Skip to content

Lecturer and Ethnographic Researcher Els De Maeijer on Sustainable Communication in Open Innovation

Els De Maeijer
Lecture (communication) and Ethnographic researcher of Open Innovation at Fontys Hogeschool

What are the main challenges companies face with regards to effective communication when participating in an open innovation project?
I’d rather talk about sustainable communication. I believe that people want to be seen as open, sharing and collaborating. However, in the context of open innovation, it is impossible to be fully open because of IP-issues and the fact that parties have their own agenda to defend. To talk about what you can’t say can be scary as not being able to share can be confused with not wanting to share or not having knowledge or expertise to share. A relationship can easily derail when people don’t talk about these hidden layers. So the question is how can you interact with each other in a way that sustains the trust in a relationship?

How can companies best approach / solve these challenges?
Time. Business has to be done quickly in a lot of cases. However, time pressure makes people assume things that may not be the case, and further on not question these assumptions. So, have lunch together, deviate from an agenda, make room for diversity. It is counterproductive to get everyone aligned before you talk about the differences.

When can we expect to read your research and where can we go?
I’m handing in my PhD very soon, it will be available before the summer, but parts of my research are already available here: and here

Why and how did you become a lecturer in communication?

I kind of rolled into the job. I studied linguistics and choose to start my career as a teacher in secondary education. The pressure in secondary education is very high in my opinion when you move up to higher education, you have more time to develop your classes and experiment with the curriculum. I also wanted to be able to teach students about what I think matters in communication rather than just doing the prescribed things.

What do you like most when working with students?
The interaction with them. Most students I teach didn’t choose to do engineering because they are so good at language or so fond of it. It is nice if you can make them see that the way that you express yourself says something about who you are and what you think is important. I also like the challenge of getting them involved; first-year students like to mess still, with a bit of humour and good old fashioned strictness you can create a nice atmosphere in class.

Is there collaboration between Fontys Hogeschool, other knowledge institutes and businesses?
Yes, a lot. All our students do internships in year 3 and 4. We have students at VDL-group, Bosch and Philips. The students do practical research and advise the companies on matters like throughput time, productivity or marketing.

What is the importance of this collaboration?
Business always want to improve. Sometimes they just don’t know-how. Our students investigate what needs to happen and support their claims with managerial or organizational theories. As lecturers, we guide them in the selection of tools and methods and in how they can implement their solutions. Their research actually contributes to the success of the Brainport Region.

How do you keep a good work-life balance with your work, research and young family life?

That is quite a challenge alright. I try to make clean cuts between my activities. If I’m doing research, I try not to get involved too much in other things. When I’m with my family I drop the rest. If you don’t feel like you should actually be doing something else and do something with full attention, you are left with more energy for the other things afterwards. Of course, I also have days when nothing works out and the word ‘balance’ is not even in my dictionary. In those cases, it’s a matter of acceptance. (Tip: do yoga! Best school for life!)

What is your goal in life coming 5 to 10 years?
I don’t know if I have a real specific goal. I want to lead a meaningful life, by doing things that others can benefit from. Keep growing in knowledge, skills and ways to deal with the peculiarities that humans do and don’t do when they live their life in business or personally. Interaction and behaviour are too interesting not to work actively.

Books recommended by Els De Maeijer:

You can read her Golden Rules for Living, here or listen to her podcast, here