ZuidZorg’s plan for independent living.

What was the problem? 

ZuidZorg is one of the main providers of primary care and social services in the south of The Netherlands, providing care from newly born children to elderly people living in their own homes.

Few elderly relish the prospect of moving to a retirement home, despite the wide range of care and support services now available. One of the main issues is perhaps the lack of ease with which the elderly can take advantage of the services made available to them; a wide range of support services – and remote services in particular – have a high entry barrier for the users they are designed for.

The aim of this project thus was to develop new (remote) support services with which older people and their carers could familiarize themselves with – before they become care dependent. Such services would need to connect elderly with friends and care organizations, all from the comfort of their own home. For this, people above the age of 75, yet living independently at home were the primary target group. They are still reasonably healthy, but less mobile than before.

Whether these people live alone or with their partner, they invariably depend heavily on people within their social circles to provide some (or indeed all) of the care they need. ZuidZorg provides additional care and support, and asked creative agency STBY to investigate how they could collaborate more with these personal carers (whether they be partners, children or neighbours).

What have they done?

Creative agency STBY was commissioned to explore the issue of facilitating elderly people’s engagement with the development of services aimed at allowing them to live independently – even whilst their mobility is decreasing. As such, the first step was to discover precisely what type of services the elderly would welcome into their lives.

The initial project thus began with an in-depth needs analysis of the target group to create profiles to understand who these users were. This entailed a series of semi-structured interviews with a sample of older people, which were conducted within their own homes. Questions centred around daily routines and social environments, and these were complimented with a series of photographs of key areas and objects in each home; people were asked to show the interviewers areas and items that were important to them, with these being recorded and analysed in order to create an extended profile of each participant.

These profiles were presented and discussed in a multi-disciplinary workshop, a co-creative setting in which information could be clustered and emerging insights identified. Once established, these insights were the input for the exploration of several new service concepts; three such concepts were initially developed, with each incorporating a description of the user it was intended for, a summary of the problems it was designed to solve, and a practical set of guidelines for how it could be delivered.

The collaboration continued after these workshop sessions were completed. After an initial round of concepting, we organized a further co-creation workshop, working with the carers from the fieldwork in order to both validate and enrich the concepts which had been generated.

A series of ‘Experience Prototypes’ for the service were then developed, based on a service blueprint which mapped out exchanges between the various stakeholders involved. These prototypes could then be presented to the target group in another round of individual home interviews. This iterative process of user involvement kept the service in the hands of those who would use it throughout the entire development process. It wasn’t just that they felt their voices were being heard, they were able to experience a sense of ownership, having had such an influence on it during its gestation. The key point here was giving access – there are few entry barriers to a product designed by yourself.

What was the result?

One of the service concepts that has been launched as a result of our collaboration is ‘Zondags Wel’. This is an informal meeting place for caretakers and the people with dementia they take care of. The purpose is to offer a place to talk to and meet other caretakers and people with dementia on the generally quiet Sunday afternoons. STBY’s research and workshops showed, there is a need for this social contact and opportunity to exchange experiences, in addition to already existing information-focused Alzheimers cafes. The meeting places are cozy and run by volunteers. These volunteers follow a course beforehand and get expert support if they need to.
All together the project was a true co-creative effort of STBY and ZuidZorg which resulted in about 40 concrete advices. Each advice is briefly described on one page with illustrations and quotations from the different studies undertaken in a booklet.

The project had an impact in two distinct areas. Feedback from the target group clearly indicated that they expected to benefit from a service which not only allowed them to stay socially active whilst losing personal mobility, but which would also gradually familiarize them with the remote services they may eventually rely upon for domestic care. They could continue their participation in social networks and events, and while doing so familiarize themselves with the remote services that may one day become important for their contact with care organisations.

The organizations involved in the client consortium meanwhile could fundamentally reposition the role they play in people’s lives. No longer are they there to simply ‘solve people’s problems.’ They could now focus on facilitating people to solve their own problems whilst they are still able, thus addressing a target group who do not yet consider themselves in need of care services.

Another major achievement for the organization was the learning process about user-driven innovation and co-creation. This way of working was fairly new to ZuidZorg. They were eager to learn more about this, wanting their organization to be more customer oriented, but they had little experience with the appropriate methods for this. STBY and Waag Society, as experts in this field, have taken care to involve the client team in every step of the process. A full documentation of the process was recently published in a booklet for internal use.
Inspired by the success of these projects, ZuidZorg has recently established a specialised unit that focuses on service innovation. This is an internal start up that functions as an in-house service design team but also works for outside partners and clients. STBY regularly coaches this team in training workshops and focused consults that guide them through various stages of their projects. The organization aims to do more of these kind of projects in the future.

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