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The blogpost at hand belongs to a series highlighting the various keynote presentations of our public event labelled ‘Get on top of your complex challenges’ which was hosted by the public:START consortium on the 14th of October as part of the 35th edition of the annual ERASMUSDAYS.

A broad spectrum of speakers representing public organization and research institutions provided an enlightening insight into how they are currently dealing with complex challenges in their own domain. Now, we want to share their success factors with you.


Municipalities are increasingly facing major social challenges, forcing them to implement new and innovative forms of organization in order to meet those complex challenges. The Netherlands has been facing a refugee crisis for some time. As a result of the invasion in Ukraine, security regions in The Netherlands committed to provide 2,000 shelters. This put further strain on the already existing difficulty to shelter refugees who cannot enter the asylum process.

Erwin van der Maesen de Sombreff a strategist in the Westerkwartier local government, was assigned to organise shelter for a minimum of 200 Ukrainian refugees. In his presentation, he shares the lessons he has learned during his experience. He described the crisis as a complex challenge because it was a phenomenon the municipality had no experience with, they did not receive any references or precedence from experienced organizations, it was an high-pressure situation, and it was centred in people faced with vulnerability, fear and trauma. Erwin van der Maesen de Sombreff explains that these challenges require a change in mindset from project management to crisis management, on a workforce and mandate level. This entails giving up the traditional protocols in place and have a hands-on approach - “being in it to win it” and “daring to deviate”. Erwin gave the example of his contact with the mayor going from slow e-mail correspondence to direct phone calls on a regular basis to accelerate the decision making process. Additionally, Erwin mentions that one of the most important success factor was the person-oriented and humane approach as well as keeping close contact with the politicians and organizations. Lastly, Erwin highlights the importance of asking questions as a way to involve the society in the process, and of being flexible and creative to be able to overcome further unexpected barriers that may arise.

The public:START consortium was happy to witness the effective employment entrepreneurial skills to understand and overcome a complex social challenge faced by the public sector. The consortium is pleased to know that such a transformation is taking place around Europe.

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