Alumnus Arjan Hassing: A policy maker working for Government

I currently work as a policy advisor at Provincie Noord-Holland, one of 12 provinces in the Netherlands. Over the last 4,5 years I’ve been developing policy in different fields: sustainable tourism, nature defragmentation, national park management and management of fauna. Since 2,5 years I am coordinating a team of 12 people who are involved with the execution of a law in the Netherlands that protects plant and animal species (‘Flora- en faunawet’). The province is the formal authority for the execution of this act. The team of professionals occupied with this task is very diverse and consists of policy makers, licensing professionals, a lawyer, enforcers and communication specialists.

The different models, theories and ways of understanding phenomena in tourism and nature/environment help in simplifying and structuring the real world, which is often very complex.

One of my main responsibilities is to have the team operate as a coherent collective. This means that I have to develop strategies and a clear vision on what the role, tasks and authorities of the province are in the complex environment of fauna management (and making sure people understand and are willing to follow this direction). I am also managing accounts of external partners involved with fauna management such as nature and fauna management organisations, collectives of private land owners, agricultural organisations and animal welfare groups. All these activities actually serve the main responsibility of my work as a civil policy advisor: providing objective and solid advice to the provincial government board so that they are in the position of making sound and balanced decisions.

Role of MLE in Career Development

The role of MLE (and the other master I followed at WUR: MFN) in my personal career actually consists of two elements: the concrete knowledge content of the studies and the academic skills. The different models, theories and ways of understanding phenomena in tourism and nature/environment help in simplifying and structuring the real world, which is often very complex. After my studies I actually liked to apply these models, bringing them to life. When you work on a policy level at a government you have to deal with multiple, constantly changing realities which are intertwined: political, organizational, ecological, financial and juridical. You need a fundamental base of theoretical knowledge to understand and structure this, to recognize what’s going on in order maintain an overview. The second role my academic education played is that it taught me the skills to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. With this, I mean it enabled me to recognize which information is valuable and which information isn’t; to be realistic and critical; to analyze the right information and then translate it to useful, realistic and comprehensible advices to the provincial government board.

Key Turning Points Career

I believe one of the biggest advantages of working at a Dutch government agency is that generally you have a lot of opportunities for personal development. During my career here I had the opportunity to do a post-academic study called Strategic Policy Advising which not only broadened my knowledge but also taught me about personal effectiveness and other aspects of myself. I also followed a management course and a personal insight course. After my university, which was mainly oriented at “external” knowledge it was refreshing and very valuable to actually gain more self-knowledge through these additional courses. It provided me more insight in myself, my qualities and points of improvement. Some of these insights surely were turning points. It also made me more conscious about the kind of work that suits me best. Together with my manager, we are now working on my further development in these directions. Of course there have also been (semi-)turning points in the practice of my work, which were sometimes positive (e.g. concrete achievements, grateful people, satisfied provincial board members, successful lawsuits) and by times negative (e.g. mistakes with awful consequences, disappointing encounters, working hard with low results). I always try to learn from them. The latest personal and big turning point has been the set-up of a wine business together with a companion, This business has nothing to do with my policy work, but because of its completely different nature I am learning a lot of new things which I can also apply in my job.

Strategic Choices Made

The main strategic choice I made during my studies was broadening my knowledge as much as I was able to. This was the main reason why I followed two masters. During my study I was also active in a network association for professionals with jobs related to tropical forests. You have to distinguish yourself in some way, especially when the competition on the job market is fierce. I think apart from idealistic motives the main advantages of doing extracurricular activities is not expanding knowledge or building network, but showing that you are an active and assertive person. When I now see a Curriculum Vitae from people applying, I always check the extra activities because I believe it tells quite a lot about the mentality of a person.

Advice for Future Graduates

I think developing a personal vision is very important. When you’re at network gatherings there usually isn’t so much you can offer in the current market when you’re talking to potential employers. You’re one of the many well-educated young professionals. It means you’re not on an equal level in the conversation. Unless… you develop your personal vision or original approach to things. Something that amazes the person you’re talking to. This isn’t easy because it requires a realistic perspective on the matter. Going loose on a certain theory to show knowledge isn’t enough. I think it means taking the next step: translating all the knowledge you’ve gained to something that’s useful, simple and instantly applicable for other people or organizations. Try to create something new, search for innovative combinations, concrete products or services. Make it easy to grasp, tangible and appealing. Today, we have access to many means in order to create such thing, pour it into the right shape and bring it to the people and places who want it.