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Seven signature areas focused on the major challenges of our time

Date:22 March 2017
The seven coordinators of the signature areas
The seven coordinators of the signature areas

The Faculty of Economics and Business has established seven 'signature areas' to stimulate multi-disciplinary research on major challenges like how to fund health care for an aging population and growing worldwide inequality.

These are research communities where experts with proven track records, and often different backgrounds, work on joint research projects. In contrast to existing research programmes and departments, these communities are much more flexible. By supporting these signature areas, FEB hopes to stimulate innovative, interdisciplinary research projects to solve complex societal challenges.

Here is a guide to the seven signature areas: Board Effectiveness, Collective Resilience, Connecting Innovation and Creativity, Digital Business Models, Individual Health and the Economic Environment, Inequality, and Markets and Sustainability.

Board Effectiveness

Coordinator Prof. Niels Hermes

Since the Enron scandal in 2001 and the financial crisis in 2008, the apparent lack of effectiveness of boards has been at the centre of heated debate. As a consequence many new regulatory systems have been put into place to control decision making by corporate boards to avoid more problems. However, ongoing corporate scandals and public discussions about board remuneration illustrate that, despite increased regulation, boards are still not always effective in managing their organizations. Therefore, identifying the conditions under which boards thrive remains an important question. The central aim of this signature area is to examine the conditions that will make boards effective. FEB researchers will generate valuable knowledge on why boards are not always effective in meeting shareholder demands, and which conditions will help them to improve.

Collective Resilience

Coordinator Prof. Dirk Pieter van Donk

Why do some organizations, sectors, or economic regions successfully adjust and even thrive in adversity while others fail to do so? Collective resilience refers to the complex interplay between organizational, infrastructural, and environmental factors that shape the emerging responses of organizations in a particular area, region, or nation to stress from disturbances, threats, or calamities. Resilience should be developed at all levels of society as a latent system capacity, ready to respond when needed. Collaboration is advocated as an essential requisite for addressing these challenges. The disciplines Organizational Behaviour, Supply Chain Management, International and Regional Economics are combining their efforts and expertise to deepen the understanding of collective resilience at meso level, micro and macro level, and to provide for national and international stakeholders solutions that build and strengthen resilience.


Coordinator Prof. Marcel Timmer

Income inequality is increasing around the world, both between and within countries, as growth seems to mainly benefit an urban elite of capital owners and highly-educated workers. This has triggered various kinds of social and political conflicts both in developed and in developing countries. Resolving these conflicts is one of the major societal challenges of our time and it requires solid understanding of the dynamics of global development and inequality, which is what this research area will focus on. Researchers within the signature area Inequality aim at generating new explanations for patterns of economic development and inequality in countries that are consistent with these long-run trends. These explanations should provide a comparative perspective at global development and will incorporate insights from Economic Growth, International Economics, New Economic Geography, Labour Economics, Development Economics as well as International Business.

Individual Health and the Economic Environment

Coordinator Dr Jochen Mierau

Today, people live longer and healthier than ever before. At the same time fertility has decreased. This ‘generational storm’ is by far the most important trend faced by governments around the world today. Only if population ageing is associated with a further increase in healthy years - allowing people to live independently - will the generational storm lead to better futures. To cope with this new challenge requires individuals to actively engage with their economic environment so as to become a co-creator of their own health status. Researchers within the signature area Individual Health and the Economic Environment study how individuals adapt their behaviour to these new circumstances. Through collaborative research over a vast array of fields the signature area contributes to individuals’ ability to cope with the challenges of modern health and health care.

Markets and Sustainability

Coordinator Prof. Adriaan Soetevent

Researchers from Marketing, Operations and Microeconomics will focus on how consumers and firms can be influenced to adapt their behaviour, and how market design and logistic networks can foster sustainability. The main research themes within the signature area are: Understanding Consumer Choices, Learning in Markets and Adoption of Sustainable Products. To be able to steer consumers towards more sustainable choices, we first have to understand what drives their behaviour. How is an individual’s inclination to make pro-social choices shaped by the (market) context in which he/she makes those decisions? Research within the second theme will focus especially on the role of information provision in the long run. How do consumers and firms deal with information that becomes available via the price mechanism and through other channels such as their social network? What are longer term effects of efforts to induce consumers to adopt sustainable products or to change their consumption behaviour otherwise? Furthermore, researchers within this area want to investigate how adoption of sustainable products can be encouraged. How can consumers be nudged towards such adoption? How can markets and logistical networks be designed (e.g. in terms of infrastructure) to facilitate such adoption?

Digital Business Models

Coordinator Prof. Peter Verhoef

One of the major developments in today’s society is increasing digitalization. Digitalization affects entire business models and has important implications for the functioning of marketing, logistics and innovation strategy. The marketing function has changed dramatically with a stronger focus on online and mobile marketing. Assortment and pricing decisions have become more flexible in online environments. Logistics also have become more complex but are crucial to compete. Customers demand to be served day and night with fast home-deliveries, and to be able to conveniently return products. Company logistics streams need to handle this complexity while guaranteeing quick deliveries at low cost. The development of products with new digital features is becoming the norm. Within innovation, digitalization also requires new value propositions, partnerships, key resources, and delivery channels. Marketing, logistic, and innovation functions need to cooperate more in order to deliver superior customer value at low costs.

Connecting Innovation and Creativity

Coordinator Prof. Dries Faems

Workplace creativity and innovation are becoming more and more important in contemporary society. At the same time, organizations continue to struggle with connecting creativity and innovation. According to the European Commission, for instance, one of the major weaknesses of the European economy lies in the difficulty of translating its creative knowledge base into innovative goods and services that can be launched into the market: the ‘European Valley of Death’. Relevant example questions within this research area are: Which leadership style is required to successfully transform creative ideas into innovative products and services? How should teams be composed that work on creative or innovative projects? How can we make sure that creative ideas do not die a silent death, but are actually used to create profitable innovations? How can we create organizational cultures and structures that are conducive to both creativity and innovation?

Find out more about the seven signature areas here.