Sciensano – The integration of two scientific institutions into “one health platform”

In 2018, the official merger of two scientific institutions took place: the Scientific Institute for Public Health (WIV-ISP) and the Veterinary and Agrochemical Research Centre (CODA-CERVA). As the activities of the two institutions complemented each other, the merger was a perfect fit for a contemporary ‘One Health’ approach, in which health issues are approached from multiple perspectives. As part of their merger, the two institutes called on BrainTower’s expertise to assist in the development a new vision, mission and strategy. We also offered guidance during the process of deciding on a new name.

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the organisation resulting from this merger has become embedded in the public consciousness as Sciensano.

A structured approach to overcome complexity

The integration of multiple organisations always presents certain challenges. Their scale and culture may be different, and the expectations of what the integration should look like might be different within each organisation. On top of that, there are the inevitable changes in working environments, employment conditions, teams, internal communication and procedures.

Of course, there will also be major areas of overlap that form a solid base for building credible synergies. To make the most of these synergies, it is important to think long and hard about the vision, mission and strategy of the new organisation. To do exactly that, BrainTower put together a specialist and experienced project team, which took a structured approach during this project.

BrainTower’s approach in developing a new mission and vision helped overcome opposite viewpoints by gradually stimulating advanced insights. 

Johan Peeters, General Director WIV-ISP

Brand key model as a basis for integration

The team organised kick-off and intake discussions to ensure the expectations of all parties were clearly aligned.

WIV-ISP had previously relied on BrainTower’s services to develop a communication strategy. As part of that assignment, we performed a comprehensive analysis based on the ‘brand key model’. We repeated this analysis for CODA-CERVA to arrive at an as-is analysis of both organisations. This new analysis shed light on all differences, synergies, strengths, weaknesses, and above all, opportunities. Interviews, surveys and desk research were all used as input for this exercise.

Brand key model

The brand key model is used as a structured way to determine the positioning of a brand. The model consists of eight elements that all contribute to a distinctive and relevant positioning of the brand in question. First of all, the brand’s competitors are analysed. This goes beyond direct competitors, as competition can often come from unexpected angles. Next, we define the target audience of the brand in terms of demographics, behaviour and values. In the third step, the relevant insights into this target audience are described. Following that step, we proceed to the internal elements of the brand. We describe the advantages of the brand and the values and personality that are associated with it. Credibility and distinctive strengths are two other elements that cannot be overlooked. We make the connection between what consumers are expecting and why our brand meets these expectations in a credible manner. As part of this, we indicate how the brand does so in a way that sets it apart from its competitors. Finally, we arrive at the brand essence by bringing together these last four elements.

Together with the vision of the board and several major stakeholders, these two brand keys formed the basis for a single, integrated brand key. We then proceeded to fine-tune this brand key in workshops involving all stakeholders.

As a final step, BrainTower translated these findings into a joint mission, vision and strategy for the new institute that all of its various elements could get behind. The slogan “Healthy all life long” was one of the essential tenets in this exercise. After all, the one thing that all elements of the new organisation agreed on is that every activity, however different, had to contribute toward the best possible health for people and animals at all stages of life. At a later stage, workshops were organised to translate the new mission, vision and strategy into departmental objectives.


The next challenge came in deciding a new name for the institute. The existing names — WIV and CODA in Dutch, and ISP and CERVA in French — were hampered by several major limitations. First of all, the abbreviations offered no clue as the what the organisations actually did. On top of that, the names were different in Dutch and French, which didn’t exactly aid clear communication and familiarity. The same applied at a European and international level, which posed a major handicap for a scientific institution. As a result, the name of the new institute had to be the same across the world, put across a clear message and align with the vision and mission defined during the earlier stages of the project. Name protection was another aspect that could not be ignored.

We soon realised that no one was better placed to define what the institutes were all about than their own employees. With that in mind, BrainTower decided to organise a crowdsourcing exercise involving the staff of the two institutes to find inspiration for a new name — and the outcome was a success!

The result is a name that clearly shows science and health are the core reasons why the institute exists.

A new name is a factor that can make or break a merger, so every last employee should feel like they can embrace it. Crowdsourcing proved to be the perfect tool in the process of accepting the new name.

Johan Peeters, General Director WIV-ISP

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