VTV 2014: Exploring the future of public health in the Netherlands


VTV 2014 Logo

For Futurista, Silke interviewed Jeanne van Loon and Johan Melse: Jeanne van Loon is project manager for the VTV 2014. Johan Melse is a member of the project team VTV 2014, who also contributed to previous VTV- editions. 

Jeanne van Loon and Johan Melse both work on the Dutch VTV 2014:  the ‘Future Study on Public Health 2014’, or ‘Volksgezondheids Toekomst Verkenning 2014’ in Dutch. Every four years, since 1993, the RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.[1]) has executed a VTV. This ‘edition’, however is the first to extensively and systematically explore the future, as opposed to mainly ‘predicting and extrapolating’ current statistics into the future.

Jeanne van Loon, project manager VTV 2014. Foto Tjitske Sluis

Jeanne van Loon, project manager VTV 2014. Foto Tjitske Sluis

Although this is not the first edition of the VTV, what makes this edition unique is that the emphasis is on exploration of the future both in a cognitive and a normative sense, according to Jeanne and Johan. Previous productions were mainly an overview of the state of affairs, with many facts and figures about the (current) state of the Dutch Public Health and future projections of past trends.

The current projectteam decided to take on a different approach: “For our preparation,  Jeanne interviewed all the project leaders of the previous VTV’s. And what she found was that even if there was a wish to work more future oriented and on a more exploratory basis, this was hard to realise. Such an approach was also unfamiliar for the client (Ministerie van VWS; Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport) This time, there is more support for our explorative approach.’

Johan: “One of the factors that made this approach possible is that there appears to be a more future oriented and more exploration oriented mindset nowadays. In the Dutch government in general, but also within VWS. The publication ‘Out of Sight’ by the WRR[2] made a big impact on the mindset in governments, and really made people think about their implicit and explicit assumptions concerning the future. And raised the awareness and need for normative futures as well.’ Off course, the mindset of the client remains crucial in these type of trajectories: ‘What also helps is that our current DG (Directorate-General) is very open to different foresight methods, including this method’ adds Jeanne.

This lead to the decision to use normative perspectives in the VTV 2014 as a framework for the future-scenarios that will be developed. These scenarios will be based on a framework of perspectives on health. So far,  the tentative titles are: ‘maximum health’, ‘everyone participates’, ‘health in own control’ and ‘the Netherlands financially healthy’. The basis for these perspectives was laid during the first stakeholder workshop, which took place in December 2012.

Johan Melse, project member VTV 2014

Johan Melse, project member VTV 2014

During this meeting, various stakeholders were invited to discuss possible perspectives on public health. Jeanne: ‘In this meeting, over 50 stakeholders were present. Varying from local governments, health care organisation, businesses and insurance companies. We were hoping for participants from the field of ‘housing’ and education as well, but because of a lack of time and unfamiliarity with the VTV it was hard to reach these stakeholders’. Johan adds: ‘This in my view illustrates the sectoral separation in the Dutch Health system. Hopefully, in the future we will move towards a more integral approach and structure.’ ‘But we keep trying to reach these parties’ Jeanne adds. ‘After all, this was only the first in a series of workshops. This year we will host another four workshops and we keep reaching out to a broader range of stakeholders. We really value the participatory approach’.

So the normative perspective and the participatory approach are what characterises the process of constructing the exploration of the future in the VTV 2014.  What are the risks when working on such a large scale project? Jeanne and Johan agree that the biggest risk would be a large gap between results and expectations: ‘How do we finetune different expectations considering the process, but also the result?’ To work on this, Jeanne makes sure that the ‘clients’ in VWS are kept up to date on a regular basis, are provided with interim results and also get to participate in the meetings. Another risk is that of time: ‘ It can be perceived as a luxury, to have three years for this project, but it could also lead to tediousness, or make people sceptical,’ Johan explains.

Of course Jeanne and Johan found ways of dealing with these risks: ”Keep asking others for advice, in the preparations but also during the process. And think carefully about how to address normative frameworks. Try to link your project to people’s or organisations’ current projects or questions as well.”

Besides the challenges and risks, Jeanne and Johan definitely have a positive outlook on the project. Jeanne: ‘It is definitely a challenge to work on this project. One of the reasons being that it has never been done before on this scale within VTV.” Johan appreciates the normative approach: “It is not often that we get the chance to discuss normative frameworks, let alone allow those discussion to be reflected in a report. And besides that, I really enjoy the creative approach and the challenge to imagine ‘different’ worlds.” Jeanne adds: “It also makes me very happy: I get the chance to talk to many different people about health. And isn’t health our most precious gift? Many people are unhappy with the way things are going. Instead of talking about the past or present,  with talking about the future we have more hopeful, forward looking discussions.’

The VTV 2014 will, of course, be finished in 2014 and will result in an interactive website filled with data and ideas on the state of the art and the future of public health.

To stay up to date you can visit the website http://www.volksgezondheidtoekomstverkenning.nl (Dutch only)

Of course, we will keep you updated here on Futurista as well!


For more information on Jeanne and Johan:

[1] The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) is a specialised Dutch government agency

[2] The WRR is the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy


About Silke de Wilde

I am a foresight-expert and practitioner. As a freelancer, I help organisations think about the future and how to get there, for example by trendanalysis and scenarioplanning. As a facilitator I give workshops to inspire and help people think out of the box. I'm one of the co-founders of the Dutch Future Society. I also organise training in foresight at the School for Foresight. And in the time that's left I like getting into science fiction and working on my phd-research: Cities constructing futures. Yes, you might say I'm a future-fanatic, and I'm grateful that I'm able to make a living out of doing what I love. Thank you for visiting Futurista and please don't be a stranger!
Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.