How do I define the scope of the vision?

 A vision can be formulated at different system levels:

  • A high system level: a large region (Europe, the Netherlands or the province of Zeeland); a sector (water management, agriculture); or a societal function (mobility, food supply), for example.
  • A lower system level: a sub-region (a district in a city, for example); a sub-sector or a sub-function (greenhouse horticulture or care for the chronically ill); an organisational unit at the meso level (a production chain, for example); or a technological process (biomass; nuclear energy).
  • At the level of a specific experiment: a specific residential care complex; a new unit for back complaints in a particular hospital; a new housing system for hens, for example.

The definition of the system is crucial for:

  • the visualisation (what are we talking about?);
  • understanding the challenge to be addressed by the system innovation (what are we trying to do?)
  • the potential solution (what can we do)?

Meso level

Logically, the vision for an operational programme should be defined at meso level:

  • a sub-region or a district in a city;
  • a sub-sector or function in a region;
  • an organisational unit (a product chain, for example); or
  • a specific technological process (biomass; nuclear energy).

This is, because a vision formulated at a higher system level does not lead directly to an operational programme. These visions - also referred to here as the social agenda - are usually intended to make regime actors aware of the need for change. They have a long-term horizon (around 25-50 years) and serve as inspiration for and legitimation of operational programmes and projects that will be carried out on the way to achieving that longer-term vision. You then have to formulate separate visions for the operational programmes and the projects at the appropriate level.


Defining the system level for an operational programme is a gradual process. You will probably have to search for a definition, and in practice there are various routes that can be taken to arrive at a programme.

  • Top-down route: The energy transition programme is an example where the top-down route was followed. The government started the process by producing an outline vision for a sustainable energy supply for the whole of the Netherlands (to legitimise the process). Only then were transition paths defined with visions for operational programmes.
  • Bottom-up route: There are also examples of visions for operational programmes that started with experiments. The vision for Kas als energiebron (The greenhouse as a source of energy), a sub-programme of the energy transition programme, also started with ideas for an experiment.
  • Direct formulation of vision at meso level: Finally, there are also programmes where the visions were formulated directly at an appropriate meso level. Examples include the vision formulated for Houden van hennen ('Keeping and loving hens') research programme and the vision for long-term care.

Existing initiatives

Your operational programme will benefit if you take into account any other initiatives in system innovation that you encounter in defining the scope of your vision

Interaction between levels

If you are working simultaneously or successively with visions at different levels, it is important to ensure that those working at different levels are on the same wavelength. Facilitate the exchange of information by allowing some of those involved to operate at different levels. If necessary, organise meetings to discuss any contradictions between the visions at the different levels.