On the move with innovation

Sanneke Langendoen
Published on


Just get to work!

At more than 140 locations, the Dutch empowerment organisation Pluryn provides support and treatment to people with complex needs. The focus is on ensuring more opportunities for them to find a place in society where they can lead fulfilling and independent lives to the greatest extent possible. Their strengths and aspirations are the starting point. In recent years, Pluryn has expanded the innovation capabilities within the organisation. The aim is to improve the quality of service provision through innovation. We spoke with Sanneke Langendoen, Pluryn’s innovation manager.

How do things stand today at Pluryn in terms of innovation and how did you get there?

In 2012, there were numerous fragmented initiatives dealing with innovation and eHealth. Little knowledge was available about the many conceivable possibilities. So we set up a Living Lab in late 2012. That is a permanent physical location within the organisation to which all questions are channelled and in which important topics are addressed. We linked clients to the Living Lab via structured daily activities or leisure time projects, and a programme was devised from within the workplace itself. We always connect that with a multidisciplinary team, so that people with various types of expertise can contribute their ideas about innovation on a continuing basis. Once a Living Lab is up and running, we gradually withdraw. We call that ‘democratisation of innovation’. We ensure that the Living Labs are interconnected in a network, so they can continually exchange knowledge and information and don’t keep reinventing the wheel. We currently have five very successful Living Labs.

To consolidate capabilities, we’ve also set up a Digital Health Center in cooperation with other social and health care organisations and additional partners. It translates experiences into concrete tools suitable for each client group, and it helps get developers in touch with end users. The centre makes available the Digital Health Tool (a listing of all tested eHealth products) and the eHealth Lending Service (for trying out devices or apps). We also successfully work together with our Research and Development (R&D) section, with other social and health care organisations, and with start-up firms, knowledge centres, suppliers and end users drawn from other innovation pathways.

How do you arrive at innovations?

Most of our innovations are demand-oriented. That can be a challenge, because we have many different target groups and subgroups. It’s important to also train the focus on each specific group as we devise innovations. So for young people we set up more programmes focusing on serious gaming or on engaging their social networks, whereas clients in community-based care are more interested in how to get around independently or find jobs. At the same time, we like to be front-runners and to think far ahead. We know our services will be totally different ten years from now and that certain technologies have lots of potential. That’s what we do with a phenomenon like blockchain. We ask ourselves, ‘Given that this exists, how could we use it to improve our services?’ We work a lot with R&D and with schools. So our methodology involves gathering input from users (internally) and from suppliers in the market (externally).

What lessons have been learnt?

Innovation has to occupy a serious place within organisations. With our Living Labs, we’ve shown that innovation is not something ‘you just do on the side’. I had noticed that clients and staff members had previously not been engaged in many innovations; that increases the risk of mismatches. Now that they’ve become part of the process, they’re much more enthusiastic and willing to devote time to it. Innovation especially has to be fun! We also deliberately focus on the individual staff members. I believe that the ways clients make use of eHealth are 90 per cent dependent on whether a staff member encourages it – after all there’s a bond of trust there. An innovative culture and mindset forms the basis of everything. That sense of innovation should pervade the whole organisation.

Where do you see prospects for growth when it comes to innovative capabilities?

Innovating is above all a question of not talking too long and just starting to work. But it’s important to ground that in a vision and strategy, or it’ll be a non-starter. We have to make choices about what we want and don’t want. Like about implementing innovations and scaling back working procedures. Shall we make that mandatory or offer it as an option? Pluryn currently plans to explore with other organisations possibilities like reserving a joint budget and scaling back residential services to find community-based solutions. Those consultations are now underway, because we want to implement many more programmatic solutions based on strategy and future vision.

We’re currently also exploring whether we can deploy a scale-up team. At the regional level we succeed in scaling up innovations, but sharing innovations between regions is more difficult. Sometimes you also need to do more research before you can upscale an innovation. The research doesn’t necessarily have to be systematic; it could also be practice-led research. It’s important to be aware of what effects a particular innovation will have.

Are there methods and tools that you recommend to people that want to begin working on innovation?

It may be a bit of a truism, but we’re really into the Agile approach. We like short innovation pathways that quickly show us what works and what doesn’t. Even our blockchain project was based heavily on the Scrum methodology. I mean, you’ve already obtained permission from the board and management to invest in uncertainty, so you now want to be careful not to persist with a project too long if you know it’s not going to work. We also notice that short pathways like those keep people focused and enthusiastic. Finally, I’d recommend having an instrument to keep clients and staff engaged in innovations, as we do in the Living Labs.

What is your ambition for the future?

We’re currently expanding the number of Living Labs in our own organisation and we’re helping other organisations to set them up too. We want to link all those labs together into a network, so nobody will have to reinvent the wheel. We may also set up joint projects or pilot initiatives, or we may apply similar research methods to them so results can be compared straightaway. We do that because Pluryn knows we not only need to perform well, but that our whole sector also has to take a step further. To make progress, you need to look outside your own organisation and cooperate a lot more on the basis of societal interests. For instance, if another organisation invests in robotics, then it’s far wiser to hook up with that than to invest in it yourself. You can’t be the expert on everything.


Sanneke Langendoen

Sanneke Langendoen is Innovation Manager at Pluryn and founder of the Digital Health Center. She also works as a coach and trainer at the Health Innovation School and is on the editorial board of the knowledge platform ICT & Health. She combines her background in online marketing, sociology and innovation to bring together supply and demand in care sector innovation. Client involvement is of paramount importance in every step. Her passion lies in inspiring people and in bringing together initiatives to ensure that more innovations in practice settings reach the clients.