TRANSIT asks for permission for the placement of cookies

The closure

Date interview: June 10 2016
Name interviewer: Jens Dorland
Name interviewee: Staff
Position interviewee: Staff

Resignation New Organizing New Doing Negative side-effects Lobbying Legal status Internal crisis Dilemma Barriers & setback Academic organizations

This is a CTP of initiative: Living Knowledge ‐ Science Shop DTU (Denmark)

This CTP relates to the closure of Science Shop DTU, ending its existence. It happened around 2010-2011. The CTP can be divided into two episodes, the loss of funding, the final closure resulting from the move of SSC and SB from the Technical University of Denmark to Aalborg University Copenhagen, effectively ending their employment and relation to DTU and thereby the science shop. As there were no other staff, and at that time no funding, it was effectively closed down by that event. The homepage and digital achieve continued to be online until sometime in 2014.  

The science shop had lost all funding due to a conflict with the rector in 2009. This relates to a very specific event where the rectors walked past the science shop sign in the hallway and were very surprised that it still existed, and ordered the institute director who were accompanying him to shut it down immediately. Due to negotiations with prorector SSC managed to keep the science shop alive, but it did lose all funding, although the office were preserved.  

Another issue was that SB, although still affiliated with the science shop, no longer received hours for her work there. In addition, as SB at the same time were finishing her PhD, teaching quite a lot, and were paid to evaluate a design and innovation education, there were just no time to volunteer in the science shop.   According to SB, even though the science shop continued to exist in SSC’s perspective, for her the science shop had already ceased to exist when she handed in her PhD. That was in the summer of 2010, more than a year before SB and SSC terminated their employment at DTU. For SSC it continued to exist, as they still had their office and archive, but as SB commented there were no activities.  

They tried to negotiate with another actor at the university, DTU Matchmaking, who facilitated external relations. They were also an open door, but mostly to companies. It succeeded to some degree, and mails coming into the science shop went to DTU Matchmaking, and they then forwarded everything research related to SB. There were little or no projects though, mostly request for past project reports and such. SB also comments that the institute director, Leo Alting, had forbidden SB and SSC to work on anything science shop related after funding was cut. The deal with DTU Matchmaking was, according to SB, like keeping the science shop on life support.  

Its life was extended for a bit, but as we could not put time into it, and DTU Match were not interested in going into a dialog with all these partners, asking of their projects are still relevant, and all these things…  

Interestingly the closure was never communicated to any stakeholders, or announced on the homepage. Several of the former partners are unaware of the current status. 

And we actually talked about subsequently if we should write out to all our clients, telling them that now the science shop is dead. Then when we were moving from DTU to AAU, I had actually made a draft, but we never got it sent. So, our clients were actually never told that we moved.   

I feel sorry for him (SCC), but I do not think he could have done anything about it. The science shops is kind of a symbol of a time that was. And that time is over, with this very strong focus on commercial partnerships, and civil society is not commercial. It is hard to survive; we have also observed that in the rest of Europe, it is really really hard.  

However, there are some interesting side notes on the definition of the science shop, and how some of its work is continued through SSC who self-identities with the type of civil society projects carried out by the science shop. SSC also still represent science shops at some events, and identifies DIST (the research he is currently affiliated with)  

At some level, the idea of the science shop lives on in our own research. It is just not organised. I would not say that the science shop lives on in DIST, but some of the ideas are there.


Environmental/context developments

There has been a right-turn in the years up to the closure in society, and a professionalization of the universities. You have to think about; the universities suddenly had to run as independent units, which had to be economically independent as well. And you started to think, how can we streamline our time, and get money out of what we are doing. Research was seen as a profit possibility. All that were contributing factors. These grassroots could not contribute with money or later job possibilities for the students. Commercial partnerships with companies had much bigger potential from the perspective of society and the university. Part of the reason was also that SSC and I (SB) insisted that we would not have company projects in the science shop. RUK and KU survived (Two other Danish science shops) longer than we did, because they took in companies. They were running two tracks.  

External partners

Besides all the clients from civil society, Science Shop DTU also collaborated with two science shops at KU and RUC (Copenhagen University and Roskilde University Centre).  This collaboration was captured in the magazine Anvendt Viden, where the science shops showed off good stories from their projects. This relationships over time became more detrimental then beneficial, as the other science shops gradually became less focused on civil society and started doing projects for companies and public authorities.  

Science Shop DTU also collaborated with the local municipality (Lyngby) in the later years. SSC was not happy about the development, but accepted as long as a civil society group was involved in the projects, although this involvement never became very active. This collaboration was brought about by SB, and resulted in many good projects in the later years, and may have extended the life of Science Shop DTU.  

Internal partners

At this time there were few of the original supporters left at DTU. The management style had also been changed markedly, bestowing the rector with most of the control at the university that earlier lay with the university senate. This indirectly enabled the event where the science shop lost funding, as the rector could arbitrarily decide to shut it down.  

SB also comments on how SSC and her were alone, none of their colleagues at the institute felt any ownership of the initiative, and saw it as SSC’s personal project. She admits thought that everybody was fighting at the time, and the section were itself fighting to survive, so there was few resources to support the science shop.  

At some level, SSC had not been good enough to make the whole institute feel ownership of the science shop. So everyone else saw it as SSC’s project. And I also see that as one of the reasons we could not survive. Had the others (colleagues) also taken ownerships and said that this is really important, it is something we need to prioritize, then we may have survived. But it became something SSC did, and people almost did not even know where the science shop was anymore

Related events

The magazine closes - 2009

Anvendt Viden (a magazine representing the science shops at DTU, KU, and RUC) was discontinued, 1 year prior to the science shop closing down. SB and SSC took the decision to close it down, as they could not vouch for the content anymore. The other science shops had started to collaborate and do projects for companies and public organisations, and the institute director Leo Alting questioned SB and SSC why other science shops could have such projects when they could not. And as SSC and SB were unwilling to start doing commercial projects, they took the decision to close down Anvendt Viden. SB see this as an early sign of the demise of Science Shop DTU.  

We also tried to become more visibly by showing off our good stories in the university newspapers, and we sent our newsletter and Anvendt Viden (Danish science shop magazine) around internally and to rector. I saw it as a way to become more visible, but for SSC it might have been a survival strategy, I don’t know, I was still pretty green back then.  

The rector walks past

Another related event was the episode mentioned under the contents; that rectors one day walked past while talking with the institute director, and surprised at seeing that the science shop still exists, orders it closed immediately. While SSC in negotiation with prorector succeeds in “saving” the science shop by going into a partnerships with DTU Match, it still cuts all funding for the science shop. Science Shop DTU maintains their office, archive, homepage, emails etc. but there is no staff and now activities. 


The closure – one big conflict

It was one big conflict, it closed! I also think there was something internally in the section. At that time, I was not that involved in the section. Which is kind of symptomatic of the problem, that I were just “hanging” out there as part of the science shop but not as a part of the whole. However, I think SSC in some ways felt let down by the section, that they did not fight his cause. However, at that time, everybody was fighting, and the section was also fighting for its own survival. So that is probably why they could not take that fight as well.  

SB here comments on that she is not really sure about everything that was going on behind the scenes, there might have been more conflicts, or additional sides to the conflict. Part of the reasons is that she was “green” at the time, i.e. she had little experience with university politics. There was some contestations between SSC and the section/institute, as they did not give him the support he expected/needed, which SB partly blames on the contestations everyone was involved in relation to cost savings, efficiency, mergers etc. Another problem was the organisations itself, were the science shop organisationally was “hanging” out there, SB did not feel as part of the organisation. 


Anticipations of the CTP

SB was not surprised that I happened, but the anticipation came rather late, around half a year before it happened. It was not a developed expected years ahead of time, at least for SB. She admits that SSC might have felt threatened earlier, but she was not aware at the time.  

I think the last half year (before the closure) we knew where it was heading. Alting (institute director) had told SSC during an employee development interview (MUS samtale) that he should not spend time on the science shop anymore. I remember SSC came and told me, and he was a bit shocked that Alting had told him that. I think that a couple of months went by, and then rector walks past… so we had seen it coming.  

Reinterpretations in hindsight

At the time, SB had little experience in university politics, and did not know how to handle the challenge. She was not party to everything that was going on, and SSC tried to fight without SB being aware of it. With the knowledge and experience SB has now (she still works at a university), she would have acted differently back then and taken up the fight.  

If I look at it in hindsight then I do not understand that we did not fight more. I know that Michael had discussed this with Alting, and we tried to get DTU match to accept it, but we did not discuss it with either the dean or rector. At least not as far as I know (SSC had confirmed previously, independently of this interview, that he did have some negotiations with prorector, which SB is now presented with).   Interesting, I was not part of this at all, but that may also be because at this point I was not very involved in the science shop anymore, my time was gone.  

Your understanding of what happened back then, has it developed since (interviewer)?  

Definitely, I have become much more aware of all these strategic fights you have to take or not to take. Had it been now, I would have been participating much more in that fight. And we might also have been stronger now compared to then, I was relatively green at the time, there were only SSC really. 


University politics - Learnings for SB

One of the things SB learned through this process was how to navigate university politics, which strategies to use etc. However, SB admits that she likely would have been unable to alter the outcome, but it would have been more personally satisfying to have fought harder.  

I think some of the strategic things I consider, how do I navigate… but I don’t experience headwind in the same way here. Well I do with economy and such, but not with my research activities. It is seen as legitimate what I do.  

Do not just accept things, if I do not agree I have to say something. Even though SSC says he did something, I do not think we did enough.  

We might not have been able to do anything, but it would have felt more satisfying to fight hehe.  

Organisation and collaboration Another crucial teaching was the importance of organisational embedding, of gaining allies, and collaborating widely in the university. Science Shop DTU was during the last time very alone, the only staff involved were SB and SSC, and SB were already being phased out. It is easy to close down an initiative only relating to one employee, but closing down an initiative where a whole section is involved would be, according to SB, harder to do.  

We closed ourselves too much about how it was organised, or what was the aim from the start, and not responsive enough at all towards societal tendencies/developments.  

With our knowledge now, the whole section should be involved in the science shop and have ownership, and then it would not have happened. I think lacking support in the section was one of the primary reasons that it did not succeed.

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