Embassy of Health conference: the value(s) of health

How can we revalue health as our greatest asset? Which values ​​are working against us and which ones can we prioritise to faciliate this revaluation? Furthermore, what role does design play in this process? These were some of the main questions addressed by the conference that the Embassy of Health hosted during DDW 2023 at the Podiumzaal of Natlab in Eindhoven. The conference concluded with a Health Day organised by the Embassy. ‘Return on investment is one of the biggest values ​​hindering our transition towards a better society. We’re governed by it,’ pointed out Peter van Burgel, CEO of Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX) and one of the panellists invited on stage by creative lead Marleen van Bergeijk. ‘We really have to seek out alternative ways to organise the system.’

Type Update
Published on 14 November 2023
Part of Embassy of Health
Embassy of Health conference: the value(s) of health
Part of Embassy of Health

At the start of the conference, creative lead Marleen van Bergelijk remarked, ‘We view health through a fairly economical lens. ‘We can purchase it, measure it, execute it and invoice it. But, in my opinion, health is something that resides in the very fabric of our lives. And that’s just not as measurable as we might like it to be.’ Which is why, as Van Bergeijk explained, the Embassy of Health organised Health Day sessions where the values ​​that promote health could be exchanged and explored. ‘We, as the Embassy, want to explore health as a currency. Can we let it flow and exchange it with one another? And, most importantly, can we prioritise it?’


During the conference, two different panels were held to discuss the Health Day sessions. In addition to Peter van Burgel and Hilbrand Jacobs (Buurtgeluk), the first panel included Richard Dumont (policy advisor at the province of North Brabant) as a participant. Dumont said that health is not the core task of the province, but that the administrative body often has to deal with it: ‘Consider, for example, the outbreak of Q fever. That was a matter of health and agriculture alike.’ According to Dumont, provincial employees are putting their best foot forward in order to help the province transition towards placing a greater emphasis on health. ‘And yet, this remains a challenge; we have many hurdles to overcome. For example, several colleagues are currently collaborating on projects whose objectives have nothing to do with health. And those projects are being assessed on the basis of those objectives. In those cases, it’s all about square meters, asphalt and deadlines. In short, that’s not the “language of health” that we all speak here.’

Letting go of pride

‘No one here has a button that can simply be pressed and then the transition’s completed,’ added Van Burgel. ‘Nor can you expect everything to be hallelujah very quickly. In the session in which I took part, it became clear that, in healthcare, there’s often a kind of wild west of initiatives, companies, organisations, regulations, legislation, standards and forms of administration. It’s one giant patchwork. And that’s just not right. For the transition process, it can be helpful to begin from a human perspective. Even when you’re discussing data. Data, in principle, is owned by the people. For example, we could work towards ensuring not only that we’re able to collect our own health data, but also that we can choose how that data is shared. With that, we can make enormous strides.’ To achieve this, however, continuously requires new perspectives, emphasised Van Burgel. ‘What’s more, you have to be able to set aside your pride should it turn out that there’s a certain system that works well, even if it happens not to be your own.’

Visual Landscape

At the conclusion of the first panel session, Hilbrand Jacobs, who is a process supervisor at Buurtgeluk, presented Karen van Ruiten (director of Alles is Gezondheid & Positieve Gezondheid) with an visual landscape depicting the potential healthcare transitions. ‘People are also central in this image’, noted Jacobs. Van Ruiten coupled the receipt of the image plate to a promise. ‘This kind of creative input is fantastic. As far as I’m concerned, we have to continue collaborating on this. That’s why, together with various participants, we’ve agreed to organise a new session in six months’ time.’

The power of design

The second panel, which included Elke Miedema (INHolland & Healthscapes), Gjilke Keuning (HKU & Health Hub Utrecht) and Robin Bergman (Stichting Toekomstbeeld der Techniek) focused on the power of design. ‘Frequently, we maintain the healthcare system in a kind of frenetic, haphazard manner,’ Miedema said. ‘Designers excel at being able to cut into that tree, create space and present ideas to make us believe in them.’ During the Health Day session that Miedema participated in, a book was created in a short amount of time. She explained: ‘In this book, we tried to map out the various roles at play in the healthcare system. We also examined, for healthcare organisations, what’s actually desirable over the long term.’

Holy Grail 

In Keuning’s view, long-term thinking is vital. By way of example, she spoke about the Reinaerde, a healthcare institute. ‘We’ve had the opportunity to experiment in an artistic way there for five years now.’ You can tell that these are no longer just projects but rather a movement that requires a great deal of time and effort. Therefore, it’s essential to be open to one another’s culture and to get to know each other. That doesn’t happen automatically. But once you get started, you do see that a lot of energy remains in such a movement.’ 

Bergman, who works on future scenarios at the Stichting Toekomstbeeld der Techniek, also sees a greater role for design to shape our healthcare systems. ‘But, naturally, design alone is not the holy grail,’ he says. ‘It’s a pitfall to see it like this, I think.’ You shouldn’t throw out everything that’s been accomplished or all the knowledge and skills that have been acquired so far. In the future, in my opinion, design will be a valuable addition that has certain strengths which should be emphasised even more.’


The conference ended with a performance by Noah Claassen, a singer and former student of the Utrecht Conservatory. For her graduation project, Claassen delved deep into the story bank of UMC Utrecht’s Psychiatry Department. Her explorations resulted in the song ‘Hij kwam nog wel naar huis’ (He still came home), which she sang on the Natlab stage. In this song, she sings about the boundary between delusion and madness, thus portraying in a unique way the story of a patient in mental healthcare. Afterwards, Van Bergeijk asked conference attendees to jot down the values ​​that are working against them onto a ‘values ​​slip’ before literally releasing them into the room, saying, ‘This will help you kick off your own transition.’ 

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