Urban Pioneers: Amsterdam’s Chief Science Officer

5 June 2024

Urban challenges are becoming more and more complex. Meeting these challenges takes innovation, research and a shift in cities’ approach to maximise the impact of this research. Cross-cutting issues like sustainability, digitalisation and ensuring equal opportunity, cities need to engage all stakeholders involved: universities, municipalities, businesses and SMEs, NGOs, communities and citizens.   

As Caroline Nevejan, Amsterdam’s Chief Science Officer, puts it, “the preservation of what matters most in cities requires new skills and understanding.” City administrations are being challenged to adapt their perspectives, change behaviour and learn to act and interact in new ways.  

Towards this goal, the Amsterdam City Council decided to invest in research and innovation by appointing both a Chief Technology Officer and a Chief Science Office in 2015. In 2017, Caroline became the city’s Chief Science Officer. In her role, Caroline facilitates the flow of knowledge between stakeholders by highlighting the research that already exists and pushing for more research in areas where it’s lacking. She brings together different stakeholders to discuss topics like the social impact of climate justice, the urban and regional research ecosystem and city science for urban challenges just to name a few.  

To further share knowledge, show relations between different kinds of knowledge, and facilitate collaboration in research projects, she’s implemented This digital platform highlights research, knowledge, and innovation focusing on Amsterdam and its metropolitan area and makes it accessible to the broader community. 

Her impact even extends outside of Amsterdam. By collaborating with other cities, she’s been able to garner support for city science at the European level. Working with five other cities, they drafted a letter detailing the importance of learning between cities which led to DG Research & Innovation committing to advise the cities for the past four years.  

 Her work is testament to the progress that can happen when cities ‘dare to share.’ 

What are you trying to achieve in your position?  

My first goal is to connect colleagues from the municipality and academia to connect and share knowledge as they work together to improve the quality of daily life in Amsterdam and the region.  

As we face climate change and many other compounding crises, it’s important that connections between the right people are taking place. Two people with different knowledge and skill sets working on shared urban challenges need to be able to connect.   

In order to facilitate these connections, I developed an online platform for all research from the municipality, the universities, the larger utility boards and smaller cultural knowledge and community-based knowledge developers. This connects the alpha, beta and gamma sciences through all departments and levels in the municipality.  

This then feeds into a broader goal of inspiring colleagues and the larger audience in the Amsterdam region, the Netherlands, Europe and beyond by showcasing new trends and insights. In 2019 we launched the City Science Initiative. In the City Science Initiative we collaborate with the city science officers of more than 20 cities, the JRC and DG Research & Innovation of the European Commission and other specific networks. Together we analyse current practices and formulate new perspectives.   

What’s your personal motivation to do this job?  

These days all cities must be ‘learning cities’. Between the different generations and between the many cultures we all are part of, we have to learn to work together and interact with diverse knowledge in order to ensure our quality of life, the health of the planet, and even for our very survival.   

Throughout all the different positions I’ve held, teaching and collaborating with students has always been central to my work. To witness learning in action brings me a lot of joy and I am always grateful for moments when I see learning happening.  

The ability to acquire new knowledge is crucial. I have been part of many interdisciplinary research teams over the years and when things go well, the learning curve is vast. Once people trust each other, the misunderstandings between them transform into fertile ground for innovation. When there is trust, resilience grows, and solutions can emerge much faster.  

Being a part of this learning is what motivates me to continue my work. My goal is to create the context for these collaborations where such complex yet very rewarding learning can happen. 

What are your main challenges? 

Although I work with an amazing team, as Chief Science Officer I am ‘standing in the wind’ so to speak.   

As I also am part of the university as a professor and the municipality, I hear a lot of things as I travel through all disciplines and departments. This makes my work better, but this can also be threatening to some.  

In my work, power is a double-edged sword. In the best of cases, it creates an opening where needed, but at the same time, it has the potential to be very detrimental. In my role, I am confronted with both of these possibilities daily. My main challenge is to navigate the many formal and informal power dynamics to make more collaboration possible. This balancing act takes a lot of emotional resilience from me personally. 

When was the last time you felt that your position had a positive impact on your city’s inhabitants?  

The impact is widespread but can be hard to track since our team doesn’t do research ourselves. Rather, we orchestrate research collaborations that affect many people in Amsterdam and the broader region.  

That said, when looking at the number of daily visitors on, we can get a sense of how this collective resource is serving the city as a sort of community of practice for professionals. With more than 250 contributing editors across Amsterdam’s different municipal departments, regional offices, universities, vocational training programs and the utility boards, the site gets more than one thousand visits a day.  

If you had a magic wand, what could significantly improve the way you do your job?  

The mantra of my career, and now of, has always been ‘dare to share’.  

If I could, I would use the magic wand to take away the fear. The fear of making mistakes, the fear of being held accountable, and the fear of sharing.   

Fear has a source and in professional environments, it’s often hierarchy. Even before abuse of power can happen, many professionals choose the safe road and keep their mouths shut. They stop sharing and let processes tumble down.  My magic wand would make all of us brave so that we’d step up and be willing to share. For me, this is the only way forward if we are to evolve socially. 

Pitch your job to other local, regional, national or European governments.  

Urban Challenges require different kinds of knowledge to work together to find the solutions we need. A variety of data sources, different methodologies, skills, insight and scientific research all contribute to handling the complex issues cities are faced with.   

For a city and/or region to be able to create such collaborations, it needs to nurture a research and innovation ecosystem. In such ecosystems, the position of Chief Science Officer and Chief Technical Officer are catalysts to make the performance of the collaboration better and more effective.  

Without positions that guarantee a structural and inclusive development of necessary knowledge, a city or region misses out on essential opportunities and this will cost them a lot of money in the long run. Worse still is that without a structural investment in knowledge development and cultural change for and with all, many people will be left behind.  

Every city needs someone whose task is to inspire us all to ‘dare to share’. 


This interview is part of ‘Urban Pioneers,’ a Eurocities series published every second and fourth week of the month spotlighting innovative and original job positions in municipalities across Europe. Each article in this series highlights a job position aimed at improving wellbeing, health conditions, society and the environment in cities. From tackling the urban heat island effect to countering gender imbalances to encouraging sustainable mobility, ‘Urban Pioneers’ showcases how cities are leading by example and breaking new ground in enhancing people’s quality of life. ‘Urban Pioneers’ jobs can inspire national, regional and EU authorities to create similar positions in their own structures, multiplying across Europe’s regions and nations the positive impact that started in cities.

Article one: Officer for Basic Research in Women´s Issues in Vienna

Article two: Malmo’s Skateboarding Coordinator

Article three: Amsterdam’s Bicycle Mayor

Article four: Brussel’s Bouwmeester Maitre Architecte

Article five: Munich’s Head of the Equal Opportunities Office for Women 

Article six: Vienna’s Integration Officer

Article seven: Antwerp’s Chief Resilience Officer

Article eight: Dortmund’s Night Manager

Article nine: BYCS’ Rome Bicycle Mayor

Article ten: Barcelona’s Time Policy Officer

Article 11: Vienna’s Walking Officer

Article 12: Dortmund’s Loneliness Officer

Article 13: Rotterdam’s Local Democracy Cheerleader


Alyssa Harris Eurocities writer