An interdisciplinary research team

The CONTRA team includes researchers from Tilburg University, Oslo Metropolitan University, the University of Antwerp and the University of Warsaw. The project coordinator is Tilburg University. For the case study research, the researchers partner with the municipalities of Gdynia (Poland), Drammen (Norway), Genk (Belgium) and Tilburg (the Netherlands) as well as the IDEA Institut (Poland). For the Drama Labs, the researchers partner with theatres such as Nieuwstedelijk Theatre Company (Belgium) and Gdynia Glowna Theatre (Poland), as well as theatre practitioners such as Marthe Sofie L. Eide (Norway) and Taco van Dijk & Maarten Smit (the Netherlands).


Tilburg University (TiU), represented by the department of Public Law and Governance

The department of Public Law and Governance is the academic home of over 100 researchers in the fields of Public Law and Public Administration. The department brings together a large range of expertise from these fields. It runs a research program on Global Law and Governance, which initiates and supports research into challenges that manifest themselves at various scales simultaneously (city, region, nation, Europe, globe) and that ask for innovative forms of conflict and collaboration.

Eva Wolf is the PI for TiU. Eva’s research has focused on policy conflicts, ranging from conflicts on intensive livestock farming to conflicts on wind turbine and highway construction. For her PhD thesis at the University of Antwerp she investigated how policy conflicts escalate from a substantive, to a procedural and, finally, a relational dimension through a case study of the contested ‘Oosterweelconnection’ highway in Belgium. She published her work in various high-ranking journals and has collaborated extensively with members of the UA consortium.

Merlijn van Hulst is an ethnographer and public administration scholar (PhD from Erasmus University Rotterdam). He has been working at TiU for 12.5 years in various management roles. Amongst others, he was the overall leader of the Urban Europe project Smart Urban Intermediaries (2017-2020). Merlijn is head of research of the department. His research interest is the working practices of urban practitioners. His research is often done in collaboration with practice parties (e.g., cities, ministries). He also specialises in qualitative research methods.

Tobias Arnoldussen is assistant professor of jurisprudence. He obtained his PhD in the sociology of law from the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, on political and legal conflicts over air pollution regulation. His current research interests include the legal ramifications of the new Dutch Environment and Planning Act and the processes through which private problems are amplified into public issues on a national and European level. He is a member of the UGoveRN platform on urban governance and an active board member of the Dutch/Flemish Law and Society Association.


University of Antwerp (UA), represented by the Urban Studies Institute

The Urban Studies Institute of the University of Antwerp is a collaboration between twenty research groups of the UA for the development of interdisciplinary research and education on cities, urban development and urban challenges. The Institute also develops a strong interface between research and practice and is a member of the steering committee of the Urban Europe Research Alliance. 

Wouter Van Dooren is the PI for UA. Wouter is professor in the research group Politics & Public Administration. His research deals with how information is used in policy and public management. With Eva Wolf, he has studied conflict and trust. In the last ten years, Wouter has acquired over 5 million euros in research funding and was promoter of 11 PhDs. He publishes in major policy and public administration journals.

Tom Coppens is professor in the research group for Urban Development. He studies decision-making processes of complex projects, spatial policy and policy instruments in planning and design. He is, amongst others, PI of the Innofins project (2 million euros) on financing nature-based solutions. He publishes in the main planning journals. For CONTRA, he focuses on the interaction between conflict and planning institutions.

Esther Van Zimmeren is professor at the Faculty of Law and member of the Research Groups Government & Law and Business & Law. She established the Metropolitan Legal Lab to bring law scholarship to issues of urban development and is coordinator of the GOVTRUST Centre of Excellence. In the CONTRA project, Esther studies the dynamic relation between the legal context and policy conflict using the adaptive law theory.

Pascal Gielen is professor of cultural sociology at the Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts (ARIA). In 2016 he received the Odysseus Grant of the Flemish Scientific Fund. He established the Culture Commons Quest Office to study commons as a pivotal resource for a sustainable creative biotope. In the CONTRA project, he contributes to the study and the dialogue on the Drama Labs.


Oslo Metropolitan University (OMU), represented by The Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research

The Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR) is a social science research institution at Oslo Metropolitan University (OMU). The core competencies are research on place, public administration, governance and involvement. The research includes work around the implementation and implications of public policy, urban planning, organisation, coordination and governance, as well as democracy and participation. The institute has research projects funded by the Norwegian Research Council, EU, ESPON and JPI and has extensive experience with interdisciplinary and academic-practitioner cooperation.

Cecilie Sachs Olsen (PhD in Cultural Geography) is the PI of OMU. Her work revolves around developing theatre-based methods for analysing and re-imagining urban development, space and politics. In 2019 she was the chief curator of Oslo Architecture Triennale, which used theatre to explore how architecture can respond to the climate crisis. Cecilie is also the co-founder of the urban performance collective zURBS. She has led a series of urban research and theatre projects around Europe and has published in the top-ranking journals in her field.

Gro Sandkjær Hanssen (PhD in Political Science) is a senior researcher at NIBR and Professor II at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the Norwegian University of Life Science (NMBU). Her research fields are urban planning and urban leadership, participation and involvement, regional governance and multilevel governance. She led the research-based evaluation of the Norwegian Planning and Building Act from 2014-2018, and has been PI of research projects about compact city development, climate mitigation and adaptation and governing urban public spaces.

Celine Motzfeldt Loades (Ph.D. in Social Anthropology) is a senior researcher at NIBR. Her research fields are in the areas of sustainable urban development, urban ecology, grassroots activism, nature- and culture heritage management. Celine was a project leader (2020-2021) in Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (NOA) where she led the project, ‘Urban Nature – Young People’s Participation in Nature- and Regional Conflicts in the Oslo Region’. She has also been a board member in NOA (2020 – 2022) and in Journal of Urban Culture Research (JUCR, 2014 – 2019), as well as the leader of the Urban Ecology Group, NOA (2019 – 2022).


University of Warsaw

University of Warsaw (UoW), represented by the Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, Department of Local Development and Policy

The Department of Local Development and Policy is a dynamic research centre conducting interdisciplinary studies of regional and local development, in particular on local democracy, mechanisms of local and regional policy making, factors influencing local economic development and local public services delivery. At the moment (in 2021) the Department is implementing seven research grants funded both from national (National Science Centre) and European sources. The Department maintains lively international academic contacts. In May 2006 and again in June 2017 it organised the annual conference of the European Urban Research Association (EURA).

Joanna Monika Krukowska is the PI of UoW. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Local Development and Policy. Her research interest is local and regional development policy, democracy, and local leadership. She has worked at the Ministry of Regional Development, in the media, and for NGOs working on civic involvement and local bottom-up initiatives. Joanna has participated in many international and national research projects focusing on comparative analysis of local and regional policies.

Katarzyna Szmigiel-Rawska is an Associate Professor in the Department of Local Development and Policy. Most of her theoretical and empirical work is between economics and political sciences, taking into account the local scale of phenomena. She is a coordinator and participant of national and international research projects and advisory projects for government organisations and local authorities. She has authored articles, books and chapters on local government and strategic public management. For CONTRA, she is responsible for mapping the intersections between legal policy frameworks and their local implementations.

IDEA Instytut sp. z o.o. (IDEA)

IDEA Instytut sp.z o.o. is a private consultant and research agency that is committed to promoting making wise decisions based on scientific knowledge among public administration representatives. It carries out evaluation research, both in the area of the use of European funds and other issues related to the effectiveness and efficiency of public policies. IDEA Instytut also performs analyses in the field of social and economic development and the social economy. The company offers consultancy in the preparation of strategic and system documents, including evaluation plans, local strategies, action plans and their formulation process, including public participation. It provides expert support in the implementation of standards for conducting public policies focused on results and based on evidence. It also offers consulting in the field of research process management. 

Maciej Kolczyński is an evaluator, researcher, advisor and trainer. He gained his professional experience in different national and European institutions dealing with EU funds. He is the key expert of the IDEA instytut in areas of regional policy, local government, urban development, international cooperation and institutional capacity. Since 2019 he has been cooperating with the Association of Polish Cities, advising cities and partnerships at the local level.