Promoting a healthy lifestyle through outreach and engagement

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Josine van ‘t Klooster is the manager of the Team Strategy & External Relations at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG). Her team is responsible for lobbying with policymakers, implementing healthy ageing in healthcare of the UMCG, fostering the digital agenda, and outreach.

Van ‘t Klooster also represents the UMCG in the Strategic Board of the Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands (HANNN), a healthy ageing collective. In her daily job van ‘t Klooster collaborates with multiple partners in the Northern Netherlands, The Hague and Brussels. She is determined to prevent (or minimise) health disparities by using outreach as a tool to promote a healthy lifestyle. 

Activities

One of the activities of the Team Strategy and External Relations is outreach and public engagement, through which they try to create societal impact. Van ’t Klooster elaborates: “We mainly focus on physical activities with the general public. The topic is always related to healthy ageing and health promotion. We try to focus on those target groups – for example, children and the general public that normally do not read or hear about health subjects – that potentially could benefit the most; we go to neighbourhoods, kindergartens and primary schools. Many initiatives are very small-scaled, but hopefully very impactful.” One of those initiatives is the ‘doctors date’ in primary schools, where doctors explain something about health and diseases with a strong focus on health promotion. The UMCG team also organises public lectures, where experts tell something about their research topic to a diverse audience. Van ‘t Klooster explains: “We always ask experts to give their opinion on our plan, so we are trying to bridge their expertise with societal relevance.”

The UMCG team also tries to reach impact by setting an agenda with policymakers. Together with her team, van ‘t Klooster hopes to generate the right challenges from the Northern Netherlands and the UMCG to set the agenda with policymakers. Van ‘t Klooster emphasises: “Policymakers are an important target audience for outreach, because they have to be aware of what we are doing and what is relevant now. Policymakers are doing their work often “behind desks”, but they need input from organisations where societal challenges are being tackled, and that is also what our team is responsible for on behalf of and with many colleagues at the UMCG.”

Main goal

Van ‘t Klooster has a main goal regarding outreach: to be visible for the general public. She explains: “We get a lot of public money and I find it very important that people know what we are doing with it and why public money is useful.” She also describes her intrinsic motivation: “People can learn something from what we share; we reach out about evidence-based practical knowledge. My goal is to prevent or minimise health disparities by outreach.” 

Stakeholders

To reach their goals, the team works together with stakeholders in the region, such as hospitals, physiotherapists, dieticians and schools. Van ‘t Klooster elaborates: “For outreach we collaborate with fixed groups in the region of Groningen: the municipality of Groningen, the province of Groningen, the Hanse University of Applied Sciences, the University of Groningen (Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health), the Alfa college and Noorderpoort. For the ‘Healthy Ageing’ topic the HANNN is an additional partner, they always play an active role in outreach events.” The UMCG team collaborates with those partners on three events each year: the Healthy Ageing week in October, Noorderzon during summer time, and ‘Let’s Gro’, an innovation festival in November. “Together we try to come with a joint program for the general public”, Van ‘t Klooster adds. 

One of the outreach projects that is really successful is the ‘Healthy Living Room’ (‘Gezonde Huiskamer’), which is embodied by a driving bus where people can do a lifestyle check and have a chat about a healthy lifestyle. Van ‘t Kloosters explains: “In the UMCG we have a lifestyle navigator, where patients and their partners can get a lifestyle advice three times a week. We thought it would be good to take that concept into the outside world, because then you can work on prevention by raising awareness for a healthy lifestyle among the general public”. The idea of the bus was born from the success of the ‘Healthy Living Room’ tent at the Grote Markt in Groningen during the Healthy Ageing Week three years ago. Since then, the bus travels regularly in the region to do lifestyle checks and to promote healthy ageing among a very diverse public. It is also a place to conduct citizen science: that makes the picture of outreach and science complete again.