For public safety and security, society’s powerful tool is science

The newly endowed professor of Organisational Behaviour and Culture at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), Professor Gabriele Jacobs gave her inaugural address on Friday 9 March, entitled Organisational Behaviour and Culture - Insights from and for Public Safety Management. Prof. Jacobs leads the Centre of Excellence in Public Safety Management (CESAM) at RSM. She said it is important to understand culture and the power of conformity and security. Many cultural challenges are significant because they are complex with unknown solutions, and the co-creation of public safety is dependent on trust between all stakeholders.

Dean of RSM, Professor Steef van de Velde said RSM is fortunate to have Professor Gabrielle Jacobs in an academic chair that is so relevant for business and society.

Necessity of strong institutions

“We need positive change to make the world a better place,” he said. “It is our conviction that businesses and organisations can and should play an important role in addressing societal problems. We, as a business school, aim to enhance the management of business and organisations through education, research, and engagement in order to create prosperity for all – and a key necessary condition of that is the existence of strong institutions for safety and security.”

This is the focus of Gabriele Jacobs’ research and expertise; she won one of the largest-ever grants received on EUR’s Woudestein campus in 2009 with €7 million of EU funding to run the COMPOSITE project, Comparative Police Studies in the EU. From that project, Prof. Jacobs co-founded CESAM. One of CESAM’s aims is to establish a new executive master programme in International Security Management.

“She embodies the type of professor that RSM needs to fulfil its mission to be a force for positive change in the word, and for that she is a role model. RSM is very proud of her,” said Steef van de Velde.

Growing market for public safety and security

Prof. Jacobs’ primary concern in her academic work is public safety and security. It’s a huge and growing market that includes the sectors of technology such as smart cities, mass transportation, intelligence services and immigration. She quoted UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who said that we badly need leadership and values that foster inclusion to make people feel they belong, to combat extremism, populism, and racism.

“Leadership, values, managing change and diversity, creating commitment and identity are core concepts from the tool kit of management scholars. I am convinced management research can make a meaningful contribution and actively respond to these grand challenges,” she said, and listed three ways in which it can do so:

  1. In terms of identity, in finding a balance between diverse cultural needs
  2. In organisations and communications, for understanding cultural diversity
  3. And in organisational change, with a focus on changes in organisations for public safety, and in public reactions to change.

Public players in safety

Police forces are core players in the field of public safety. In order to gain trust and legitimacy from citizens and other stakeholders, they need to balance very diverse expectations. The co-creation of public safety is dependent on trust between all stakeholders; to gain such trust, it requires a redefinition and readjustment of the distribution of power and the perception of organisations.

Multi-level challenges

Prof. Jacobs made general observations about the multi-level effects of public safety challenges and gave the example of the war in Syria impacting upon national security in several countries, and affecting the daily lives of the communities receiving thousands of refugees. Processes at local and societal levels need to be considered, and there are bottom-up effects and trickle-down effects; developments on the multilateral level play out on the local level, but also small steps by individuals can have impact on the multilateral level. “It does not need heroes to trigger social change”, she said.

Alliances with practitioners in research

Research alliances that embrace diversity and complexity are needed to meet such grand challenges. Collaborations between practitioners from different sectors and multidisciplinary researchers force us to work out of our comfort zones and can free creative processes. Multidisciplinary perspectives are needed to conceptualise multi-level problems and practitioners to spot societal challenges on the horizon.

Alliances of scientists and practitioners can identify relevant topics, and they are a most important driver for progress in leadership practices. Research teams need alliances that reflect the complexity of the world they study.

Spreading the word

Educating responsible managers of the future is a duty, said Prof. Jacobs. She advocates integrating the relevance of societal challenges into management education, and she is highly committed to doing this in her role as the academic director of RSM’s BScIBA.

She said she is excited by the development of a proposed executive MSc in International Security at RSM, which involves practitioners and academics, public safety management embracing complexity, making alliances and co-creating smart and sustainable solutions.

She concluded by stating that the current high profile of populism thrives on its method of reducing complexity, and promising simple measures to solve complex problem. “Universities are the chief counter voices with a significant role to play,” she said, and pledged to embrace complexity, build alliances and spread the word through academic science, which is one of humanity’s most powerful tools.

Security narratives symposium

Prof. Jacob’s address was preceded by an International Security Narratives Symposium, hosted by CESAM and in the context of the Erasmus+ Project ISM-KA, a project financed by the EU with the aim of creating sustainable and concrete resources and structures to foster international security collaborations.

It brought together academics and practitioners from private and public fields with the objective to co-create security solutions on based on security narratives and to discuss and develop approaches to local safety and security challenges. About 80 international participants came from private industries such as technology and banking, and from public sectors such as municipalities, ministries, police, first responders, safety regions, and embassies. They were joined by academics from several disciplines such as management sciences, social sciences and criminology, as well as artists working in sculpture, dance, poetry and theatre.

Participants reported their perception of the event as ‘confronting their perspectives with meaningful insights outside their comfort zones’. Listening and sharing security narratives increases understanding and common language and facilitates the development of new solutions, and many insights from the symposium were unexpected, reported Prof. Jacobs; they referred to overcoming prejudice and stereotypes towards specific sectors and professions.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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