On November 9, the Healthy Start conference took place at De Fruitvis in Rotterdam. Healthy Start has the ambition to improve the future for new generations, initiated by professor Eveline Crone (Erasmus University Rotterdam), professor Vincent Jaddoe (Erasmus MC) and professor Maaike Kleinsmann (TU Delft). This conference brought together scientists from the social, medical and technological field, as well as other societal stakeholders working with children and adolescents. The complex challenges that stand in the way of a healthy start in life require collaborations among people across the entire society who share the same ambition. In this blog, we reflect on a successful start of the collaboration between (early career) researchers and child and youth workers. In addition, we hope to motivate more people who share our ambition about Healthy Start.
Solve wicked problems for a Healthy Start
With Healthy Start, we strive for a healthy start with equal opportunities in life. This start reflects the period before birth until the age of 21. During this period, plenty of challenges could stand in the way of a good start. Examples are an unhealthy parental lifestyle, an unsafe environment to be raised in, or social pressure among youth which might lead to psychological complaints and problematic behavior. These type of challenges are often called ‘wicked problems’, as they are too complex to be solved by only looking at it from one perspective or from one discipline. To solve wicked problems, collaboration is required where as many knowledge and experiences as possible can be combined, from science as well as practice. Probably, everybody will agree on that. The big question now is how to shape this collaboration.
Collaboration science and practice
When science and practice find each other from the start and share a common goal, it is the start of a fruitful collaboration. In addition, collaboration should be more than just sharing experiences and ideas. It really has to lead to something new through interaction, thereby adding value to make impact possible. Only then, all involved will really contribute and feel responsible for the outcomes. For the Healthy Start conference on November 9, we aimed to make the connection between science and society a prominent part of the program. We wanted to give early career researchers and child and youth workers the opportunity to create the agenda for Healthy Start. We facilitated this by means of an interactive brainstorm at the start of the conference and a poster session reflecting the outcomes at the end of the conference.
Interactive brainstorm among early career researchers and child and youth workers
The key questions of the interactive brainstorm were formulated as follows:
- What are the most important topics to address for a healthy start of children and youth?
- Which topics can only be addressed by working together (science and practice)?
- How do we foster collaboration between researchers and child and youth workers?
Based on the most important topics for collaboration, concrete project ideas were developed to address the wicked problems within these topics, in which both science and practice were combined. The nice thing is that we actually practiced what we preached in the organization of the interactive brainstorm. The organization and facilitation of the interactive brainstorm was conducted by early career researchers from the Society Youth Neuroscience Connected (SYNC) lab and Bianca Boender from You!nG and BVjong (the professional association for child and youth workers in the Netherlands). The outcomes of the brainstorm were collected in a poster session, that served as discussion starting points for all the conference participants.
The interactive brainstorm as part of the entire Healthy Start conference was a great success, as this aftermovie nicely shows. Therefore, we would like to share some best practices based on our experience.
Best practices for a successful collaboration between science and practice
- Start with literally finding each other (physically and online) to identify ideas and common goals at an early stage. Get to know each other and each other’s work, share expectations and experiences. For Healthy Start, the common goal is to contribute to the best start for each child or adolescent in our society. In addition, we took some time to get to know each other and each other’s work.
- Instead of working next to each other, work with each other, by continuously looking out for interaction and develop better ideas together. For the interactive brainstorm, we contacted each other regularly as we developed the content.
- Make optimal use of each other’s expertise and experience by making a smart division of tasks. Have trust and each other’s expertise and give each other space to execute tasks independently. For the interactive brainstorm, You!nG developed the form of the brainstorm and led the execution, while SYNC supported the session and structured the outcomes for the poster session, which was used as a starting point for the agenda of Healthy Start.
- Visit each other’s working environment. By spending time with each other at each other’s workplace, one can really get to know the work as well. This supports the connection, the communication, and helps to get on the same page. For Healthy Start, we planned this as well, but due to the COVID-19 measures, this did not take place yet. We look forward to plan a visit as soon as possible.
Finally, the most important and simple advice:
The entire process to tackle wicked problems starts with awareness. Be aware that you cannot do it alone. We need each other.
What are the outcomes and how will we proceed?
A first glance at the topics collected for the agenda for Healthy Start are: increasing (psychological) resilience – decrease the potential negative impact of social media – foster healthy nutrition and exercise – develop social skills – decrease poverty and inequality – sustain physical and emotional safety. According to the participants, these topics can only be addressed by collaboration between science and practice. A couple of concrete project ideas that were developed during the poster session were a “Golden Hub” where running projects can be displayed and learn from each other, a dedicated team that actively works on bridging the gap between science and practice, and a price for youth who come up with novel ideas (citizen science). These are examples of ideas that we will continue to work on in the near future, together of course.
In addition to the outcomes on the posters, the entire Healthy Start conference was also visualized by a live illustrator. The interactive brainstorm and poster session were included.
Healthy Start will become a movement and everybody with the common ambition to work on the best start for each child and adolescent is encouraged to join, so feel free to sign up for the newsletters and the Healthy Start community.
Do you want to read or watch more about Healthy Start and the Healthy Start conference?
To read a summary of the entire conference, including the presentations of the senior researchers during the plenary part, read the report here.
You can also watch the presentations via the recording of the livestream.
We enjoyed the collaboration between science and practice and see this as added value and a must if we really want to make a difference for the target group of Healthy Start; all children and adolescents in the Netherlands. Therefore, we encourage everyone with the same ambition to join the Healthy Start community!
Written by Dr. Karlijn Hermans (postdoctoral researcher Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam and Scientific Project Support Healthy Start) and Bianca Boender (founder You!nG and interim chair BVjong)