Retrospective 2021: Embassy of Health
How do we ensure a healthy society, now and in the future? That’s a massive question for which no one has an adequate answer. After all, it is not just about healthcare but also about society and how we interact with each other. The Embassy of Health investigated the possibilities of a healthier society. During Dutch Design Week (DDW) 2021, visitors to the exhibition were given insights into the story of eleven ‘ordinary’ people committed to society’s health.
As we get older, we’re seeing the demand for healthcare increasing in the Netherlands. That has implications. “How healthy we feel depends on the medical care we receive”, says Jetske van Oosten, the Embassy of Health curator. “But the quality of the air we breathe, the amount of exercise we get, and the composition of our diets are just as important. Social contacts and a good conversation can also make a difference”. Van Oosten wants to show that health is a broad concept. Everything and everyone around us contribute to our health.
That makes health complex. We can thus sometimes feel that we can make little difference on our own. “People often have the feeling that there is nothing they can do anyway and that it is up to others, for example, the government or large companies. But we certainly can do something. Everyone can contribute. A small gesture on your part can make a big difference for someone else.”
‘We want to show that everyone has it in their power to make a difference – regardless of their background or profession.’
If we want to impact on a large scale, it is crucial to work together. “Everyone has different talents, and we have to combine these strengths”, says Van Oosten. Visitors also saw this during the exhibition of the Embassy of Health entitled Chronic Health – vital changes for a caring society. Eleven people with diverse professions and backgrounds showed their role in transitioning to a healthier society. So it wasn’t just about healthcare workers or designers. “We want to show that everyone has it in their power to make a difference – regardless of their background or profession”, says the curator. Designers can be the catalyst by bringing together people who were not yet aware of each other’s existence but can significantly enhance each other.
She indicates that big changes are not always necessary to move to a healthier society: “Sometimes it’s in the little things”. Health can also be different for everyone. “We don’t show the final picture of how a healthy society should look. Everything is intertwined, so you don’t know what the end picture is,” explains Van Oosten.
Being aware of your environment
With the Embassy of Health projects, all affiliated partners and designers try to contribute to the transition to a healthier society. For example, with the Land & Hand project, KETTER&Co draws attention to the relationships between landscape, the available material, and craftsmanship. Land & Hand brings together MBO students, designers, governments, and relevant partners in projects that investigate the potential of the landscape. An important goal is to make people aware of the landscape and the soil around them.
The ‘Hollandse Luchten’ project also focuses on our environment, particularly on air quality. Residents of North Holland have installed sensors to measure air quality. The data is shown on an interactive, online map. The citizens’ platform Hollandse Luchten wants to use the expertise of citizens. This way of working ensures that constructive conversations arise between residents and administrators.
In addition, some Embassy projects focus more on research, like the ExperiVan of the University of Twente. During DDW, this van was found on the Ketelhuisplein. The ExperiVan is a mobile lab for conducting on-site research. Most research usually takes place within the walls of learning institutions or via online questionnaires. With the help of the mobile lab, citizens – often the end-users of healthcare innovations – can become more involved in research.
The Redesigning Psychiatry project, initiated by Reframing Studio, also focuses on healthcare innovation and breaking through existing thought patterns. The project is a network of designers, philosophers, researchers, healthcare professionals and experienced experts who look at a new design of mental healthcare. Together they want to drive the transition to a reliable, accessible and flexible mental health care network. According to Curator Van Oosten, there is an important starting point: “The perfect world does not exist. We have to look at the possibilities together with the necessary resilience”.
Make a connection
According to the curator, the role of the Embassy of Health is to bring knowledge together and make connections. “We want to make the network stronger, ensure that people find each other and can learn from each other,” she says. That is why the Embassy organised various events during DDW. One of these was the Health Hub Utrecht Meetup . This included the Advisory Council for Science, Technology, and Innovation, the Rathenau Institute, and Agenda City. This talk discussed how the transition in care and welfare could be shaped. Also, the workshop Power of connection focused on collaboration. Participants shared various examples of surprising and successful partnerships in an interactive meeting. Citizens and professionals entered into discussions to share knowledge and experiences.
The Embassy of Health is a great initiative to let people think freely about the future of healthcare and the technological solutions of tomorrow that play a role in it. For us, it is a flywheel for forging alliances in order to realise the Healthcare Connect.— Peter van Burgel (CEO AMS-IX)
The role of technology
Collaboration and using everyone’s talents were also central to the Embassy of Health conference. The room was packed with people from the medical world, entrepreneurs, designers, technology makers, and interested citizens. That is also a good thing because “everyone plays a significant role in transitioning to a healthy society”. Various themes, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), were discussed Frank Kolkman, speculative designer, Sabine Wildevuur, director of DesignLab University of Twente, Marleen Stikker, director of Waag, and Peter van Burgel, CEO of AMS-IX, explored the role of AI in healthcare. Because what exactly can we do with data? How objective is that? And how important are the world view and visions we all have? These were all questions that the experts and the public discussed together. The conclusion: technology has brought a lot to the medical world. But it also has a downside. Those present noted that objectivity does not exist. There was also a call for more governance.
“The Embassy of Health is a great initiative to let people think freely about the future of healthcare and the technological solutions of tomorrow that play a role in it. For us, it is a flywheel for forging alliances in order to realise the Healthcare Connect”, says Peter van Burgel, CEO AMS-IX, about his contribution to the Embassy of Health.
More than medical care
In addition to technology, socio-economic conditions are also vital for our health. Living in poverty can cause a lot of stress. This, in turn, can affect our health. Bas Bloem, professor at Radboud UMC, Lex Burdorf, professor at Erasmus MC, and Irene Fortuyn, social designer, will discuss such circumstances. Burdorf, a professor of social health, cites one of his studies as an example. This shows that work can be like medicine. In a scientific experiment, people with severe mental illness were guided to work. “We saw a leap in mental and physical health, self-esteem, and happiness among the people who went to work. I then started saying that labour is the best medicine. I emphasised that good health is not a question of good medical care.”
According to Van Oosten, asking each other about the matters that we consider really important for the future and jointly designing a new action perspective for this is an essential step towards a different care system. “If you know what is important to you, then you look at what is economically feasible and how you can achieve the goals. Now we often do it the other way around, and then it is tough to implement changes,” she says. The parties involved each view the care transition from their vision. However, the mission is the same for everyone: a chronically healthy society.