Utrecht University to study social safety in Dutch House of Representatives

Tweede Kamer gebouwen bij avond
photo: istock.com / GAPS

Researchers of Utrecht University are going to study social safety in the Dutch House of Representatives. Commissioned by the Speaker and the Registrar of the Dutch House of Representatives, a team led by governance expert Leonie Heres will examine the working climate in the heart of our democracy. All inhabitants of the House - MPs, party staff and civil servants - are invited to participate in this study. For the research project, there will of course be substantial attention for the participants' privacy. The study is expected to be completed in late February 2023.

The Speaker of the Dutch House of Representatives committed to a study of social safety in the Dutch House of Representatives in June 2021, partly because of signals from Confidential Counsellors and the Staff Welfare Service. In April, the assignment was granted to USG Consultancy, a research and consultancy bureau in the field of public administration and organisation science, tied to the Utrecht University School of Governance.

This marks the first time a specific research project on the topic of social safety is conducted among all ‘inhabitants’ of the House (MPs, party staff and civil servants at the House). Former inhabitants who left up to five years ago, can also apply for the research project.

The results will be used to make recommendations that can help to improve social safety in the Dutch House of Representatives. In order to gain a good insight in how social safety is experienced, the researchers call on people from all departments of the Dutch House of Representatives, from messengers and clerks to MPs and staff of political parties to participate in the research.

Because of privacy, the report will not document any information that can be traced to individual persons, groups of representatives or civil service departments. The study is expected to be completed in late February 2023.

Research goals

In a socially safe work environment, people are, and feel free to do their work, be themselves and share their thoughts, without having to be afraid of inappropriate behaviour from others. A socially unsafe environment can be induced by (sexual) harassment, name calling, physical violence or threats. But also discrimination, exclusion, condescending remarks or other forms of inappropriate behaviour can create a socially unsafe environment.

The research project has the following goals:

  • Charting the social (un)safety that inhabitants of the House experience and which behaviour is causing that. The research is not intended to find out the truth in specific incidents. Instead, it looks at broader patterns of behaviour that increase or decrease the social safety in the House organisation.
  • Gaining insight into how inhabitants of the House formally and informally deal with signals and reports of socially unsafe behaviour.
  • Investigating which factors contribute to socially safe and unsafe behaviour in the Dutch House of Representatives.
  • Making recommendations for a sustainable and systematic improvement of social safety in the Dutch House of Representatives.


Research Set-up

The research consists of interviews, an online questionnaire and document analysis. In the interviews and questionnaire, participants can share their experiences on social (un)safety in the Dutch House of Representatives with the researchers in a confidential and accessible way. Besides that, the team will study documentation relating to social safety, such as work-experience reports, social annual reports and codes of conduct.

Considerable attention for privacy

Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the researchers put high value on the meticulous securing of privacy, data security, and the right balance between confidentiality and transparency on the research. For this research, the academics have collaborated with the privacy officers of Utrecht University and the Dutch House of Representatives to carry out a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), and a Data Management Plan (DMP) has been drafted in order to ensure that the requirements, preconditions and guarantees on confidentiality, information security and data storage have been properly arranged and documented. The Ethical Review Committee of the Utrecht University Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance has reviewed the research set-up, and approved it.

In order to guarantee the privacy of the people involved, extensive measures have been taken. These measures have been summarised in an information letter that is sent to the inhabitants of the House who are invited to the research project and explained more elaborately in a privacy statement that is available online (in Dutch). In the privacy statement, the matters elaborated on, include how the researchers will report on the findings, how the research relates to the law on transparent government (Wet Openbare Overheid (WOO)), how and where data is stored and for what amount of time it will be stored. The privacy statement also indicates where (prospective) participants can ask questions about the research, the handling of data and privacy.

About the research team

The study is carried out by an interdisciplinary team of academics led by Prof. Leonie Heres. The core team is made up of researchers from governance, organisational sciences (HRM), social psychology, behavioural sciences, gender studies and anthropology. They have specific expertise in social safety, integrity and violations of integrity, inappropriate forms of conduct, but also in more general matters such as HR, policy, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and organisational-cultural and structural issues, especially in the public and political domains. The researchers are supported internally within Utrecht University by experts in the field of governance and integrity, reporting and whistleblowing.

The research team is committed to the Dutch code of conduct for academic integrity, which secures their independent position as well as the meticulousness, confidentiality and transparency of the research.

Would you like to know more?

Would you like to know more about this research project? Please contact the research team via socialeveiligheid@uu.nl.