, we have a start-up on our hands. Our next step will then be to connect to the new Future of Work hub.’
Taking a market-based approach
What can other ERC researchers (who would like a PoC grant of their own in order to increase their impact) learn from this? ‘When applying for the grant, I approached things from a societal point of view: what does society need in order to apply our scientific knowledge?’ Thomas explains. ‘In research, we are accustomed to working towards publication in an academic journal. But that’s not what organisations are looking for. Even accessible websites and editorials are not always enough to generate real impact. You have to put your results in concrete terms: which amazing benefit does society stand to gain from my work? Through our platform, we intend to present our knowledge and methodology in such a way that organisations are able to truly put it to use.’