R&D testbed for the social sector

Come to Testbed with us! Introducing Social R&D in The Netherlands.

2013 - 2014

Come to Testbed with Kennisland and InWithForward!
Introducing Social R&D in The Netherlands

Two stories from 2020…

stroke left 82-year old Igor partially paralyzed, but it did not leave him languishing in a nursing 
home. Trainedcare workers have coached his friends, family members, and former colleagues. Together, they help with the rehab, the catheter, the meals, and medications – but also watch golf (his favorite), read the newspaper, and listen to radio murder mysteries.


Tamara & Eva.
After bouncing from friend’s couch to couch, and from professional service to service, 23-year old Tamara and her daughter Eva have been placed in a permanent home in a faraway part of town. But Tamara’s been matched to three different people living nearby: another young family and a middle-aged couple. They’ve introduced her to two more people. Pretty soon, she is sharing meals, bulk buying groceries (to save on money), and taking salsa classes with her new neighbors.

Back in 2013, the big question is:

“how do we shift social welfare from what it is (a safety net) to what it could be (a trampoline)?”

We all know we can’t keep putting money into the same old things and expect a different result. Yes, there’s lots of talk about innovation and entrepreneurship. And yes, money does go to one-off pilots, research projects, competitions, conferences, and training programs. But there isn’t sustained investment or a rigorous methodology for developing new kinds of welfare. For building networks of families and friends; for reforming professionalized supports; and for dismantling policies getting in the way.

We believe crafting a new kind of welfare requires a different approach to research and evaluation. We’re not talking about research that sits on the shelf, or evaluation that happens after implementation. But in-context research that is about developing, testing, and embedding new programs and policies and involving loads of people along the way.

This kind of research and development is the bedrock of innovative tech companies. Like Apple. They spend $11 million a day on R&D. It’s not the amount of money that’s interesting. It’s how they use it. In-house research, rather than outsourced consultancy. Curated teams, rather than individual experts. Ethnographic research and rapid prototyping methods, rather than just statistical analysis and literature reviews. Creating new platforms (like iTunes), not only single services or products (like the iPad and iPhone).

Here’s how we think Tech R&D and Social R&D compare:

We want to set up a Social R&D Testbed in the Netherlands. This will be a place, a team and a set of approaches for reframing social challenges; spending time with people experiencing the challenges; making local networks & services; engaging with professionals & policymakers; and testing new protocols and policies. Unlike in traditional R&D, our goal isn’t simply to churn out and commercialize new platforms, products, and services. But to use the social R&D process as a mechanism for changing how people, professionals, and policymakers interact over time.

We identified 3 challenges facing people in the Netherlands a Social R&D Testbed could take on:

1 / Long-term unemployment

Maarten is one of the 250,000 people in the Netherlands who has been searching for a job for 12 months or more. He’s classified as long-term unemployed – just like 33% of all unemployed persons. Older people in their 40s and 50s are particularly hard hit. Nearly 50% of older unemployed persons have struggled to find work for over a year. Unemployment isn’t just a financial hit, it can be a hit to your confidence, your sense of self, your relationships with friends and family.

  • How can people out-of-work develop confidence and a positive sense of self? What kinds of supports could we build to enable people to redefine themselves and their relationship to work?
  • How can we strengthen relationships between people out-of-work and their friends and family?

2 / High needs long-term care

Whilst there’s a big policy focus on keeping people out of nursing homes, and in the community, the reality is that more than 200,000 older people in the Netherlands have high care needs and require round-the-clock care. Many of these nursing homes struggle to engage friends and family, some even imposing extra fees on families who don’t participate in the care. The distance between older people in nursing homes and family and friends in the community is becoming more severe.

  • How could we apply some of the known innovations in community care – like neighborhood networks and shared housing – to care homes?
  • How do we enable older people with high-care needs and their families to live and die well?

3 / Isolation & stress amongst migrant families

Foto: Roel Wijnants (CC BY-NC)

20% of the Dutch population is of immigrant descent. That’s people like Fatima, who came to the Netherlands from Morocco when she was in her early 20s. Now her son is in his teens, and Fatima feels a bit lost. She’s not familiar with the Dutch school system. She has heard that 2nd generation immigrant kids – particularly boys – are twice as likely to drop out of school. Fatima talks about this with her Moroccan friends. But she doesn’t really know any other Dutch families and is distrustful of Dutch institutions.

  • How might we support migrant families to raise kids, and be part of communities, they didn’t grow up in themselves? And how do we re-orient communities to draw on the resources Fatima and her family have to offer?

Join us! We’d like to think the conditions are right for addressing these social issues via a Testbed. Social welfare in the Netherlands is transitioning from central control to municipal control. Rather than replicate the same old professional responses at a local level, let’s invest in Social R&D, activate informal networks, and create a system that enables better outcomes for us all. Including Maarten, Fatima, Igor, Tamara, and Eva.

We’re currently identifying champions and seeking out local and national partners to prototype how a Social R&D Testbed could work – taking one social challenge as our starting point. If you share our vision – or disagree with it – we’d love to hear from you. Which social issue resonates with you?

Who are we?

We’re InWithForward and Kennisland. InWithForward is a social start-up with a track record of working with families, older people, and young people to co-develop new networks, services, and products that change behavior. Kennisland is an established organization with a track record of changing policy discourse and professional practices. Together, we’re blending our policy, organizational, and community-level expertise. All to pioneer a new approach that prompts both behavior and systems change.

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 https://www.kl.nl/projecten/rd-testbed-voor-de-sociale-sector/

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 https://www.kl.nl/projecten/rd-testbed-voor-de-sociale-sector/