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Hayo Wagenaar, Wiebe Cnossen, Wina Smeenk, and Carolien Hermans

How would you feel?

Imagine: You come home from grocery shopping to an unfamiliar kitchen and search for the refrigerator. First, you open the wrong door, but after opening another two, you find the right one. The fridge is fully packed with grapes and milk. You open your bag and start to put the groceries in. That’s strange: did you buy grapes and milk again? Mmmm … Let’s sit down. Suddenly, your daughter comes in; she walks to the fridge while asking if you would like to have a drink. As she opens the fridge, she says: ‘Oh no, did you buy grapes and milk again?’ How would you feel?

The above anecdote is just one example of the confusing situations that people living with dementia experience every day. They find themselves in social situations where others point out what they have done wrong. They are confronted with memory loss and may not recall their purchases every time they open the refrigerator. They can also become disorientated in space and, for instance, be unable to find their own refrigerator. Being constantly confronted with these limitations can make them insecure, annoyed and frustrated. Moreover, (in)formal caretakers may also be annoyed due to misunderstandings.

This discussion brings together Wiebe Cnossen, Into D’mentia and Hayo Wagenaar, IJsfontein, with Wina Smeenk, Professor Societal Impact Design Inholland, and Carolien Hermans, onderzoeker Societal Impact Design. They reflect on and discover how the coalition came into existence and worked together on this 12-year project—evolving from a container to a VR experience—and how systemic co-design (elements) played a role in this collaboration.

VR experience designs and their immersive content can help to make caregivers understand and empathise with people with dementia and improve quality of life and work for the whole system. In imagining and conceiving the immersive VR as an integrated part of Into D’mentia onboarding, experience and environment, and offboarding, it was vital that all stakeholders of the system (care institutions, government, business, knowledge institutions and creative industries) worked together to develop an authentic VR experience and training that stimulates this behavioural change. The coalition of the Into D’mentia development has proven to do this in an inspiring and viable way.

The session will cover how this coalition came to life and evolved and what systemic and co-design elements were involved. While we identify success factors and mistakes, and unanticipated failures, the larger discussion holds space for three critical questions for all to consider and share thoughts, insights, inspiration, and stories:

  • How to tackle societal challenges, specifically Dementia?
  • How to work in quadruple helix coalitions supported by design and delivering design outcomes?
  • What elements of systemic co-design can be identified in this case?

About Into D’mentia

Into D’mentia develops training courses based on the conviction that a better understanding of the syndrome of dementia directly improves and deepens the relationship between the carer and the person with dementia.

The simulation training takes you into the world of a person with dementia: if you experience for yourself what it is like to live with dementia, you understand it better, you show more understanding, you experience the care as less stressful… and you can provide better care.

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Panel: Hayo Wagenaar, Wina Smeenk, Wiebe Cnossen, and Carolien Hermans


Hayo Wagenaar

Hayo Wagenaar is co-founder and creative director of IJsfontein Interactive Media, an Amsterdam-based interactive design company founded in 1996. IJsfontein projects have objectives ranging from awareness creation and training to educational entertainment, always with a focus on playful learning. It can be a serious game, a training tool for employees, interactive exhibits and apps for museums or a cross-platform digital method for primary education. Platform and technical solutions derived from the desired experience. Products include mobile apps, browser-based tools, VR or even physical installations. The core of the project is always the experience of the user.

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Wiebe Cnossen

Wiebe Cnossen is a member of the Into D’mentia Foundation board. He is an entrepreneur and strategic advisor with extensive governance experience leading social change and innovation, including the organisation of European Social Innovation Week Tilburg and self-reliance and neighbourhoods strategy, quality and innovation with ContourdeTwern. His interests include health and well-being, social entrepreneurship, open innovation, smart society and digital transition, and systems thinking.

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Wina Smeenk

Since 2021, Wina Smeenk has been a Professor in Societal Impact Design at Inholland University of Applied Sciences. She is also a co-founder and chair of the Expertisenetwork Systemic Co-design (ESC)—a network of five universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands. Next, Wina is the lab lead for the Inholland Urban Leisure and Tourism Lab in Amsterdam. In 2010 Wina launched her own empathic co-design agency, “Wiens Ontwerperschap” (a play on words with her name in Dutch that roughly translates to “Whose Designership”). She graduated from Delft University of Technology, where she studied Industrial Design, after which she spent over 25 years working as a strategist, co-designer and researcher for a variety of international businesses, government and non-profit organisations in many different product and service sectors. Moreover, she helped to develop innovative design-oriented education. These include universities of applied sciences such as Inholland, the HAN and the HvA, as well as the VU, THNK, the Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership and the Faculty of Industrial Design at Eindhoven University of Technology. In 2019, she defended her PhD thesis ‘Navigating Empathy, empathic formation in co-design processes’. Wina has written several academic articles, and she co-authored the book ‘Design, Play, Change, a Playful Introduction to Design Thinking’, which was published by BIS in 2022.

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Carolien Hermans

Carolien Hermans holds a master’s degree in dance and choreography. Additionally, she graduated with honours from the Department of Orthopedagogy at Radboud University in Nijmegen. She obtained her PhD in 2023 from ACPA (Academy of Creative Performing Arts), Leiden University. Her doctoral research focused on exploring the relationship between creative processes and embodied sense-making from an enactive point-of-view. Starting from September 2023, Carolien is now affiliated as a senior researcher with the lectorate Societal Impact Design at Inholland University of Applied Sciences. Her primary interest lies in understanding how design and creativity can contribute to positive changes in society, encompassing social, ecological, and economic values. Her research pursuits revolve around the convergence of social innovation and creative processes. Besides her work at Inholland University, Carolien also is a senior researcher and lecturer at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, which is part of the Amsterdam University of the Arts.

Presentation dates


Expertisenetwerk Systemisch Co-design




Citation Data

Author(s): Hayo Wagenaar, Wiebe Cnossen, Wina Smeenk, and Caroline Hermans
Year: 2023
Title: VR, Immersive Content and Empathy in Dementia Challenges
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Amsterdam, NLD | ONLINE
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 13 July 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404