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In the Netherlands, social innovation was first used as a concept in the context of workplace innovation and labour productivity. Only recently both on the ground and on a policy making level, the Netherlands is catching up with the European understanding of social innovation - that is referring to new ideas, products and services addressing urgent and complex social questions such as ageing populations, immigration and youth unemployment. The Dutch government is recognising the value of social innovation on a national policy level in the ‘Top Sectors’, a Dutch policy to support cooperation and business between industries, science and government.


Social innovation is time and context specific. That means it can mean different things in different context. What might not seem innovative in one country, may be ground breaking in another. The political and cultural background is important to understand. There are also a wide variety of organisations involved in this field, each have different perspectives. So, the purpose of this page is to demonstrate a variety of views on what social innovation means to different kinds of organisations in the Netherlands.

The voices from the Netherlands:

In 2011, Kimon Moerbeek from Kennisland (Knowledgeland), provided a summary on social innovation in the country at this particular time, exploring the various initiatives and organisations active in the field within certain areas including:

Health: "...when it comes to health services, inspiring examples of social innovation exist. An organization such as Buurtzorg Nederland introduced a concept of care professionals working in independent networked teams. This has been an answer to the dominance of management bureaucracy and the lack of patient (and professional) focus."

Sustainability: "Sustainability is in the Netherlands probably one of the most popular themes that can be related to social innovation. Several NGOs, government programs and businesses focus on innovation in this particular field. A variety of sub-themes exist, from energy to lifestyle. However, it is sometimes hard to separate real ambitious innovation from very standard subsidy programs (government) or superficial marketing strategies (businesses). "

Education: "The discussions on changes in the educational field in the Netherlands are historically heated and dynamic. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science recently initiated a large-scale national innovation program that supports bottom-up innovation. The program could be interpreted as a reaction to earlier criticism that changes in the field have been organized top-down for years. Efforts to innovate come from several movements and individual organizations in the field as well. Innovative culture and solutions in schools differ nonetheless a lot from school to school.

Read the full contribution here.

In 2016, Marlieke Kieboom from Kennisland (Knowledgeland), provided an update to the country profile, outlining some of the challenges faced in the field:

"In 2014 the Dutch Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) published the report ‘The Power of Social Innovation’ that argues for more recognition of value in both technological and non-technological aspects of social innovation in the Top Sectors. AWTI notices a bias towards technological innovation that results in too little attention for non-technological innovation. Their appeal to the Dutch government is to focus on more awareness, networking, organizing learning experiences and building knowledge in the Dutch Top Sectors.

But where are the citizens? Kennisland, a leading think tank on social innovation in the Netherlands wonders if it’s enough to narrow social innovation down by investing in Top Sectors that generate ‘solutions’. Kennisland argues to broaden and deep the current scope of both the Dutch government and social innovators themselves. Could social innovators look beyond this trend for new (technological) solutions and become more intentionally political? And could the government invest in new citizen-state relations beyond the industries and sciences? Kennisland thinks that new solutions often fail to develop further than the level of small-scale experiments as they often encounter resistance within established institutions and organisations. They therefore also fail to eventually deliver value to a broad range of citizens, and might sometimes be even perpetuating social inequalities."

The profile also offers examples of some inspiring social innovation initiatives in the Netherlands:

Read the full contribution for more on ambitions, challenges and practices.