The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, RIVM is the government’s official knowledge institute on public health and the environment. RIVM is an independent agency of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS).
content trusted advisor
RIVM uses the term trusted advisor to describe the position and role of the organisation and its employees. The way the role is defined and implemented was inspired by David Maister’s 2001 book The Trusted Advisor and has been adopted in the on-the-job training programmes for employees provided by the RIVM Academy.
The terms ‘trusted’ and ‘advisor’ have layered and complex associations: credibility, trust, reliability, proximity, self-orientation. To earn that trust, the other person must have a positive impression of all four dimensions.
reliability and expertise
RIVM is a trusted advisor to the government, professionals and private citizens. Our core values are expertise, reliability and independence. Knowledgeable in the field, competent, insightful, authoritative, experienced, proficient, skilled, practised, seasoned (see also ‘expertise’).
Framework agreements and codes of conduct
Alongside the RIVM Act, there are procedures in place governing financing, programme planning, performance, and publication of results; these are set out in framework agreements with the commissioning clients. RIVM also endorses a number of codes of conduct and has developed its own instruments to ensure scientific integrity and prevent conflicts of interest:
- Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences - KNAW / Association of Universities in the Netherlands - VSNU)
- Code of conduct to prevent undue influence as a result of conflicts of interest (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences - KNAW)
- Complaints Procedure for Scientific Integrity
- Internal and external peer review
- Additional positions and declaration of interests by RIVM employees
- Criteria, guidelines and coaching for Public-Private Partnerships
- Training courses (including internal on-the-job training programmes) / moral deliberations
- Confidential advisor for scientific integrity
Please note that RIVM can only participate in privately funded scientific research projects if certain strict criteria are met (see industry and partnership with private partners).
Because we work for the government, science and society, our independence is extremely important to our reputation as reliable, trustworthy and credible. Independence is inextricably interconnected with scientific integrity.
At RIVM, our arrangement is that our clients decide on the ‘what’ (the commissioned project) and the researchers of RIVM decide on the ‘how’ (the research). Commissioning clients have no influence on the research methods used, nor on the results of the research. In principle, research results are available to the public and are reported independently from the commissioning clients. This position of independence is enshrined in law, in the RIVM Act.
The RIVM Act (Wet op het RIVM) is a Dutch act of legislation that regulates and ensures the independence and integrity of RIVM in accepting commissioned projects from clients and in monitoring of the performance and quality of our work. A Supervisory Committee has been appointed and tasked with monitoring scientific quality and integrity.
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, as the saying goes. RIVM coordinates a number of prevention programmes that aim to prevent diseases altogether, or identify and treat diseases at an early stage.
We coordinate the National Immunisation Programme, which protects children against twelve serious infectious diseases. Thanks to RIVM, vaccinations are administered to children in exactly the same way throughout the country, and the correct schedule of vaccines and booster shots is offered to every child in the Netherlands. RIVM monitors and evaluates the quality of the National Immunisation Programme, tracks how many people contract these twelve infectious diseases despite national immunisation, and determines how many people are participating in the programme (‘vaccination coverage’).
RIVM coordinates eight population screenings that are intended to identify – or better yet prevent – a number of diseases at an early stage. Medical exams of people who are not yet showing any physical symptoms allow us to identify cancer and other health problems at an earlier stage. Early detection makes it possible to start treatment sooner, so fewer people will die from these diseases. Many different organisations work together to implement these screening programmes.
nature and the living environment
The living environment, or the environment in which people live, work and play, has a major impact on their health and safety. When we refer to the ‘environment’, we are really referring to two things: on the one hand, our own surroundings, the environment of our own making, where we live – but we also use the word ‘environment’ to mean the natural world, with a full appreciation for the independent value of nature, independent of human use, as well as ecosystems and biodiversity.
One of the policy priorities in the government’s National Action Plan for Environment and Health is ensuring a healthy design and structure for the physical living environment. A number of different organisations and individuals are working to address this policy priority in actual practice. RIVM has been tasked with compiling and providing access to knowledge and information, and developing instruments to support policy in this area.
RIVM monitors the quality of the physical living environment. RIVM uses a number of monitoring networks to collect data and track trends in the quality of water, soil and air. RIVM monitors radioactivity levels from radiological accidents, noise levels, air quality, and the chemical and biological quality of the soil, groundwater and surface water. As documented in the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register, RIVM monitors emissions and concentrations of substances in the air, water and soil, studies their impact on nature and human health, and generates knowledge on which government bodies can base their policies. For example, the measurement results are used to determine whether past policy has produced the desired effects.
A societal issue is a problem in society that meets the following criteria:
1. there is a social problem
2. there are differing opinions about the solution to the problem
3. it is a problem that must be resolved through collective action or by political decision-making
4. the issue is being covered by the media.
On the one hand, there are fundamental issues that have long-term implications: the major transitions, such as climate change, decentralisation, and the circular economy. On the other hand, issues frequently emerge in society that demand a rapid response from RIVM, such as: rubber granulate, e-cigarettes, GenX chemicals, HPV vaccination, the nitrogen problem, and side-effects from implants. Many societal issues are highly dynamic. In order to address emergent issues effectively, RIVM will need to be able to adapt and develop constantly. That ability will demand agility in the organisation, and flexibility and an external focus on the part of the employees. For that reason, we have to keep actively developing the expertise and knowledge base that we need to do our work.
In 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations agreed on and endorsed seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs Sustainable Development Goals (Sustainable Development Goals )) intended to eliminate poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. The United Nations is calling on everyone to do their part to achieve these goals: governments, the business community, and private individuals. RIVM is contributing to various goals by producing independent scientific research. Our activities contribute to developing knowledge and integrating that knowledge into public health, the environment, and safety.
RIVM also maintains that a circular economy goes much further than merely improving waste processing and recycling: it means smart, circular design and circular consumption. Innovative solutions will be needed, with completely new business models based on cradle-to-cradle design and closed loops in production processes, in tune with what the earth can support. RIVM has assembled a unique combination of expertise on sustainability, safety and health, all of which will be critical in the transition to a circular economy. Socio-economic knowledge and innovation theory are also strongly represented within RIVM, and this knowledge base is growing. This wide-ranging expertise will make it possible for RIVM to study and assess trends and innovations related to the circular economy in an integrated context, and to assist in their implementation. RIVM provides access to its knowledge base to companies and organisations eager to work towards the circular economy.
An effective approach relies on a solid understanding of all the factors underlying any given subject. This is why any effective approach starts with identifying the key aspects of the task and the transition period. Who are the stakeholders involved, what is the overall feeling about it in society, and what is the policy context?
Partnerships with private-sector parties open up opportunities to leverage knowledge more effectively in society for public purposes. Seeking and creating public-private partnerships (PPPs) is increasingly enshrined in government policy. The European Horizon 2020 programme, the government initiatives to encourage top sector innovation, and the Dutch National Research Agenda are just a few of the most recent and most prominent examples. RIVM is enhancing its connections with private partners by exploring every specific idea for public-private partnerships, seeking a balance between feasible solutions and compliance with laws and regulations.
Criteria for partnerships with the private sector
RIVM works with (not for!) private parties on topics that generate public value. These partnerships are subject to a number of strict criteria. The limiting conditions serve to ensure the independence of RIVM as a government knowledge institution:
- The content of the project must be in line with the mandate of RIVM
- Projects are carried out exclusively in consortia, and not for individual private partners
- RIVM must be free to choose how it executes the project
- Research results must be publishable in open academic publications
- Participation in any public-private partnership must always be approved at the executive level.
Developments in society at all levels (international, national, regional and local) raise increasingly complex issues related to public health, quality of life, the living environment and nature. New knowledge and the awareness of the right operational perspective in response to these and other issues will be needed in the years ahead. Everyone will need that knowledge: not only Dutch government authorities at all levels – from the national government and provincial executives to water boards, environmental management services, and municipal authorities – but also international authorities and NGOs such as the WHO, as well as the public at large. The underlying knowledge and operational perspectives need to be reliable and unwavering, so they can be propagated confidently and consistently in society.
In 2025, RIVM will be communicating:
- As a united RIVM, independent and, where called for, in cooperation with our partners
- With the right impact, and tailored to the target audience
- In innovative and impactful ways
- Based on communication strategies (goal -> audience/target group -> resource/channel.)
- Effectively (communication objectives are met)
- Proactively and responsibly, using contemporary communication strategies, channels and resources.
Information technology, biotechnology and data science
Scientific research at RIVM requires the use of advanced technologies, the right ICT systems, and the knowledge to analyse huge volumes of data. The quality of that knowledge is strongly dependent on the availability of good data, reliable data analysis and the required infrastructure.
New technologies and advancements
In the domains, health, safety and the environment, the research and data landscape is changing rapidly as new and better technologies and increasing amounts and types of data become available. On the one hand, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, next-generation sequencing, and lab-on-a-chip technology are generating tremendous amounts of data. On the other, the results of ‘big data’ analyses are leading to more and more data applications. In the academic world, we are increasingly seeing automated methods being used to generate data and analyse the results. More and more often, we are seeing links being made between in-vitro/in-vivo data and in-silico experiments, and between epidemiological data and geographic distribution data.
‘Big data’ processing
Where relevant, RIVM has access to these new technologies and data sources, designed and structured in such a way that it can handle the flood of data. Evolving with these trends will demand investments in technology and data processing and specialised knowledge of data processing techniques and methods for linking metadata.
complex systems science
Advancements in knowledge over recent decades have been driven by increasing specialisation. Paradoxically, many issues in society can only be solved not by specialisation, but by cooperation: climate change, the transition to a circular economy, health and healthcare, geriatric care and infectious diseases all demand an integrated approach that addresses multiple perspectives. This means transcending the boundaries of individual disciplines. That is why RIVM encourages its people to act across disciplines in their work for RIVM (multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary), both with their co-workers at RIVM and their colleagues outside RIVM.
Citizen science refers to scientific research in which citizens help define the research question, actively collect data, perform their own analyses, or make suggestions for next steps based on the conclusions.
Contributions from citizens
Scientists have come to realise that the local knowledge, creativity, extra computing power and data collection capacity of the general public can be an important resource in the advancement of knowledge and science. Since then, it has become commonplace for private individuals to be involved in scientific research. In some cases, citizens are involved throughout the entire research process: from formulating the research question to processing the results. The ability to collect larger quantities of data at a more detailed geographic scale is one of the biggest advantages of citizen science.
Better and more complete
Citizen science promotes creativity, offers a critical platform for science, and fosters national and international cooperation. Citizen science is vital to RIVM for maintaining a connection with society and engaging the public with our work, as well as for generating and collecting data. Citizen science offers opportunities for better, more complete knowledge, more data, and innovations in methodology. RIVM will use citizen science in its research where relevant and necessary.
Citizen science brings science and society closer together. We have seen how effective this can be in recent examples like the knowledge portal for collective air quality monitoring and Farmers and their neighbours. Originally a French initiative, this organisation facilitates direct sales between farmers and consumers, with branches in France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK, Switzerland and Italy. The English branch was called The Food Assembly, but was unfortunately discontinued in June 2019; the other branches remain active. RIVM endorses the ten principles of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).
The Dutch government is shifting from centralised to localised tasks and responsibilities, which has consequences for RIVM. Much of the knowledge and expertise developed by RIVM at the behest of the ministries is also relevant to local and regional issues. However, the knowledge needs may be different. We are seeing that it is also important to work closely with local authorities to develop the precise formulation of the research question and define the knowledge needed to answer it.
The islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, also referred to as the BES islands are public bodies of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. RIVM supports the BES islands within the framework of the Public Health Act, the BES Health and Safety Act and the International Health Regulations (IHR/WHO) in combating infectious diseases, environmental medicine and support after disasters and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents.
International cooperation is important for RIVM because many of the factors that affect health, safety and the environment and safety are not limited by national borders. Policy in these areas is increasingly being defined at the international level (EU, UN United Nations (United Nations )), and it is the policy at this level that is increasingly relevant to the programming and financing of research and innovation. Similarly, increasing globalisation and the growing complexity of societal challenges calls for scaling up, coordinating and delegating.
For all these reasons, we are constantly looking at ways to perform our tasks in an international framework, and by so doing to increase the quality of our work and expand our knowledge and expertise. The nature, content and themes of our national tasks define our direction internationally. We leverage the knowledge of others and, where our expertise is called for, we make ourselves part of the solution to problems on the global scale. What we learn in other countries, we use for our work here at home: nationally, regionally, and locally, and back again.
Forms of international collaboration
We make maximum use of various networks to exchange information, knowledge and personnel with our sister institutions, and partner with them on international projects. Wherever possible, we look for mutual benefits and self-financing, win-win situations.
International collaboration and coordination can take many forms. In some fields of expertise, the emphasis is on harmonisation of national laws and regulations. In other fields, we participate in international projects intended to increase and amass knowledge. In still others, we work to coordinate and harmonise national activities. This means participating in committees and expert groups, joining consortia carrying out joint projects, seeking bilateral cooperation, and representing the Netherlands in collective actions to coordinate European policy implementation. We are also a designated reference laboratory and, through the partnership programme between the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare & Sport and the World Health Organization, are hosting nine WHO Collaborating Centres.
Promoting international collaboration
Although the options may vary widely depending on the field of expertise, RIVM promotes international collaboration. To encourage participation in competitive European projects, we need to nurture our connections and make room for acquisition and co-financing. This also applies to our activities in close collaboration with our commissioning clients in the context of the UN and the WHO.
An operational perspective is essentially a set of guidelines for taking action. It gives the government, professionals and private citizens information about the options for taking action in a given situation. In all operational perspectives, we are seeing a shift towards an emphasis on personal responsibility. Whenever RIVM advises the government, professionals or private citizens, we always try to respond as effectively as possible to the issues that matter to them. We develop operational perspectives based on our knowledge and the best information available, thus facilitating carefully considered choices. For example, RIVM has developed operational perspectives on the use of antibiotics in healthcare institutions and in the treatment of food infections. The guidelines of the National Coordination Centre for Communicable Disease Control, toolkits, the online portal for healthy lifestyle advice at www.loketgezondleven.nl, the guidelines for Municipal Public Health Services (GGD), the leaflets about population screenings, and the campaign about tickborne diseases.
RIVM is an independent agency of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS). RIVM works on projects as commissioned by government bodies. Frequent commissioning parties for our projects include the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare & Sport (VWS), the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water (I&W), the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK), the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature & Food Quality (LNV), the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Affairs, and various national inspectorates.
In addition, RIVM works on behalf of various local, regional and national government bodies, including provincial and municipal authorities, water authorities, and professionals at local health services and public sector institutions (see also ‘local’). At the international level, RIVM works closely with international authorities, such as the European Commission and its agencies (ECDC, ECHA, EFSA, EEA, EMA), as well as various UN United Nations (United Nations ) organisations and the World Health Organization.
The people of RIVM are highly educated and expert in their fields. RIVM always aims to continue developing the expertise and professionalism of its people and organisation. In this context, our goals are:
- Connecting knowledge and expertise with societal issues. This means developing: connections, depth, urgency, engagement, flexibility.
- Working towards a more flexible organisation on two levels (methods and speed): Hot topics appear and then are gone or outdated within a day. As a result, conveying the right message, and making it last, involves organising the right knowledge and skills within a very short time frame. That demands a mindset of courage and willingness to adopt a broader perspective.
- Management expertise: Focusing leadership on ensuring that as many people as possible are developing and will be receptive to lifelong learning. Promoting diversity as a management goal in strategic HR planning and hiring policies.
- Developing and participating in new partnerships and new forms of work and collaboration (e.g. flexible, agile, multidisciplinary), both within RIVM and beyond.
- Knowing what knowledge and expertise will need to be sourced externally, since the scope of work at RIVM is too broad to have all the knowledge it needs in-house.
- Internalising and developing an attitude of ‘making mistakes is allowed’ and ‘mistakes should be shared’.
This means developing people and the organisation in the following direction:
- From solid expertise to expertise leadership: beyond the already well-developed ‘knowledge pool’, we are now focusing on developing the mindset, behaviour and skills of some or all of our employees in their interactions with others and their engagement with societal issues.
- Using a combination of knowledge/skills and a more flexible approach, we will be more pro-active and less reactive in response to developments.
- Taking advantage of new areas of expertise, such as data science/data analysis and social & communicative expertise, to help land our communications (achieving the desired impact). And: Finding the right way to say goodbye to several existing areas of expertise that are being rendered obsolete by technological advances, automation and robotisation, and the changing needs of society.
Our position as a nationally and internationally respected knowledge institute can be attributed in no small part to the quality of our work and the passion and commitment of our staff members. This makes it essential for our researchers to conduct themselves in a manner befitting scientists of impeccable integrity. For instance, they are expected to be meticulous, reliable, verifiable, impartial, and independent in the course of their work.
Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice
What scientific integrity means is described in specific terms in the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice (developed by KNAW, VSNU and other research sector partners). This code describes the principles of sound, objective scientific research. The code sets the standards for well-founded scientific practice. RIVM endorses the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice, which is the basis for the scientific integrity policy at RIVM.
Complaints Procedure for Scientific Integrity
A further resource is the 'Complaints Procedure and Confidential Advisor on Scientific Integrity'. Together, these provide a framework for handling suspected violations of scientific integrity. The Confidential Advisor on Scientific Integrity plays a key role in this context. The confidential advisor addresses indications of potential integrity violations in scientific practice at RIVM.
Code of conduct to prevent undue influence as a result of conflicts of interest
A critical part of RIVM’s role as a trusted advisor is the confidence that research at RIVM is conducted independently. This independence is enshrined in law, in the RIVM Act (Wet op het RIVM in Dutch). Alongside the statutory rules to ensure scientific independence, RIVM also enforces KNAW’s more specific Code of conduct to prevent undue influence as a result of conflicts of interest. This code was drafted by KNAW and a number of other academic organisations to facilitate a transparent process for producing scientific advisory reports and adherence to clinical guidelines. The RIVM declaration of interests, which is based on KNAW’s model declaration of interests form, ensures that experts who take part in scientific advisory committees provide transparency about their affiliations and interests.
An important aspect related to scientific integrity is preventing conflicts of interest or the appearance thereof. To avoid such issues, RIVM has therefore been publishing the additional positions and relevant personal interests of key staff members via the website. This public disclosure follows the practice of other organisations where scientific integrity plays a crucial role, and has been approved by the Scientific Advisory Board, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, and the Works Council. The key positions relevant here are the Director-General of RIVM, directors, heads of RIVM centres, Chief Science Officers, professors, and top-ranking experts.
agility and flexibility
RIVM’s portfolio of commissions is becoming increasingly dynamic. Throughout the year, RIVM is tasked with new and urgent projects that demand immediate attention, such as rubber granulate, the e-cigarette, GenX chemicals and the nitrogen problem. Similarly, we increasingly see that commissioned projects may change focus during execution, influenced by politics or changes in policy insights. To be able to cope with the workload that these changes bring, the organisation needs to be agile and adaptable. Moreover, our people need to be flexible, and able to handle unconventional styles of planning and management. This is vital, since these assignments are often urgent, with extremely short turnaround times. This is why RIVM is working towards a more agile organisation: a trusted advisor that is prepared to respond to new opportunities, developments and threats at local, regional, national and international levels.
Working towards agility
Working on a project that involves adjacent topics or different topics helps employees build a broader profile and expand their expertise. Employees working on other projects may also be temporarily assigned additional responsibilities to allow them to gain experience that can serve them in their next position. This promotes individual flexibility. Closer collaboration with other knowledge institutes may also be a useful approach, and the various interim pools within RIVM and other government agencies can offer a valuable resource.
By working more and more across departments, centres and domains, we also discover and build on more synergies and cross-pollination. This approach gives project leaders a broader selection of experts to draw on.
diversity in our workforce
RIVM endorses a broad definition of diversity: in short, all aspects that make employees different from each other. These can be visible aspects, like sex, age, and ethnicity, or less apparent aspects like hopes, needs, resilience, illness, disability, competencies, working styles, sexual orientation and character traits. Every working person has an individual, unique combination of such characteristics. Some of these characteristics have a direct impact on how people handle their work: they determine how a person learns, what they need to stay healthy, and what motivates them.
Diversity in teams
Teams composed of diverse employees have been shown to function better than teams that are homogeneous in composition. More diverse teams are therefore also expected to be more innovative and more creative. This makes sense, because diverse teams incorporate more perspectives from society, which means their products and services will better suit the needs of a diverse society. Besides this advantage, an employer that can rely on diverse teams will have a more visible profile and a growing support base across all demographics. This is why RIVM endorses the cabinet’s policy of increasing the diversity of its workforce.
RIVM sees its new accommodations at Utrecht Science Park (de Uithof) as an opportunity to move towards achieving its ambitions in knowledge development, network-building and information transfer even more effectively.
Thanks to its proximity to knowledge institutes such as Utrecht University, the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, the University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMCU) and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the new location at de Uithof will promote deeper connections and new synergies. We are confident that this site will grow to become the leading science park in the fields of public health and the environment.
Sustainability and encounters
In our new building, the focus is on people, sustainability and the environment. The new accommodations prioritise an optimal physical working climate a and healthy working environment. RIVM’s ambition for the new facility is to create a ‘meeting place that serves people, the environment, and safety.’ The new building invites citizens, professionals and government authorities to come together and exchange ideas about human health and a sustainable, safe and healthy living environment.