Reflections on the PEOPLE project – Gerriëtte Mollink (Alliander)

  • Gerriette Mollink, Alliander, PEOPLE project, PEOPLE heroes, workshop, Co-Creation Camp, Amsterdam, Erasmus+

This blog post was written by Gerriëtte Mollink, an anthropologist and innovation consultant – sustainable energy for PEOPLE industry partner Alliander. Taking on new challenges, she reflects on her experience of working in the PEOPLE project and the Dutch 1st Learning Cycle case study. Passionate and dedicated team members are each project’s heroes!

As I am leaving the PEOPLE project, writing this blog about the project learnings has been a very personal experience. The irony however is that leaving the project encouraged me to take time to reflect and write more in depth and extensively about my learning experiences. Saying goodbye to something that involved my heart and soul, became manageable by doing it the anthropological way; involving the full experience of human life. In the delusion of daily working life, we are inclined to step over the inconvenience of change and move on to the next thing. From a cultural perspective however, it is precisely in these moments of friction that we create a meaning for things that we otherwise take for granted. Thus weaving distinct colours in the cultural patterns of our lives.

To me, as an anthropologist, this is one of those wonderfully ironic facts of human life. Humans don’t like change, we like predictability and are good at keeping things the way they are. And yet, confronted with the inevitability of change, it turns out we are also are very well equipped to handle and channel the uncomfortable experiences of friction and chaos that change brings. But we only tend to see this in hindsight…. In my personal case, realizing the inevitability of leaving the project, my skills as an anthropologist helped me to tune into this dynamic of change. Looking past the discomfort of having to leave something I valued behind, I recognized a fundamental human need to leave a legacy, to leave something for others to continue with what I started. I also understood the importance of paying attention to this need as a functional way of channelling the discomforts of change. And yes, this insight only occurred to me in hindsight, reflecting on the process after this blog was written. I did what anthropologists do: I described events as they happened, looked for patterns, analysed, structured and reflected on the data and gave meaning to it.  So, delivering this text for the PEOPLE project has helped me to come full-circle on leaving the project; I take valuable learning experiences with me and at the same time leave them behind for others to continue.

What I like most about being an anthropologist is to embrace the contradictions of life as a fundamental part of being human.  Therefore, I take much pleasure in starting this document with the last lesson that the PEOPLE project taught me: The learning on all levels, as human beings, is the most valuable contribution of people-centred approaches!

Towards cooperative learning in People-Centred Learning Cycles

During the first Learning Cycle (LC), Dutch PEOPLE partners Alliander and VUA implemented and tested a programme of cooperative learning. We did this by means of two case studies provided by Alliander, in which VUA master students conducted fieldwork research. The joint learning process resulted in four main learning experiences:

  • The required lead time for a LC in calendar months;
  • The mismatch in timing of the academic year versus lead time in a business environment;
  • The general phases and steps taken in a LC;
  • Role description of the different actors involved in a LC.

Based on these learning experiences Alliander and VUA are now working on improvements for LC2. Also, recommendations were made for tools that can be developed in LC2 to support cooperative learning in People-Centred Learning Cycles. These could be a ‘tips & tricks’ guide on cooperative learning, or a ‘how-to’ guide on Learning Cycles or working with case studies. The learning experiences are mainly a consequence of the introduction of a cooperative learning programme between Alliander and VUA. For example, in the first LC we discovered that there were hardly any examples or established ways of working on either side, for cooperative learning between social sciences and engineers. This stressed the innovative value of introducing people-centred approaches through cooperative learning in the Dutch context.

The two biggest learnings for Alliander as Dutch industry partner, were the discovery of four success factors for case studies and working with cultural hotspots as a way of finding these case studies. The key success factors for People-Centred case studies are:

  • urgency for the business / organisation,
  • having commitment with the right key staff members,
  • suited for a people-centred approach, and
  • can be lined up with the academic timeframe.

Although we learned this by trial and error in the first LC, we did find that working with the anthropological concept of cultural hotspots enlarged the chances of success. Cultural hotspots are situations where different interests meet and clash, the old is confronted with the new, or the conventional protects itself from the unconventional. In the energy transition such hotspots occur where the dominant, conventional perception of a technology driven energy transition is challenged by the emerging and still unconventional idea of the energy transition as being socially driven. With this in mind, we looked for hotspots by focusing on Alliander business units that were already confronted by the emerging reality of the need to interact more with society. This way case studies were found with enthusiastic case study owners, willing to try a new approach. This gave us a good starting point for cooperative learning and discovering the requirements for successful case studies.  We are now well on our way with LC 2, using our learnings, implementing improvements, in short; contributing to the introduction of people-centred approaches in sustainable energy and living!

I want to thank my PEOPLE colleagues for a fruitful collaboration and their enthusiastic and pleasurable company. Personally it has been an enjoyable and enriching experience. I wish the PEOPLE team success in the second Learning Cycle and that the project continues to live up to its expectations and contributes towards a sustainable future.


PEOPLE project, Erasmus+, team, team members, consortium meeting, Amsterdam, 2018
The PEOPLE project team at the 4th Consortium Meeting at VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (3 July 2018)