Transition to natural gas-free living: The Dutch PEOPLE case study

  • Dutch PEOPLE case study, PEOPLE project, Erasmus+, Knowledge Alliances, people-centred development aproaches, Alliander, VU Amsterdam, industry, anthropology

In the Dutch PEOPLE case study, a team of three students (anthropology and organisational studies) focused on a bottom-up, neighbourhood-oriented approach in the transition to natural gas-free living. They were mentored jointly by PEOPLE partner organisations, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and company Alliander.

Alliander, a Dutch monopolist Distribution System Operator, has initiated a ‘natural gas-transition program’ to address the challenges that this entails in multidisciplinary teams. PEOPLE students contributed to this challenge by tackling concrete issues and tasks within the teams.

The Dutch PEOPLE case study was one of the four case studies in energy efficiency and sustainability, implemented by PEOPLE teams within the 1st Learning Cycle. The students’ reflections on their research and challenges were first published in the 3rd issue of the PEOPLE Newsletter in June 2018 (find all newsletter issues here). Semra Anli, MSc student in Culture, Organisation and Management at VU Amsterdam, gives an account of how, using social science methods and people-centred development approaches, she tackled the challenges of the transition to a natural gas-free living.


“In the Netherlands we focus on a bottom-up, neighbourhood-oriented approach in the transition to natural gas-free living in the Netherlands. As students, we map local dynamics at a neighbourhood level and translate our findings into visualisations and reports for teams within Alliander. Analysing, identifying and applying local dynamics is still a missing link in the overall strategic environment management of energy companies such as Alliander. We help to bridge this gap and, in doing so, hope to make a contribution to a people friendly transition to a natural gas-free future in the Netherlands. Marck, Eline and I work on similar cases in two different cities. Eline just finished her fieldwork in Wijk aan Zee. Marck and I have conducted research in Den Haag.


“I did my best to understand the field (in Den Haag) by immersing myself in the residential area, by visiting its popular food places, by attending events as if I was a resident, by speaking to shop owners and the residents themselves. I observed the type of residents living there, what the social cohesion of the area is like, what interests them, what their needs and priorities are, their skills and capabilities in the sphere of the heat transition in the Netherlands.”

Dutch PEOPLE case study, PEOPLE project, Erasmus+, Knowledge Alliances, Alliander, VU Amsterdam, anthropology, people-centred approaches


“I have just come back from the field and will start to analyse my data in the coming months so I don’t have any preliminary results just yet. However, the three months that I have spent in the field have shown me that you cannot solve every problem with technique and business knowledge, innovation is more than just that. Instead, cultural understanding and affiliation with the people within that culture is the key towards a solution of many complex problems. You cannot implement a successful transition towards gas-free living without including the voice of the people who will face the consequences of such a transition the most, namely the residents. Not only does a transition mean that the gas network that is currently in the ground will have to be replaced, but also construction work in the streets and in their houses. Perhaps one can even speak of a cultural change since this transition will alter how people implement their daily activities, such as cooking. People might not be against change, but in favour of the preservation of what they find meaningful in their current culture. Therefore, in order to implement a transition successfully one needs to gain understanding in these values, interests, needs, rituals, beliefs, etc. Things that make a culture.”


The students, implementing the Dutch PEOPLE case study, were:

  • Eline Hogeweij (MSc, Social and Cultural Anthropology)
  • Marck Verhulst (MSc, Social and Cultural Anthropology)
  • Semra Anli (MSc, Culture, Organization and Management)


Interested about the other three PEOPLE case studies? The Slovenian team worked on energy management systems in smart buildings, the UK team explored smart power sockets and telecare, and the Czech team experimented with energy interventions in administrative buildings.