Innovation through quadruple helix in Flanders

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - Published by Ragni Leifson
Transnational cooperation and exchange of best practices is inspiring cities in Flanders to find new solutions in informal care and voluntary assistance.

Turnhout and Aalst are two cities located in the Flemish part of Belgium. They are both partners in the In For Care project, which is working to develop innovation in service delivery. The way this is done is to involve the public sector, academia, industry and end users.

"The time when government policies are formed in the city offices without interacting with citizens is long gone. Informal care and voluntary assistance is not an issue for government or private sector alone. It is important that everybody works together on this", says Bert Willems, project manager for the City of Turnhout.

"There used to be more of a triple helix approach. Now there is a tendency to involve the end users more and more when a service is developed. This is necessary to create more stable and up to date policies that matches the real needs of people", adds Vincent De Tandt, coordinator of health care economy in the City of Aalst.

(Top image: Vincent De Tandt (left) and Bert Willems in Turnhout.)

Involving the neighbourhood

Learn more about how Turnhout has been involving the neighbourhoods in the city in innovative ways in this video:

"There are a lot of possibilities in how neighbours take care of each other. They can do small tasks that lowers the pressure on family and friends. It's a slow process, though. We need to invest in strengthening the social networks to strengthen them, and not only focus on technology to match care need and offer", says Willems.

"At the same time, when we increase the autonomy of the elderly, we decrease the risk of dependency on someone else. In Aalst, living longer independently is the goal, and we constantly test new innovative products to facilitate this. At the same time, we want to stimulate volunteers to keep working, and to reduce the plight of the informal carers", says De Tandt.

Rethinking Flemish care

About a quarter of Flemish adults over the age of 18 functioned as an informal career during the past year. This includes supporting an ill, handicapped or aged family member, friend, acquaintance or neighbour. About three out of ten of the informal carers helps out on a daily basis.

The numbers come from a short overview of local challenges for informal care in Belgium, prepared by Leen Heylen & Jeroen Knaeps at Thomas More, Vonk3.

The Flemish care policy is undergoing a radical reorganisation towards people-centred care. If you imagine a circle with a person in the center, the focus in the middle is on self-care. The next layers of the circle encompass family care and community care, while the outer circle encompass the health services.

As the Flemish policy makers aim to empower and engage family caregivers, specific attention is paid to support the family caregiver. A policy plan on informal care has been developed, but the is still a lack of legislation to support the carers, explains Bert Willems from the City of Turnhout.

Vincent De Tandt from the City of Aalst agrees.

"There are some financial support available to informal carers, but you have to be really poor to be eligible to recieve this. There really is no good range of services to stimulate informal care", De Tandt says.

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In For Care partners being shown around the SLIM Turnhout neighbourhood.

Learning from other countries

In For Care arranged a partner meeting in Turnhout and Aalst at the end of May 2018. The quadruple helix approach was one of several themes that were at the forefront of the meeting.

"In For Care really ticks all the boxes of what we want to work with: Quadruple helix, informal care, loneliness. The project stimulates us to work with local projects in these areas. At the same time, it allows us to be creative and learn. It's not always necessary to invent everything from scratch", says De Tandt.

"The advantages of the projects is that you get to see a lot of different contexts. Ideas that you pick up on a study visit like this can make a big difference in your own country. Transnational cooperation is always a good idea", says Willems.