the Zijlstra Center

logo HZC Engels

Through academic education and research, the Zijlstra Center helps civil society organizations to improve their administration and governance, enabling them to create and demonstrate their public value. 

The Zijlstra Center operates on the interface between public control, governance and leadership. A multidisciplinary team of professors, researchers, PhD students and teaching staff conducts research and provides education. Our mission is to identify, define and develop the creation of public value by civil society organizations and local government.

The Zijlstra Center is part of the School of Business and Economics of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. 

How can civil society organizations and public authorities create public value?

Public value can be seen as providing appropriate social services to meet social needs. While that sounds quite simple, the actual realization and demonstration of public value is very complex. The creation of public value is strongly dependent on the context in which an organization operates. It concerns the balancing of an organization’s authorizing environment, its strategy and management control, and the capacities that it has at its disposal.

Many civil society organizations and authorities create and demonstrate public value on a daily basis. In doing so, they are confronted with issues concerning the governance and business administration of their investments and activities. Especially now, at a time of cutbacks and dwindling resources, organizations need the right tools for governance and for improving their business administration, in order to create and demonstrate their public valueThe .

The Zijlstra Center Staff


Our research is conducted for and funded by civil society organizations and public authorities. We currently operate in the following sectors: health care, education, public housing, safety, culture, the charity sector and local government. Our action-based research helps our clients to improve their daily practices by finding answers to a variety of questions, including:

  • How can I organize social entrepreneurship and create public value at a time of cutbacks?
  • How can I identify dysfunctional bureaucracy and how do I tackle it?
  • Which financial arrangements and steering mechanisms are helpful in creating public value, and which are not?
  • How can I improve my risk management system?
  • How can we measure policy effects and the demands that are made on an organization’s business administration?
  • How do I mobilize stakeholders and networks that are relevant to my organization’s provision and legitimization of public services?
  • How do I manage my reputation?

The Center plays a critical role in the public debate on public value by providing education, research and results, and by developing solutions for related problems.

Education: Certified Public Controller (CPC) programme and Master in Accounting and Control (MSc)

The Zijlstra Center represents the postgraduate public controller programme, launched in 2002 and since then over 300 professionals have taken or are currently taking the programme. The programme is geared towards controllers, financial advisers, managers and policy advisers in civil society organizations.

There are two tracks: the 2-year part-time professional programme leading to the qualification as a Certified Public Controller (CPC) and the academic track leading to a Master’s degree in Accounting and Control (MSc). Students on both tracks follow the same programme for the first four semesters. Those taking the CPC programme complete their studies at the end of the fourth semester but it is possible to continue on the Master’s programme, which takes an additional semester and involves writing a thesis.

At VU Amsterdam, we do not regard control as a specialized and purely financial discipline. The controller is positioned - in the broadest sense of the term - at the interface between governance, policy and resources. The position of a public controller is that of a coordinator and adviser in a public or civil society organization which has as its objective the creation of added value in society. A Certified Public Controller can contribute to that by advicing on formulating objectives, structuring the organization and the way in which objectives can best be achieved, all reinforced by the financial perspective.

The CPC title is becoming ever more widely recognized as a mark of quality. Many administrators and managers agree that a professional organization needs controllers with this qualification. 

In-company programmes

For a number of years, the Zijlstra Center has been providing major in-company, or inhouse programmes for public or civil society organizations: these consist of shorter management control courses, workshops or masterclasses, supplemented where appropriate by more business administrative subjects or oriented towards other aspects of professional development. Within the field of the control function in public and non-profit organizations, any tailor-made programme can be developed. Don’t hesitate to contact us about the possibilities for your organization!

Further details
If you would like to receive a full prospectus or additional information, please contact the following address:

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
het Zijlstra Center
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Telephone: +31 (0)20 5989865