Inaugural lecture by Wendy van der Valk: collaboration is key to our digital and sustainability transition

On November 11, Professor Wendy van der Valk will mark her appointment to the endowed chair of Purchasing & Supply Chain Management by delivering her inaugural lecture at Tilburg University. In her lecture In Contact with the Contract she will outline an exciting future facilitated by increasingly complex contracts. Complex and all-encompassing social issues such as digitization and sustainability are creating a need for new approaches to contracting and collaboration. Her research looks at how data and sustainability are shaping the contracts that clients and contractors enter into, and the development of their subsequent working relationship.

Wendy’s exploration of how we need contracting and collaboration to make the digital and sustainability transition a reality is predicated on a number of essential questions. How does data support decision-making and problem-solving? How can data be deployed effectively in the condition-driven or predictive maintenance of a physical product? Who is responsible for ensuring that more sustainable solutions become more widely adopted, to say nothing of making the necessary investments? All of these questions need to be answered when drafting a contract and developing a basis for collaboration.

Alternative forms of contracting combined with alternative approaches to collaboration are key to the success of the dual transition, the professor argues. The research agenda contains four focal points that feed into the identification of these new forms of contracting and collaboration.

To that end, she is examining whether contracts as we know them today need to be replaced by more flexible and forward-looking forms of contractual agreement, combined with closer collaboration. The collaborative element is essential to arrive at innovative solutions. The second focal point concerns digitization and its implications for effective contract design and management. For example, how can you arrange your contracts in such a way that you retain ownership of the data your supplier collects about your property and ensure that such data is not misused?

As regards sustainability, Wendy focuses specifically on issues of circularity, not least our need to be more resource-efficient. But what does an aim such as the reuse of materials actually entail and how do you draw up a contract to reflect that process? The final focal point concerns effective governance of and within networks. Achieving transitions often depends on cooperation among a network of different actors. How do you go about managing such networks effectively? In short, how do you make sound agreements in uncertain times and spur each other on to jointly achieve a positive end result?

"I look forward to working on these issues with fellow specialists and students alike. In a time fraught with transitions, certainty is in very short supply. It would be far from reasonable to expect clarity and certainty about which path to take and where it will lead us. But one thing is clear: we need to start heading in the right direction. With this in mind, I am encouraging closer and more extensive cooperation between clients and contractors themselves and throughout the broader network, where all relevant actors are pulling together to ensure that ten years from now we still have a world where we can do business with each other."

The endowed chair in Purchasing & Supply Chain Management is co-sponsored by the Dutch Association for Purchasing Management (Nevi) and is affiliated to the Department of Management at Tilburg School of Economics & Management.


Professor Wendy van der Valk was appointed to the endowed chair of Purchasing & Supply Chain Management at Tilburg University on April 1st 2020. In 2018, she was named a Fellow of the Philip Eijlander Diversity Program and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. From 2015 to 2019, she served as Academic Director of the Master’s program in Supply Chain Management.

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