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Finding new solutions for complex social challenges in the Netherlands

Reos Partners
March, 2011

Discover how we partnered with social housing organisations, universities, and NGOs to create innovative approaches to complex social issues.

While organisations in the Netherlands have made good progress in social innovation, leadership transformation, and responsible business practices over the past two decades, the pace seems inadequate relative to the scale and urgency of the country’s economic, social, and environmental challenges. Executives, managers, policy makers, scientists, and other practitioners working on these issues are increasingly aware of the need to accelerate progress toward creating healthier and more adaptive economies, communities, and organisations.

Recently, social housing organisations, universities, and NGOs have joined together to share their thinking and ideas about how to create innovative approaches to complex social issues in the Netherlands. This collaboration has given rise to “Pluk” (named after a character from a famous Dutch children’s book), an initiative that seeks to increase society’s ability to find sustainable, groundbreaking solutions to tough problems. Reos Partners The Hague is acting as the managing partner of this Dutch cooperative.

Action Learning at Pluk

To find these new solutions, Pluk invites organisations to combine knowledge, financial resources, and energy to work together on a complex social challenge that is relevant for them. To help increase organisation’s capacity for change and make high returns on their investments, Pluk offers a platform for experimentation and learning. In Pluk, stakeholders work on and learn through a diverse range of specific, complex, local and national social dilemmas, such as reducing CO2 emissions in neighbourhoods, reintegrating former prisoners into society, increasing cultural diversity and desegregation, engaging in sustainable urban development, building a cohesive approach to education, and co-creating community spaces.

Over a year or two, participants from different organisations meet in a Pluk Change Lab around a common issue. The goal is to co-create and co-evolve innovative and sustainable new solutions and realities. During that period, participants meet several times as part of a collective learning process. The meetings provide ways for members to learn individually, collectively, and organisationally. Participants share their insights and questions, and learn from experiences and innovative initiatives from different parts of the Netherlands and beyond. They build their capacity in applying new thinking, lenses, and strategies to their most pressing questions. This program creates a strong, vital network of like-minded leaders, pioneers, and practitioners from across diverse sectors and contexts.

Between the collective gatherings, the different organisations work further on their chosen issues in their own Pluk Change Labs. At the start of the joint gatherings, each smaller Pluk Change Lab shares its initiating question and desired outcomes. The Change Labs pass along their learnings, which the other mini Labs then incorporate into their own practice. Pluk provides support by facilitating the Labs on both a process and a content level.

Students at universities in the Netherlands and Belgium are researching the groups’ processes and practical outcomes and how the participants achieved them. One Dutch business school, for example, is investigating the question “what are the conditions that will help accelerate social change.” Through this kind of research, participants in Pluk reflect on and improve the process.

Examples of Pluk in Action

The Pluk IDEAS action learning program is starting its second year. Stakeholders from all social sectors have joined, including government, and public and private organisations. Ten Pluk Change Labs have started or are starting. One Pluk Change Lab looks at the question, “How can we more respectfully and sustainably use energy and decrease CO2 emission in the development of houses and households in this neighbourhood?” Since Pluk was launched, a number of initiatives have been developed around this kind of question, supported in particular by social housing organisations. Previously, it didn’t seem possible to develop a sustainable business model for decreasing energy consumption at the necessary pace for all 2.4 million houses owned by the social housing organisations; now, it seems within reach.

A broad group of stakeholders from local and central government, corporations, universities, social housing organisations, and outside experts joined together in a Pluk Change Lab around this issue. After a period of co-sensing through interviews with inhabitants to learn about the neighbourhood and related system, the stakeholders are now investigating both personal insights and shared wisdom. They are working on prototypes of new solutions, designing them so that they can be scaled up easily and quickly.

Another group is working on a practical way to create a vibrant neighbourhood through connections between neighbours and institutions. The welfare organisations and housing association hope to decrease the stream of people coming into psychological healthcare from that neighbourhood and to increase the number of residents who can go back into society.

Judging by people’s enthusiasm and willingness to join these initiatives, there is huge interest in the Netherlands in this innovative, well-designed, experimental way of working together. Participants feel personally and professionally connected to the challenge and are ready to do what’s necessary instead of just doing what their formal role tells them to do. They are ready to listen to their intuition; to be courageous and experiment; and to work on tough problems that extend beyond the borders of current organisational policies and interests.

Pluk Spreads its Wings

Pluk’s main aim is to increase the capacity of Dutch and Belgian society to find sustainable and innovative solutions for tough societal issues. The organisation’s challenge is to support and inspire the participants during their journey as they build capacity, co-create practical, innovative solutions, and use the groups’ struggles and outcomes to create learning at the societal level. To meet this challenge, Pluk is underpinning its results with scientifically gathered evidence and working to spread proven methodologies and practical applications.

Pluk is spreading its wings and planting seeds in more cities in the Netherlands and Belgium. We are looking forward with excitement to the revolutionary results Pluk Change Labs will come up with in the near future.

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