Is safety a right?

Type Update
Published on 13 July 2020
Part of Embassy of Safety
Retrospective 2019: Embassy of Safety
Part of Embassy of Safety

As a society, we like to use laws, rules and protocols to regulate our safety. We regard safety as a right. A right that we can demand of companies and government bodies. In order to safeguard that right in the future, we are increasingly seeking refuge in technological applications that generate data and arrive at choices based on algorithms.

Humanity sometimes seems to be lost in this systemic world of safety. Our perception of safety is painfully subjective. Entrusting our safety to self-thinking systems does not necessarily contribute to a greater feeling of safety. Trust, emotions and meaning determine our feeling of safety. And this is precisely the area that designers are versed in.

A topical safety issue, for example, is social undermining. Criminals use regular systems and services. This intertwines our world with theirs. Through the influence and pressure that criminals can exert on our society, standards can be blurred, and our feeling of safety and quality of life are marred.

Embassy of Safety 2019, photo by VNG

Dutch Design Week 2019

During Dutch Design Week extensive interaction was sought with visitors to increase public involvement. The pavilion itself had an inviting effect thanks to its striking appearance (a greenhouse with mirror glass). The police car and the police officers around the Embassy also helped to arouse curiosity. Furthermore, visitors were playfully tempted to come in: fake drug dealers handed out ‘pony packs’ that drew attention to HEDONE’s clothing line, also present in the Embassy. This ‘street-style’ fashion brand offers young people who see selling drugs as their only option an alternative perspective for an honest income and success.

In the Embassy, police officers explained the story behind their experiments with designers and asked visitors to relate pleasant encounters with the police. The curator was also present almost the whole week to answer questions from the public. Some 30,000 visitors visited the Embassy of Safety.


Programme components

The Embassy programme had five parts. With the focus on research, discussion and experimentation. In From the police with love, officers were linked with designers in order to devise innovative forms of collaboration with citizens. This resulted in nine completely different scenarios.

Meanwhile, municipalities and design studios worked together all week in the open laboratory What If Lab on three issues in the field of safety and social undermining: how can you arm citizens against Internet fraud? How can citizens make business more difficult for human traffickers? And how can you track social subversion data in a controlled way?

During Mayor meets designer five mayors and designers delved into urgent safety issues. How can we improve the social safety in neighbourhoods? How can we interrupt the temptation of a career in crime for young people? How can we reveal the signs of social undermining? When you stay out late at night, the social atmosphere often changes. Can we intervene prematurely? And how can we prevent a ‘nonregistered resident’ from being abused to facilitate housing fraud and labour exploitation?

The results of the previously mentioned project ‘From the police with love’ were presented in the exhibition. Visitors were also able to participate in the What if Lab research and see the interim results. It was demonstrated how a Rotterdam police officer gives problem youngsters a second chance with his social enterprises. An immersive room created by the Trimbos Institute allowed visitors to experience the environmental damage caused by drug use. And the police also let visitors experience the consequences of social undermining.

Every day the Embassy organised public lectures or workshops. Kees Dorst, for example, discussed the pros and cons of cooperation between the two disciplines with social designers and police officers. Taskforce-RIEC investigated to what extent chemicals originating from drug labs could be managed as a waste flow. And police officer Marco den Dunnen shared the insights he had gained with his social enterprises HEDONE and Heilige boontjes. There was also a session in which ensuring safety and legal equality amidst the rise of algorithms and AI was discussed.

The Embassy of Safety Theme Conference  focused on the state of safety and the perception of safety in the Netherlands and shared visions on the role of the various parties involved. Speakers included mayor John Jorritsma, Kees Dorst, Tanja Jadnanansing and Prof. Dr. Hans Boutellier.

150 guests visited the Embassy of Safety as part of a DDW programme theme route.  This included a tour of the Top Sectors with figureheads from those sectors and DGs and SGs from various ministries, and a tour with individual members of the provincial council and town clerks from the province of Noord-Brabant.


On its own website, partner VNG reports extensively on the themes and projects covered by this Embassy. Many publications have also appeared in the press about WDE, including publications in which the Embassy of Safety was the focal point. Some of the latter category were published in de Limburger, Omroep Brabant, Studio040 and the Public Prosecutor’s Office internal magazine. The complete list of publications can be found on our press page.

There is also a great podcast about the Embassy of Safety and daily video reports were recorded. Hans Boutellier, one of the speakers at the conference, wrote the opinion piece ‘No new drug unit, Minister’, in which he pleads for a societal debate instead of a new drug unit.

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