Pluk began in 2004 as a multi-tier social lab. The idea was to create in the Netherlands a platform for launching and supporting social labs, and thereby to speed the development of solutions to an array of urgent systemic social challenges. A decade later, 10 labs have launched or are in the process of launching. Further, Pluk has created a vital network of like-minded leaders, pioneers, and practitioners in diverse public, private, and volunteer organisations across the country.
Pluk (named after a character from a famous Dutch children’s book) connects and supports people and organisations in many ways, facilitating learning, collaboration, and experimentation. At joint gatherings, the labs share their goals, progress, and observations. What they learn from each other is incorporated into their individual practices when they go back to work on their chosen issues. These facilitated gatherings help participants to build capacity, co-create solutions, and ultimately transform their struggles and outcomes into learning at the societal level.
Meanwhile, university students in the Netherlands and Belgium are researching the lab groups’ processes and practical outcomes. One Dutch business school, for example, is investigating the question “What are the conditions that will help accelerate social change?” Through such research, Pluk participants reflect on and improve the lab process itself.
To begin such a sweeping project, the convening team invited stakeholders from different sectors and levels of Dutch society to submit ideas and projects aimed at creating systemic social change. The invitations went to a pool of people who were bringing innovative approaches to complex social challenges. A panel of jurors then created a set of criteria to determine whose work would be the best fit for Pluk. Reos continues to serve as the managing partner of this cooperative.
Over the past two decades, organisations in the Netherlands have made good progress in social innovation, leadership transformation, and responsible business practices. But the pace seems inadequate relative to the scale and urgency of economic, social, and environmental challenges. The Netherlands is among those relatively prosperous countries that have only recently begun to grasp the urgency of these issues that accompany global change. For the well-to-do, fear of losing all (or even a little) of what we have can be frightening and paralysing. Yet we must accelerate the creation of healthier and more adaptive economies, communities, and organisations. One necessity is a paradigm shift from making decisions based solely on economic parameters to one that also includes environmental and social parameters.
Among the issues Pluk participants are working on:
- Reducing CO2 emissions in neighbourhoods
- Reintegrating former prisoners into society
- Increasing cultural diversity and desegregation
- Sustainable urban development
- Building a cohesive approach to education
- Co-creating community spaces where none exist
Reducing CO2 emission, house by house
One social lab convened around the question “How can we more respectfully and sustainably use energy and decrease CO2 emissions in the development of houses and households in this neighbourhood?”
A number of neighbourhood initiatives have since been developed around this question. Previously, it didn’t seem possible to develop a sustainable business model for decreasing energy consumption at an adequate pace for all 2.4 million houses owned by the social housing organisations; now, it seems within reach.
Prisoner Reintegration Lab
Another ongoing social lab convened through the Pluk platform addresses the reintegration of former prisoners into society. This focus—rather than prevention of detention—is favoured because anyone can be detained, for a variety of reasons, just as anyone can become homeless. The leverage point is not individual agents, but rather the integration of the system as a whole. The lab, then, is working to identify and develop the social skills ex-prisoners need; the social conditions that will increase their success; and the ingredients and best practices for matching ex-prisoners with a new environment.
An important result so far has been more resilience in the system. The project has reduced the placement of ex-prisoners into problem situations. In addition, there is an increased effort to educate the general public on the importance of social acceptance to the success of ex-prisoners.
Annual Pluk Innovation Festival
The first Innovation Festival was held in September 2011. The festival offers multiple stages, international speakers, music, games, plentiful workshops, and coaching. An incubator for social innovation, it brings together hundreds of people who are piloting new developments in the field of social sustainability in the Netherlands and Flanders.