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Pulling down the academic ivory tower: an experiment in creative thinking in a bureaucratic environment

Rik Maes
Bas Smit

This paper reports on and analyzes a large-scale cooperative learning experiment, where civil servants of the city of Amsterdam, with their inherent focus on ‘feasible’ solutions, were confronted with Master’s students and researchers from the University of Amsterdam, with an equally inherent focus on the exploration of what is ‘thinkable’, leading to ‘achievable’ outcomes meeting the demands of citizens. The basic idea behind this experiment was that gearing projects to enhance the effective use of ICT by civil society can effectively benefit from triangulating the city-citizen relationship with communities of knowledge such as universities. Throughout the experiment, the ‘learning by sharing’ model was applied in order to break through ingrained learning patterns and traditional learning roles of the students, civil servants, citizens and teachers involved.
     The effects on the major participants involved were salient: (1) the public servants felt challenged by the confrontation with the community of knowledge formed by the students, the teachers and the external experts; (2) the students felt challenged by the appeal to match feasible with thinkable and above all to produce achievable results. The critical success factors appear to be the organized disruption caused by the triangulation, the clear-cut introduction of a comprehension phase prior to policy making and the combination of bottom-up approach and top-level support.

Author Bio(s)

Rik Maes is professor in information and communication management at the University of Amsterdam Business School. He is leader of the PrimaVera research programme in Information Management and dean of the Executive Master in Information Management programme. His current research interests are information as inspiration, creative learning methods and information management as the management of sense. He is the author of a great number of articles and a well-appreciated speaker. He is member of the editorial board of, amongst others, the Journal of Strategic Information Systems and of Information Research.