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  1. A new year: the moment to look back and to look forward

A new year: the moment to look back and to look forward

2023 was my second year as director of the NSCR, and in my view, this year went even faster than the year before. In the beginning, we had a lot of discussions about the new directions and roads to discover and also about our finances. From spring to summer and autumn, our official assessment (SEP) was of course the topic of many meetings and the work on the necessary documents was intense. Also, we spent much time to review our goals and procedures, given that the NSCR is still in the stage of settling and managing its growth.

What did I learn this year? A lot. Of course, I did not discover new regularities in human and organizational behavior, but I could experience and learn about sociological theories in practice. Take the idea of unintended consequences, formulated almost 100 years ago by Robert Merton (Merton’s famous essay on the unintended consequences of purposive actions dates back to 1936). The truth of this notion hit me quite often and I realized that the unintended consequences deserve more attention in organizations – an insight that can even lead to a bunch of testable hypotheses J.

Some unintended consequences demand a change of actions or a more nuanced policy, others could and should just be accepted. For example, we try to practice awareness regarding how we communicate with each other – which is absolutely important. However, sometimes, I found myself back in discussions where procedures and processes became the dominant issue, and the contents seemed to become inferior. Or, take our travel policy to use the train if possible (we worked this out in more detail in our institute’s guide). An unintended consequence of the goal of sparing the environment is the disproportional growth of cost, since travelling by train costs much more time and money. Thirdly, at the level of NWO-I, the goal of cooperation and homogenization – a purposive and sensible action – sometimes had the unintended side effect for the institutes that they have all to act in the same way, which is not per se desirable.
So, trying to predict and deal with unintended consequences was among the fascinating things I learned this year – and I am still learning.

Yet, there are many other things worth mentioning when looking back: the year was extremely successful in terms of grants acquired – two ERCs (Rutger Leukfeldt and Wouter Steenbeek), a Vidi (Steve van de Weijer), a Veni (Asier Moneva), a huge NWA project (Arjan Blokland, Veroni Eichelsheim and Sjoukje van Deuren), a KNAW early career award (Elanie Rodermond), an Embassy Science Fellowship (Peter Ejbye-Ernst), the huge project with many societal partners on consequences of sanctions (PI: Anja Dirkzwager together with a yet to be nominated senior scientist of the WODC), and more!

In addition, new research grant proposals are in the making and everyone is trying to keep up the effort and hence the success. (I know that this also can have unintended consequences.) But acquiring funds is very important for us and we are doing well.
Let me also say a word about failures. Remember that one of the most cited papers in sociology – ‘the strength of weak ties’ by Marc Granovetter – had been rejected in the first place. Rejection is unavoidable and it makes our work sometimes hard and troublesome. So, let us stand together when we fail and let us work together to make success happen!

The year 2024 will be exciting! We have just started the PhD-in-criminology-community and the kick-off meeting in December was a huge success. This year we will set up and teach the courses and have a summer school together with the MPI Freiburg. Also, we made progress in our plans for a data repository, a fantastic step towards open (crime) science. We will work together with the advanced infra-structure ODISSEI and I hope to make real advances with this enterprise in the next months. It is fantastic that both endeavors are embraced by the criminological community at the university departments. Last but not least, we are about to strengthen and even extend our outreach – in 2023 we continued to work on NSCR BLOG, which is very well received. Shortly, we will launch our new podcast series and we have even more ideas to share our research findings with a greater audience. Wrapping up, 2023 has been a momentous year for the NSCR and we can be optimistic about our future.

Let me conclude, the intellectual energy and the sense of our community are the ingredients that make the NSCR so special, and it is such a great place. I truly hope and trust that we can keep nurturing this. So, I look forward to a joyful and thrilling year ahead.

Happy New Year to you all and your loved ones!

Beate Völker, director NSCR