Spring School report

From the 27th to the 31st of March, AMS Institute organized the ALIGN4energy Spring School. During this week, the 12 Ph.D. and post-doc researchers had the opportunity to collaborate, co-create, and design integral research activities for the project’s first year. Through more than 14 different modules and activities, the participants familiarized themselves with theory, challenges from practice, and possible solutions to these challenges.

Unique approach

In line with the key purpose of the NWO ORC funding scheme, ALIGN4energy (A4E) aims to tackle societal problems and optimize research activities and outputs in order to create useful outcomes and impact for society. Specifically, A4E intends to decarbonise energy demand in the Netherlands by accelerating the uptake of green energy investments. 

As a knowledge utilization partner of the project, AMS Institute has set up this—relatively early-stage—integral working week to identify collaboration opportunities with societal partners (which we name 'testbed partners' here). This way, the options for societal impact can already be maximally exploited during the project, rather than after the project has ended. The project started five months ago, which made March a fitting moment for this Spring School: Ph.D. students are identifying the key goals and research questions for the following four years in these first months.

Getting started

The A4E Spring School started with an introduction to AMS Institute, the valorisation partner of this project. After outlining the learning goals for the week, the project’s impact plan and its importance were discussed. Then, participants worked together on preparing questions for testbed partners.


On Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, seven societal partners were present to discuss their experiences and challenges surrounding the energy transition in the residential sector, especially regarding individual and collective decision-making. The municipalities of Haarlemmermeer, Den Haag, Rotterdam, and Eindhoven focused on an explanation of their municipality’s approach to the energy transition. They discussed policy instruments, participation tools and demographics, and explained their goals. 


Rabobank, Waternet, and Lieven de Key focused more on presenting (ongoing and expected) collaborations and decision support systems for citizens. After each presentation, the PhD researchers got the opportunity to ask their prepared questions. The participants incorporated the output from these presentations and questions into stakeholder factsheets that they can use to align their research ideas with lessons from practice. The output was also integrated in their final presentation for field research activities on Friday. 


After the societal partners’ needs were clarified, Wednesday kicked off with a presentation from (Work Package 3 lead) CWI about the foreseen development of the SAMEN platform. CWI outlined modules, research activities and challenges of the platform, followed by a short brainstorm to identify functionalities of the SAMEN platform. These outcomes were followed up with presentations from two software development partners on Thursday. Building Blocks and The Early Birds discussed existing state-of-the-art of their tools for collective decision-making.

 ‘Utilizing the enormous brainpower, expertise, and capacities of this group of researchers from interdisciplinary studies, provides a unique opportunity to contribute to societal challenges that our partners deal with in their day-to-day practice. Setting up this week helped enormously to identify ways to align the time paths of research and societal partners and to come to synergetic learning activities.’   

 Paul Voskuilen, Program developer Urban Energy at AMS Institute

Connecting research with practice

On the last day, the researchers connected potential experimental plans that can be performed in the testbeds to the project’s impact plan and situated their experimental plans within the project’s planned timeline. The final, integral planning outlined collaboration moments, interdependencies, and possibilities for further development. These activities are currently being reviewed with researchers’ supervisors in order to make a continuously updated 6-month plan for interactions with testbeds partners.

Learned lessons and next steps

AMS Institute collected feedback and comments from the participants and shared those with the Steering Committee at the end of April 2023. As a next step, AMS Institute will host two-day knowledge modules for societal partners in November 2023. During these knowledge modules, practitioners are welcome to learn about lessons from the first year of the project.