Smart Solutions

Sustainable support for citizens’ initiatives: The ‘sustainizability model’


The ‘sustainizability model’ contains an explicit reference to an active, dynamic attitude as opposed to the term sustainability, which refers more to a static situation. It is an instrument to support the collection of ideas and support in a community.

The sustainizability model consists of six domains (see figure below) – each with their typical characteristics, values, and standards – each of which can ideally be considered in the planning and realisation of any initiative. The model’s advantage is to link various dimensions of an initiative in a structured way – and bring the relevant expertise related to these for a more integrated approach. The idea is that during a first phase people need to work in the “six siloes” according to their relevant expertise, and then brought together for a more integrated approach.

The tool itself is the model structure and explanatory note.

A sustainable development process builds on the interaction and linkages between the three P’s: People, Planet, and Profit (providing a clearer focus to the initial Brundtland triple P concept) – adding the societal and physical dimensions.

According to the model, the involvement of development advisors is needed (e.g. informal expert network) with a wide range of expertise – such as spatial planning, nature and environmental policy, community building, business, administration, public administration, legal affairs, project management, cooperative organizational development, etc.

Development advisors have the role of assisting local initiators of ideas in the six domains, connecting the initiators to the right stakeholders in the domains of the 3*2  domains (people (social), profit (economic), planet (environmental) combined with societal, physical) to work together with the initiators. Capacity building of these development experts (e.g. recruitment, training and structuring of the expert network) might be necessary, and the collaboration of experts – to strengthen integrated support – is crucial.

How does it work?

Development advisors are identified especially based on the personal network and supporters of the initiator. Advisors are first allocated into the six domains and work first in separate groups, closely with the initiator of the idea.   These groups organise briefing sessions. The brainstorm group is a focused method to discuss the opportunities of the initiative. The initiator of the idea presents his or her ideas to the participants (also called “inbassadors”) at this session; thus forcing him or her to formulate the ideas clearly and concretely: a “litmus test”!   The engaged specialists (advisors) might ask the initiators of the ideas to think about:
1. The design of governance of the initiative, or directly inviting people from various fields to sit on the board.
2. Create a group for a CIMBY session (see below)
3. Establish a group for a pitch round (in a pitch one presents his/her ideas to a group of experts who then reflect on it).
4. Put together a group for a brainstorm session with a specific focus.
5. Identify the key domain (out of the six) to stimulate the development
6. Use the inventory for network development (expansion or upscaling your plan).
7. Foster acceptance by bringing together a carefully focused group.  

Following the silo group discussions, a CIMBY  (“Certainly In My Back Yard”) exchange group is set up from the participants of the various siloes. A CIMBY meeting can serve various targets, including business development, product testing, waste prevention, etc.

Who is the tool for?

The tool is more suitable in larger communities, where networks and expertise can be easier mobilised. The ‘sustainizability model’ provides a good structure and framework for joint working and thinking, however, it requires active initiators of ideas, and also their ability to mobilise professional networks (experts/ advisors).

Dos and Don’ts

  • It is important to have a mix of different types of stakeholders (suppliers, customers, and partners), personalities and gender, covering all six key domains and ensuring that the four E’s (entitled authorities, education, entrepreneurs, and environment) are represented. Some people can be “siloed”, others (e.g., the mayor) are more difficult to be linked to a specific domain and can be employed as a “joker”.
  • In addition to the development advisors, the initiator’s personal network and contacts can be particularly useful. It turns out to be very worthwhile involving people one is acquainted with and trusts from the various sustainizability domains in the actions concerned. For instance, one can consider the financial administration (debtors and creditors), the project administration, the CRM system, address files, contacts on social media, business cards or the birthday calendar. Their positions and opinions, and in particular the confrontation and eventual integration certainly contribute to a suitable solution.
  • To bring this about one must group them carefully, arrange them in siloes (ironically: compartmentalise) to eventually de-compartmentalise them.
  • Main rule: only assign people with which one has an agreeable connection.
  • How to categorise into the six domains? The start is positioning the people assigned in one of the six sustainizability domains based on where the actor is most active. Sometimes it seems that one has none or only a few relations in certain domains, but after some consideration one usually finds them.

How the tool was already used?

Digihelden Hilvarenbeek (Digital Heroes Hilvarenbeek)

Hilvarenbeek is a rural municipality with around 15,500 inhabitants. The director of a primary school in Hilvarenbeek wanted to pay more attention to innovation and technology at his school. He wanted to develop a learning line of ICT skills with robots. He already purchased some equipment, but specialised

knowledge and skills of the teachers appeared to be lacking. Also, the tools quickly

proved obsolete. Specialist skills were needed, as well as financial resources.

He asked Tussenheid Hilvarenbeek to think along and they suggested to first map his network according to the sustainizability / CIMBY model and then to develop ideas about his project with a group of selected people out of this network.

The director was given the advice of looking beyond people with direct links to education or ICT and rather to consider people from alternative experiences or expertise.

For the network inventory, the principal used the school administration together

with his suppliers, his own network such as directors of other schools, LinkedIn connections but also acquaintances and members of his sports club. And of course, he also mapped out his clients, the parents of his pupils.

All these names were “siloed” in the domains of the sustainizability model. After

careful selection, several people were deemed suitable to participate in a reflection

session on the more detailed project plan.

As a next step, the director contacted these people to invite them to participate

in a brain-storming evening session (CIMBY) and to set a date. Some were able to connect the plans with other initiatives. Resources and finances were identified and Digihelden emerged. Initially, Digihelden was intended for two schools, but by working together with partners who helped to think bigger, the Digiheldenbus now runs throughout the village for all seven schools. There is a good business plan to assure the sustainizability of the original idea.

Sustainizability model, network analysis and applications Part II: The application
Tussenheid Hilvarenbeek ( 2021 )
This document presents how the ‘sustainizability’ model is applied in real life in two specific cases: Spoorpark Tilburg (Railroad Park) and Digihelden Hilvarenbeek (Digital Heroes Hilvarenbeek)
Language : English

The complementary role of local government and local society
Tussenheid Hilvarenbeek ( 20/10/2016 )
Mr Palmen, mayor of the community of Hilvarenbeek at the event of the contact night of the Hilver B & O platforms (Hilver Management & Development) talks about the complementary role of the local government and local society, and how each should take its own responsibility.
Language : Dutch, English

Let the Stars Shine: Tussenheid
Tussenheid Hilvarenbeek ( 25/04/2018 )
Tussenheid is an upside down umbrella organization. It is a movement of local initiatives, whereby local ownership is guaranteed. Tussenheid Hilvarenbeek helps to make local projects / initiatives sustainable in the economic, societal and environmental sense.
Language : English

Sustainizability model, network analysis and applications Part I: The model
Tussenheid Hilvarenbeek
This guide sets out the basics of the sustainzability model, that has emerged in the North Brabant region of the Netherlands in the ‘50s. Until the fifties the Kempen region (the southern part of the province of North Brabant and the northern part of the Flemish provinces of Antwerp and Limburg) was a relatively poor region with a history and regional identity of mainly hardworking small farmers. They had to be self-reliant, but the awareness of the great importance of support from and to the people in the area certainly had a major impact on social relations and the way in which ideas were created and developed. This cultural orientation certainly contributed to the emergence of all kinds of cooperatives. A key example of this was the arise of the cooperative Boerenleenbanken (Raiffeisenbank), and more recently the impressive industrial development (Brainport) in which cooperation proved to be the success factor.

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