Inspiratine ® – culture change at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports


In April 2012 the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (HWS) –  Department for Pharmaceutical and Medical Technology – decided to boost its organizational and cultural change programme.

The issue presented to us was the perceived need to change the ways of working, induced by: A changing environment, wherein policy making departments are expected to be more client focused, a time wherein government budget cuts increase pressure to work more efficiently, and an era wherein the political landscape is continuously changing. In short, it was decided that old ways of working would no longer adequately address the needs of the future.

The organisation had decided to firstly restructure itself, with less hierarchy (less dependency on management, more self-responsibility for employees) and increased flexibility (matrix-based project teams, less segregation of work). However, the restructuring was only one step in the transformation process. A change of work attitudes and norms had to be realised.

It was envisaged that a cultural change was required and that a “whole systems approach” could be the right solution. Perspectivity was selected among other parties, based on its solid experience with whole systems approaches/large scale interventions.

The work

The job was to initiate the cultural change process by applying methodologies whereby all employees would somehow be involved. Realising that cultural change processes take long, the wish was expressed by HWS to boost the process in a powerful way, in a trajectory of 4-6 months. The project was called “inspiratine”

Leadership  – The project reported directly to director and his management team. As whole systems trajectories require strong commitment of the top leadership, various sessions were held with the leadership team (special brief training inputs, coaching and advice, reflection and learning). Large scale intervention methods enable an organisation to do what it wants to do, and the processes make it happen that the “right things” emerge. This requires leaders to be aware of the implications of opting for such methods.

“Future Team” –  A  planning/design group of twelve employees and managers was formed into the internal champions for the process – they received brief detailed training on the principles of whole system change and their job was to become the internal capacity for the process, be involved in the planning and design, be the internal ambassadors for the intervention, and arrange for follow-up measures. This team opened opportunities in different parts of the department. The (internal) multi-stakeholder composition ensured that the change process wasn’t seen as an “idea of the management”, but as something that was carried by representatives from the whole unit.

What happened

Goal setting. With the leadership and the “future team” some long-term goals were defined to give the whole process perspective. This was done interactively and participatory. They defined:

  • To establish a flexible and result oriented directorate with connected employees that work on quality, accessibility and affordability of medical products, whereby there is space for innovation.
  • To develop such an organisation by:
    • Cooperating and building bridges (internally and externally)
    • Searching for common inspiration
    • Encouraging a reflective work attitude
    • Motivating people in their self-development
    • Steering on quality, efficiency and result

Awareness/training. Leadership and future team were carefully informed about the principles of large scale interventions, in particular future search, appreciative inquiry and open space (the methods to be used), so that they could make an informed decision whether to go ahead with the process.

Design. Tailoring of design was done with the future team, until they were confident that the right results would be obtained

Future search conference.  A future search conference was held whereby some hundred employees of the organisation were invited, but also external stakeholders that were able to provide reflective thoughts and constructive contributions. This conference led to 5 common ground themes to strengthen the culture: enhanced envisioning, social cohesion, redefining roles and responsibilities, enhancing openness, and more external orientation.

Building on momentum.  Open task forces that we established to work on the common ground themes and volunteers signed up to make it happen. The future team coordinated. Several activities followed, including appreciative interviews throughout the organisation:  People explored the most positive change they had seen since the whole initiative started, and what caused this to happen as well what they learned. In open space sessions groups convened around the 5 common ground themes and explored how to go deeper and further. Through creative communications the spirit was kept alive. This began with a creative invitation to the change process (a box of “inspiratine pills” was given to every employee), to intranet pop-ups, posters in the building, reminders on meeting agendas, and so on. The process is still going on today.


  • A clear goal for the coming years
  • Five common themes, that have been defined by the “whole system” together (rather than the management) and have been worked on:
    • a clearer vision has been defined that outlines a shared ambition and provides clarity and guidance to employees
    • more social coherence through more informal contacts, mutual respect and trust, personal interest, celebrating successes
    • refined roles and responsibilities, with increases flexibility in teams, including back-up, sharing of tasks, modernisation of management roles, flexible work places
    • more openness in that there is pro-active exchange of knowledge, smart use of competencies and expertise
    •  increased external orientation by opening up the organisation to the outer world: open source policy projects, more external consultations.
  • Awareness among decision makers on cultural bottlenecks
  • Enhanced innovative capacity on policy development
  • A set example to other government departments (several other ministries have inquired about the process that was applied by HWS)

More on the Inspiratine project: