TRANSIT asks for permission for the placement of cookies

New iMinds structure

Date interview: March 24 2016
Name interviewer: Saskia Ruijsink
Name interviewee: Dimitri Schuurman
Position interviewee: PhD & senior researcher of iMinds living labs

Things coming together Reputation/legitimacy Re-invigoration New Organizing Monitoring Internal decision-making For-profit enterprises Confusion & chaos Assimilating Academic organizations

This is a CTP of initiative: Living Labs ‐ Imec living labs (former iMinds Living Labs) (Belgium)

This critical turning point (CTP6) elaborates on the new structure of iMinds and then mainly zooms in on the consequences that this has for the iMinds Living Lab unit. The iMinds organisation has developed itself in a turbulent environment and it came with a new strategy in the period of 2015/ 2016. This is also the period in which it prepared for and eventually merged with Imec. This turning point is in a way still ‘in the making’ at the time of this interview (end of March 2016) and not all its consequences have clearly crystallized at this moment. The director of iMinds, Prof Pieter Ballon decided that the living labs unit needed to be restructured and this fitted within a larger restructuring of iMinds as an umbrella organisation. This means that this critical turning point was actually ‘produced’ at a rather high management level within iMinds (see co-production), but it had an impact on the daily working environment of Dimitri Schuurman and his direct colleagues.

An important related event was the impact evaluation of the living lab team. In 2015 an impact study shows that living labs offer a good return on investment and in a context of constant reorganisation of the larger iMinds structure the department/ unit ‘iMinds Living Labs’ becomes more solidly anchored within the umbrella organisation ‘iMinds’. Dimitri stresses the importance of this related event as it really made a difference in a situation where the living labs unit first was under pressure within iMinds it now got clear that it needed to be kept, or even strengthened. This was even strengthened by the increasing relative importance of the City of Things project for the iMinds strategy. Also in this project the living labs unit played an important role and hence it got really clear that living labs were important for iMinds’ future. (For more information on impact evaluation and City of Things see section related events).

The new organisational structure becomes a reality when it is translated into clear operational consequences. That included an explicit division of tasks and responsibilities that addressed which roles and functions would be fulfilled by which specific persons

The new structure implies that the positions of the researchers in the living lab will more or less remain as they were with some clarifications, while they were likely to be (at least partly) abolished before. The senior researchers get clearer division of their tasks and responsibilities to avoid overlaps. Their positions are defined as follows:

  • Dimitri Schuurman: Living Labs methodology & academic valorization
  • Olivier Rits: Living Labs service offering
  • Tim Rootsaert: Business development.  

The positions of the supporting staff (administration, ICT, etc.) is less clear, there is still unrest in the team because of that.

The new structure resulted in some more stability in the tumultuous working environment of the living lab projects. The living lab projects are characterized by their short time span and relatively small budgets and it is highly unpredictable how many projects will come in a year. The administrative set-up of ‘iMinds living labs’ human resources is rather complicated. The iMinds living lab team works with many (junior) researchers on their dynamic project portfolio. Those researchers are usually contracted via the University of Ghent. That implies that the financial risk of hiring the researchers is spread between iMinds and the university, but also that the university can use those researchers (part-time) in their own research projects.  This results in a less stable pool of researchers for iMinds living labs work. The staffing scheme has not yet fully crystallized in the new structure, but it is secured that there will be more permanence and stability in staffing for iMinds living labs. 


In the beginning of 2015 it gets clear the iMinds as an organisation will be restructured, the position and future of the living labs unit gets questioned within the process of designing and debating this new structure. The discussions take place at the management level of iMinds, a higher level than the living lab team that Dimitri works in. He realizes that he cannot influence this process and he believes this level of discussion should be handled by Prof Pieter Ballon. In that sense Dimitri did not directly co-produce this CTP himself. But he did develop his own strategy for dealing with it that proofs to be successful and can be summarized by the following quote: “Business as usual and leave the strategic level to the level that is right above us.” (see contestation)

So, this critical turning point is mainly co-produced at ‘a higher level’. Prof Pieter Ballon played a critical role in this process, but he did not act alone and mainly cooperated with Jan Adriaenssens. At some point in time it was decided to place the living labs unit under ‘Policy & Society’ within the iMinds structure. Since January 2016, Jan Adriaenssens is VP Policy & Society and part of the executive management team of iMinds. Previously he was Director Strategy & Innovation of the iMinds Digital Society research department (, 2016a). Since living labs is placed under Policy Jan Adriaenssens also becomes an important player in co-creating the CTP, together with Prof Pieter Ballon.

The iMinds management, mainly the CEO Danny Goderis, decided that it was necessary to have an impact study done and Prof Pieter Ballon gave his full cooperation for it. That was eventually the best thing that could have happened and it informed the new structure. Firstly, the outcome paved the road for the iMinds living lab team to stay on board and secondly, it allowed it to become even more strongly anchored than it was before. The impact study was done by an external office IDEA consulting. At a later stage (May 2016) ‘EWI Vlaanderen’ performed another study that also reported positively about iMinds living labs.

Imec also played a role in the co-production process (see related events) since the merge between iMinds and Imec coincides with the process of re-organising iMinds as a whole as well as the iMinds living lab team. Dimitri explains that they were eventually very eager to engage with the living labs: “(…) and they [Imec] want to bring in the bottom-up, start-up, dynamic, innovation story of iMinds (..)”(see contestation that explains that there were doubts in the beginning).  

The main actors who co-produced some of the related events were also important in the process of defining the new structure of iMinds living labs. The Internet of Things gained importance within iMinds and that also helped to place the living lab team (who were leading it initially) higher in the internal ranking. As part of setting up the new structure and of dividing roles it was then decided who within the living lab team would play a key role in the City of Things project “In the beginning it was also a kind of a hot potato, the City-of-Things story, it got moved around: ‘What do we do with this? Who will do something with it? In the beginning that was everybody, and then everybody is nobody. And now there is more structure and Olivier [Rits] will take the helicopter view in this process.” Besides this task, Olivier will also remain engaged in the service offering for SMEs.  The Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs is also an important player in the City of Things project, he manages the operational part. He, among others, focuses on finding the right balance between developing interesting content and attracting enough funds (e.g. European funding) to make it financially sustainable. Jan Adriaenssens gives strategic direction and has the final responsibility over the project since he is the City of Things manager.

Related events

The following related events were very important for this critical turning point of establishing a new structure at iMinds in which the living lab team gets a prominent role:

  • 2008-2015: The developments of the living lab methods and the Living Lab Academy were important for this CTP. This methodological development did not stand on its own, but was connected to ideas presented in Doctoral Thesis of Dimitri.
  • Beginning of 2015: it got clear the iMinds as an organisation will be restructured, the position and future (would it remain?) of the living labs unit were questioned within the process of designing and debating this new structure.
  • 2015: An impact study showed that the living labs within iMinds are very successful and impactful. The impact study was a very important related event for this CTP. It was decided at a higher management level within iMinds that the impact study needed to be done. Prof Pieter Ballon and the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs were not worried about this study; to the contrary, they believed it had to be done and they were confident that the living labs created value. The impact study was done based on the pre-business modelling work, the ‘business-modelling-living lab-projects’ were not yet matured enough to be included in the sample of the study. But it is expected that the results would only have been better if they were included as Dimitri illustrates: “So actually we now have the feeling: let us redo the impact assessment now, with projects that are from the post-business era. I think we will come out even much stronger.” [Shortly after the interview another study was done by ‘EWI Vlaanderen’ and it indeed showed this, see event May 2016]. The impact study also showed a very high return on investment. It suggested that for every invested Euro the organisation that makes use of the living lab service adds a value of 4 Euros (however, Dimitri is critical about the validity of this outcome, see also the discussion about this in the learning section).
  • 2015 Setting up the Living Lab Academy and the Boot Camps. The iMinds living lab team repeatedly got questions: can you teach us how to do this? This demand for coaching and training resulted in the Living Lab Academy and the Boot Camps. The team has done and is currently engaged in several sessions. They are among others teaching Flemish civil servants the living lab approach. It is clear that the work of the academy also continues and after the interview as is expressed in the tweet of Maikel Denissen “Good discussion in working session  @iMinds Living Lab Academy @Brainport_regio @MRE_netwerk” (originally in Dutch, see references, picture is part of tweet). Tweet Maikel Denissen, 1st of July 2016, Picture LLava in Eindhoven

iMinds CTP6(1)

  • 2015: City of things has started in 2015 and promises to be a new critical turning point, taking the livings labs approach, but also iMinds as an organisation yet to another level. It is a project about internet and ICT in the city and it runs in Antwerp (also see related events iMinds CTP4 and 5). It is a complicated project with many sub-projects. First it was led by iMinds living labs and now by the central organisation of iMinds, the management at the higher level should support the operational project management and implementation processes.
  • End of 2015: iMinds moved from its premises in Ghent to the Technology Park in Zwijnaarde. Dimitri illustrates the symbolic importance of this move: “We would actually all move to the Krook [a location within a highly innovative library]. But now we get a more hardcore technological focus, at least partly, and that makes the story around the Krook of less relative importance. So a part will remain here in the Technology Park. You can actually literally see the switch in strategy.”
  • 19th of February 2016 - Merger between Flemish research centers Imec and iMinds. This merger is announced as follows on the iMinds website: “19.02.2016 - Merger between Flemish research centers imec and iMinds creates high-tech research institute driving the digital economy. World-leading research center with maximum regional impact. The nanoelectronics research center, imec, and digital research and incubation center, iMinds, today announced that its respective board of directors have approved the intention to merge the research centers. As they join forces, a world-class, high-tech research center for the digital economy will be created. As a result, the new research center will fuse the technology and systems expertise of more than 2,500 imec researchers worldwide with the sophisticated digital competencies of some 1,000 iMinds researchers from over 50 nationalities. This high-tech research center will further strengthen Flanders’ authority as technology epicenter and region focused on creating a sustainable digital future, whilst targeting maximum regional impact (, 2016b).”

  • May 2016: EWI Vlaanderen’ performed a study to review iMinds performance and it also reported positively about iMinds living labs, while it was more critical on the technology push within iMinds research.
  • Expected early 2017 – iMinds living lab which remains strongly centred around user engagement will move to the Krook (working space in highly innovative library) in Ghent, while the more ‘hardcore’ technological departments remain in the Technology Park in Zwijnaarde. The move is planned for the first quarter of 2017.


The process of establishing a new structure at iMinds involved contestation. There was fear that the living labs team would vanish and this created tensions.

Tim, Dimitri and Olivier developed a new way of working together (also see CTP 4 and 5). The internal division of their roles went rather organically and this implied that the decision and responsibilities were not always formalized. This created confusion, particularly when the future position of the living lab team was questioned. Dimitri explained what happened and in what kind of conflicts this resulted: “(..) particularly when our position as ‘living lab’ got uncertain within iMinds, it [our relations and positions within the team] changed at once. Before we had an organic form of cooperation, not too official. People had a role, a position, but it was rather vague and we frequently used a debating model. This could at times be rather harsh, but we all had the feeling: “we work on the same thing and we all pull the same string. We are moving in the same direction, which is positive. But then, everything was in focus and things were put in motion everywhere and there was a lack of clarity. It was a problem, the lack of clarity [about the roles and positions of the team members]. Before it was a strength, but now it all of a sudden turned into a problem. People started to work without coordination and even, mostly unintentional, they worked against each other. They would start talking with the same people for example.

Dimitri also added that he, but also his colleague Tim Rootsaert found it difficult to operate in the highly uncertain environment, especially the months before the new structure became a reality. He started to think about strategies for us as living lab team, but Dimitri felt that they should not do that and he told Tim: “No, we should focus on what we do well and what we have done well and we just keep on doing that. That is the best thing we can do. And it turned out to be true. Business as usual and leave the strategic level to the level that is right above us.”  

This CTP brought a considerable amount of confusion and unrest within the iMinds living lab team as a whole. Dimitri observed that this unrest started to be felt at a management level, the level above himself. Then it got somehow cleared for them, but it reached the senior researchers (including Dimitri) and now it starts to be felt at the level of the juniors. Once the senior researchers felt that their position got clear they started to develop new content and that then confused the junior researchers.  

There was also contestation around the merge with Imec. In the preparation stage of the merging process Imec was mainly interested in the hard-core technological elements of iMinds and this added to the uncertainty of the prolonged existence of the iMinds living labs team. But eventually the situation turned around, that switch was at least partly informed by the impact study (see related events). And as Dimitri explains: “(..) and from then on iMinds living labs were considered to be one of the crown jewels of iMinds.”  

But despite the tensions related to the restructuring of iMinds and its merge with Imec there were also internal processes (within the living labs team) that contributed to the contestation. The number of living lab projects increased and the team grew bigger. But the team did not get more structure, while the team experienced that there was a need for acquiring more structure once you are bigger. And at some point in time things started to go wrong without it. So this form of tension in the team was also an important reason and expressed the need for a new, more clearly defined structure (the process that is at the heart of this CTP).


It was clear that iMinds was in the middle of an important process of change since 2015 and there was unrest for a number of months. This had negative consequences as it fueled rather negative dynamics and some people even (often unintended) started to work against each other (see contestation).

Dimitri anticipated on this critical turning point in various ways. At the time of the interview he could say that the changes all worked out well, but this was different before and he did think of what to do in such a scenario: “We are indeed strengthened and are now in a better situation than before, while before there was almost an exit-scenario for us. All right, I and some others were of course thinking about a plan B and C. Because we had developed something and we believed in it and also thought we could even do this outside iMinds. Preferably inside of course, but we did see that via a University or so, there would be possibilities to set it up differently. But of course that would have implied a lot of time, energy, thinking and most probably slimming the organization. But well, eventually we can keep on doing our work like this and I think it is for the best, I believe the two legs [City of Things and SME service offering] could indeed strengthen each other, they already have strengthened each other and they will keep on strengthening each other.

But Dimitri anticipated also in another way. As is explained in the contestation section Dimitri argued that the decisions about the future of iMinds living labs were out of his (and his direct colleagues) control. His strategy was then to simply focus on what he and his direct colleagues were doing well. So simply showing that their work mattered and that they believed in it was a form of anticipating to the change that was clearly coming. Eventually the living labs were highly appreciated and this seemed to have been a good strategy. This strategy was informed by Dimitri’s intuition.

At a higher level the managers, including Prof Pieter Ballon have also anticipated on this CTP. They knew that changes were on the way and they acted upon this. Prof Pieter Ballon and the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs were positive about having an impact study as they were confident that it would show that the living labs were doing well. They actually anticipated that the impact study could be strategic and could be very helpful in to positioning the living lab work and the team. They also anticipated that the City of Things project would be very important and put much effort on it. However they probably did not foresee that the outcome of the study would be as positive as it was and that the timing of the Internet of Things project was so good (Belgium was ready for it, so to say) and that this then would have such good implications for the living lab team.


This CTP showed that the living lab approach is eventually appreciated within the iMinds organization, partly because its success and impact were quantified by an (external) impact study. But also because a dedicated team passionately believed in the product and managed to run projects with many external partners. Also the type of projects and the living lab services evolved over time and this helped to be successful and have impact (think about including the business modelling focus in the living lab approach and starting of the Living Lab Academy and the Bootcamp). This development of the content (methods) was only possible because there were enough resources for it. Dimitri acknowledges the importance of this and praises the work of the Operations manager of iMinds Livings Labs who always carefully balances creating opportunities for developing content and financing the projects.

Reflecting on this CTP highlights some important general and personal lessons as expressed by Dimitri. The first is about how impact studies are done and used. The impact study is based on 13 projects, around half of the actual projects that were done. Those project happened in companies that were going through processes of change and scaling up of certain business activities. Dimitri says that it is not clear what has actually contributed to the return on investment of 1 on 4 (each invested Euro results in the value creation of 4 Euro). He explained that there is no reference or control group studied, so it is not clear whether external events or the living lab approach contributed to the success of the projects. But he learned that the opinion from outsiders has a very strong weight and is easily accepted. “I thought at some point, what are we doing here. In my PhD thesis I have done something similar [as in the impact study], even with a slightly higher number of projects, 21. I also showed the added value of living labs in my study. But because the impact study was done by externals it was more useful or meaningful for the iMinds management than the PhD, that is approved by an international jury and that actually is methodologically stronger. But, that, we have done ourselves.” Dimitri reflected on this and he drew some lessons. He learned that the research office that was hired to do the impact study was an office with a good reputation and many of its staff are qualified researchers with PhDs. But they operated differently than academic researchers. They are more geared towards pleasing their clients. As Dimitri explains: “How should I say this... They actually confirm what you [the one paying for the research] ask them and what you put in.” He also learned in this process that this is the way how decision making often works: “Apparently this is the way to do it. I have learned that. Even the government relies on such kind of studies.”

More at the heart of this CTP, the new structure, Dimitri learned and experienced how much uncertainty and insecurity is sensed in times of change. People know and feel that things are unclear and this creates tensions. He thinks that is important in such moments to be as open as possible, to give insights in the various, sometimes even conflicting agendas and to spend enough time together to talk about it.

This CTP and its related events also showed that you need to be willing to look beyond your direct own wins if you want to have impact in the society. When setting up the Living Lab Academy and the Boot Camps this was an issue: “We of course asked ourselves the question: ‘are we now cannibalizing ourselves?’ But the government pays part of the knowledge development, even if our clients also pay a fee for the living lab process support.” Dimitri argues that in the end, it is important to educate and to coach to reach impact and also as a societal obligation: to give the public investment (government) back to the larger society. He also said that the initiatives of the Living Lab Academy and the Boot Camps forced the iMinds Living Lab team to strengthen the iMinds methods. They now had to be able to explain it, so they should make all the steps in their head reproducible and tangible and this was useful.

For Dimitri eventually the main lesson is that he often follows his feeling and intuition for decision making and that, that works for him: it should feel good (also see learning CTP 5). As he illustrates: “I usually make an assessment of people and do that based on intuition. I look for a ‘click’ with another person and if it ‘feels good’. I simply continue working with the ones that I connect with, I get much further with them and for one strange reason or another usually this works out and leads to good results.” He acknowledges that ratio is also important, but that it is not the main driver in the processes that he engages in. He also says he does not develop ideas on his own, he does that through communication, by talking with others. He also finds it hard to come up with a fully detailed idea from scratch, but in a team and based on existing ingredients he can be very creative. 


References, 2016a, Jan Adriaenssens, accessed at 8th of July 2016,, 2016b, Merger between Flemish research centers imec and iMinds creates high-tech research institute driving the digital economy, accessed at 8th of July 2016,

Tweet Maikel Denissen, 1st of July 2016, Picture LLava in Eindhoven: Maikel Denissen ‏@MaikelDenissen  Jul 1; Goede discussie in werksessie @iMinds Living Lab Academy @Brainport_regio @MRE_netwerk 

Stay informed. Subscribe for project updates by e-mail.