Networking and collaboration for a healthy living environment

When we work together we achieve more than we can individually. When it comes to a healthy living environment, we are working with several parties to address scientific and social challenges. We use our network to identify what knowledge is needed, fund research and enhance impact.

Collaboration is in our DNA

ZonMw often connects different parties in the world of health, social welfare and care. Working with others is in our DNA. It is only by collaborating with others in various fields that we can achieve our mission – to use knowledge to work towards good health for all. In these efforts, we act as intermediaries, managers, or both. Read here how we use our specialist knowledge in all our activities to promote a healthy living environment.

10 golden tips on sustainable collaboration for a healthy community

Els De Maeijer is an expert in sustainable collaboration and innovation at Tilburg University, where she performs research as part of the ‘Make space for health’ programme. The programme is concerned with the effect that the design of the living environment has on health, sustained healthy (or unhealthy) behaviour, and participation in society. “Sustainable collaboration is about working together in the long term, on a regular basis”, she explains. “For the consortiums in a grant programme (like the seven consortiums in ‘Make space for health’) it means they keep working together even after the grant has run out, because they can still give each other valuable help.’

Read the Dutch interview with Els De Maeijer of Tilburg University to learn more about her 10 golden tips for successful sustainable collaboration.

    Golden tips for successful sustainable collaboration

    1. Be aware of the official roles, interests and goals of all participants, and how they affect the collaboration.
    2. Make conscious choices about how you will interact and share knowledge.
    3. Have honest discussions about expectations and contributions.  
    4. Define a common goal and always discuss it in meetings.
    5. Ensure that people know that their contribution is appreciated for what it is.
    6. Collaboration is about being needed, for the person you are and the knowledge you possess.
    7. Make time to build relationships and mutual trust; take time out to drink coffee together.
    8. Share your insecurities. If you have the courage to do this, you will usually be appreciated for your openness and transparency. 
    9. Be aware that how you want to be seen by others helps define the role you aspire to in the collaboration.
    10. Golden tips are always context-dependent.

    Consortiums: sustainable partnerships

    Large consortiums that provide a sustainable platform for scientists from different disciplines: this is what we should be aiming for, according to Jeroen Geurts. He is an advocate of longer-term sustainable partnerships. This idea is steadily taking shape, and has already been put into action in various ZonMw programmes. Read more about sustainable partnerships in the Dutch blog Jeroen Geurts wrote when he was chair of ZonMw.

    Multiple commissioning organisations

    Increasingly, we find ourselves administrating programmes funded by several ministries, health insurance companies and health (and other) funds. This is largely because issues concerning health and care require broader perspectives. Our latest commission to develop the Healthy Green Living Environment – in collaboration with the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) – is one good example. A healthy living environment is an environment that promotes people’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality jointly commissioned this programme, and other ministries will also be involved.

    Many parties, at different levels

    The playing field is complex, both in this new Healthy Green Living Environment programme and in current programmes related to a healthy living environment. Many parties are involved, at different levels and at different stages of the research. When drafting the knowledge agenda on Microplastics and Health, for example, we connected several parties at the identification stage, which gave rise to a public-private partnership.

    Connection part of knowledge cycle

    Our ‘Making a Difference (2020-2024)' policy plan explains our role in connecting different parties. It also outlines the knowledge cycle, which is ideally nice and circular when all parties actively collaborate. This is not simply a matter of collaboration with commissioning organisations, stakeholders, knowledge institutions, international parties and other relevant stakeholders, but also interaction with representatives of policymakers, researchers and practitioners. Our ability to connect can certainly make a difference, particularly in the face of complex challenges, such as developing a healthy living environment.


    Martine Hoofwijk

    Senior programme manager Healthy living environment
    gezondeleefomgeving [at]

    Gerlinde van der Stok

    Programme secretary Healthy living environment
    gezondeleefomgeving [at]

    Ilse Rensen

    Programme secretary Healthy living environment
    gezondeleefomgeving [at]