An active role for society in care innovation

The healthcare system in the Netherlands is under pressure. Double ageing, the acute shortage of healthcare professionals, the incredible number of people required to work in the healthcare sector in the future just to keep the system running: the signs are ominous. These problems are jeopardising the accessibility and solidarity of the healthcare system. Kennisland tackles entrenched patterns and involves the whole of society with health and the healthcare system, because there are plenty of visions for the future and good ideas for innovation. Let us seek out those ideas and insights, improve them together and bring them to fruition.

13 January 2023

Government policy primarily focuses on promoting regional collaboration between healthcare organisations and with other sectors, such as education. While this is important, it is not enough. If we keep trying to resolve the problems in healthcare within existing frameworks and institutions, nothing much will really change++The healthcare system is in crisisThe Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) has made an urgent appeal to society to prepare for shortages in the healthcare system. Also, solidarity is under threat, because publicly-financed healthcare is becoming increasingly expensive and because there is a limit to how much we can and are willing to pay for it.. Thankfully there are plenty of opportunities for new ways of working and partnerships. The Netherlands has a fantastic informal care infrastructure – from friends and family who act as informal carers to buddies, volunteers and neighbours. We urgently need to abandon the existing frameworks and start doing things differently. This article explains what we believe needs to be done to achieve this and how we will get there.

Not about people, but with people

Policymakers have the tendency to talk a lot about people, rather than with them. They talk about patients, employees, informal carers, older people, people with disabilities and other ‘target groups’, but involving them directly with solving problems works much better. Sustainable, future-proof healthcare is one of the most important social problems of our time. The only way to achieve it is to share ownership of the solution with society as a whole.The only way to progress is to share ownership of the solution with society as a whole. We simply cannot continue to outsource all responsibility to healthcare institutions, regardless of how much money we pump into the system.

In all our projects, Kennisland focuses on the knowledge and experiences of the people closest to the problem. One example is the Meaningful lives for people with dementia action research project, in which we talk to people with dementia and those closest to them to answer the question: ‘How can the community contribute to meaningful daily activities for people with dementia?’ based on their stories. We also use serious games, including Together and Different, in which we work with local residents to discover how they can help one another with care and support responsibilities. Another example is the dialogue we initiated about growing old well with residents and employees of a healthcare organisation and the local community.

Sustainable innovation requires learning capacity

There is an ever-increasing focus on efficiency and control in healthcare. The result is often a rigid division of tasks and responsibilities. This in turn leads to excessive organisation and a climate of mistrust, while improving and innovating in fact demands experiment, a learning attitude and trust in professionals and other stakeholders. Improving and innovating demands experiment, a learning attitude and trust in professionals and other stakeholders. 

Organisations define tasks, protocols and responsibilities down to the smallest detail. But who really enjoys working in such an oppressive environment? Where is the space to do what you believe is right based on your professionalism, your practical knowledge and your intuition? Young graduates entering the profession with new skills and plenty of ideas and energy find themselves stuck in a rigid system with very little opportunity for change, where long-established patterns impede innovation. At Kennisland, we shake up and break apart those patterns and rigid structures.

We organise learning and experiment programmes++What we doRead more about our approaches and methods here. in the healthcare system and focus on the learning and innovative capacity of organisations and employees. A few examples include the Retention through Intervention programme, in which healthcare employers and HR professionals experiment with ways of improving the job satisfaction of employees, and Lab2030, in which healthcare professionals from various organisations experiment with bridging the gap between their organisations and local communities.

From a system focused on care to a system focused on health

Kennisland advocates a system based around health, rather than care and treatment.Kennisland advocates a system based around health, rather than care and treatment. This means prioritising staying healthy and happy for as long as possible, rather than curing illness at any cost. Let us have an open and honest conversation and set aside this one-sided approach. Health cannot be considered in isolation; it is closely related to other social problems, including precarity, the shortage of (healthy) housing, the climate crisis and access to good education. It is no coincidence that differences in health levels have remained stubbornly high during the past few decades.

Let us embrace the complexity of health and work together across boundaries to create (more) equal health opportunities for everyone in our society.


Since April 2022, Kennisland has been part of
Stichting CAOP (‘CAOP Foundation’), as is Sardes, which is responsible for the Health is Everything programme. This programme also involves the Institute for Positive Health (iPH). We work together to discover how we can improve the health of the Netherlands. Do you have ideas that you would like to contribute? Send a message to

Deze tekst heeft een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-licentie (CC BY) en is gekopieerd van de Kennisland-website. Ga voor de volledige versie met afbeeldingen, streamers en noten naar

This text has a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) and has been copied from the Kennisland website. For a full version with images, streamers and notes go to