Implementing innovation on the Dutch University Campus: A view from campus real estate management units

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


Universities find themselves in a unique position where sustainability visions are increasingly clear and innovations to promote sustainability are ever more abundant. On some campuses campus real estate management units (CREM units) receive infrequent requests from academics for the implementation of small experiments, their decisions are ad hoc and easily hosted, participation is limited to the researchers with little impact on the build environment of the university campus. However, as research groups and knowledge centres increasingly look for more realistic experimentation grounds for demonstrations of their innovative solutions, the decisions made by CREM units need to become more strategic. Finally the growing demand for practical solutions from a network of societal partners to achieve sustainability targets also emphasise the need for strategic response from CREM units.

In this study, a qualitative research approach enabled a rich description of campus management’s experience in implementing campus innovation projects alongside researchers and external parties on campus. Through in-depth interviews innovation projects implemented by campus real estate management (CREM) units across 13 Dutch universities are categorized to provide a starting point for strategic management of innovation implementation on the Dutch campus.

The scope of innovation implementation requests dealt with by CREM units vary in terms of a few main categories:
1. The time span they are on campus (from 6 months to legacy projects),
2. The innovation stage (from data gathering in the fundamental stages of a study to testing the business case of mature smart metering system),
3. The physical impact (from small experiments in traditional laboratories to large new buildings on campus and even software projects in the cloud); and
4. The role the CREM unit is expected to play (from participating or hosting to implementing or being a key network partner).

We provide examples of projects throughout, linking the categorization and theoretical context to practical projects. A few drivers and many barriers to implementing innovation on campus was also identified. Mainly the strategic intent and organizational support of the innovation goals will enable and improve awareness and networking programmes or challenges that would enable innovators and implementers to find each other more often.

Management of uncertainty and risk in a transparent manner and addressing synchronicity problems within current projects could also improve innovation implementation on campus. Many campuses report the need for (and in some cases the use of) research coordinator specifically focusing on creating and managing implementation projects on campus.

A research coordinator would thus have the responsibility to facilitate networks of people where subject synergy may overlap with an overall understanding of both the specific research topics of a an academic research department and the.
They would play a role in linking people with each other but also to facilitate discussions around campus innovation implementation, to consider the innovation readiness level (TRL), understand and describe the risks involved, align project, finance, time schedule and research goals between different parties.

This report is the starting point for the development of a decision-making framework for CREM units on the implementation of innovation on campus. The potential benefits of decision making guidance would be:
• Problem identification and formulation
• Identification of clear goals
• Illumination of key questions about scope and management (who are the stakeholders)
• Application of analytical tools (assessing risk, actions, trade-offs and uncertainties)
• Connecting authorities to the outcomes of their decisions
• And transparency about the intentions

We would like to thank all the participants in this study who provided their time and insight during the interviews to assist us in improving our understanding and strategic decision-making about innovation generation, adoption and integration on our Dutch campuses. We also welcome your continued participation through recommendations and knowledge sharing.

Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyVSNU + 14 Dutch universities
Number of pages64
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Innovation management
  • real estate management
  • Campus Management


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