The Citizen Engagement Example of Utrecht
Interview to the recently nominated Ambassador City of Utrecht
Further to the selection of the first Ambassador Cities in June 2017, when Utrecht was appointed together with Leeds and Glasgow, the Action Cluster Citizen Focus conducted an interview with Pieter in ’t Hout (Strategist digital innovation) and Haye Folkertsma (IRIS Project coordinator) representatives from the city of Utrecht, to get insights on the city’s achievements as well as to gather civic engagement practices to be shared across our network.
You can read the full interview reported below.
Could you provide us with a practical example of citizen engagement in your city?
During the drafting of the new poverty policy in Utrecht, two years ago, people in poverty and social workers were interviewed. It became clear that the system to help people in poverty is often counterproductive:
- It takes an average of 6 to 8 weeks before residents receive a benefit or allowance
- There are various benefits and allowances with various benefit agencies, in which residents get lost
- Life events (relocations, cohabitation, fluctuations in income) are often not or not passed on in time, resulting in set-offs
- These people often do not have a financial buffer, which creates debts
- There is a taboo on debts whereby people only report to the municipality when the debt has risen to an average of 42,000 – then the government costs €100,000 to get rid of these debts
- To help these people from the municipality with budget management and debt relief are very expensive and scarce, making the supply scarcer than the demand.
That is why a pilot with blockchain technology has been started in Utrecht with the aim to help residents with a financial assistance request faster and better in their monthly financial planning process. After permission from the Resident, the Municipality receives the benefits and allowances from public and private organizations on a municipal account and guarantees that the monthly fixed charges for Rent, Energy, Health Insurance and Water can be collected by public parties. Leftovers, at the end of the month, are paid to the resident as living allowance. Even if there is too little income. This is already being tested with 5 residents. We want to do this in a fully automated manner, so that the scarcity of assistance is becoming more abundant and exponentially more people in poverty can be helped.
At a later stage, we want to add life events to the blockchain, making it possible to immediately recalculate the benefits and benefits without delay In fact, we are building a platform in the blockchain that will make calculations between institutions to provide and collect the benefits and surcharges and the resident.
As recently awarded lighthouse city within the SCC01 project ‘IRIS’, could you tell us the role that citizen engagement will play in the project and, in the specific case of your city? How do citizen engagement approaches vary across the other lighthouse cities in the project (Gothenburg, Nice)?
Citizen engagement is primordial to the project: Utrecht wants to be a socially inclusive city, with citizens in the driver’s seat. Only by means of co-creation with citizens, inclusive, user-driven city infrastructures and services can be achieved.
Besides the residents, the residential area involved in Iris is the main target group because the housing blocks owned by housing corporation Bo-ex form the demonstration area. These buildings need to be renovated. Success of the project depends highly on the way the joined partner organisations are able to satisfy the needs and demands of the target groups. Citizens’ involvement and/or financial benefits for the habitants are crucial success factors. If the project succeed, this triggers a ‘MeToo’-effect (from other citizens in similar housings in consideration). If the first project (the renewal of one apartment building) fails, the next blocks are going to be tough!
Communication plays a central role in informing and engaging citizens in the demonstration area and informing residents of the development of smart services for these and in future other citizens. What also binds our three Lighthouse cities, namely Utrecht, Nice and Gothenburg, is that we all understand very well that an integrated solution is not integrated if the issues around citizen engagement and citizens’ empowerment are not fully embedded within implementation and evaluation cycles. The three cities all have solid experience and high ambitions regarding community participation empowerment for the development of sustainable business models. They will demonstrate different ways to involve communities in collaborating, co-creating and co-developing solutions, spanning from increasing communication to creating initiatives bonding smart city actors together – at the level of individual, home, demonstration district, and city as whole.
Design and demonstration of feedback mechanisms and inclusive services for citizens to achieve that they are intrinsically motivated to (i) save energy, (ii) shift their energy consumption to periods with redundant renewables, (iii) use electric vehicles and (iv) change the vehicle ownership culture towards a use or common mobility assets culture. Demonstrated solutions include game-theory based engagement methods and instruments ranging from co-creating infotainment apps, local school campaigns, offering training on the job to students living in the district by partaking in the demo activities, competitive energy games using the home energy management system, energy ambassadors creating local energy communities, to crowd-funding creating a sense of being part of the solution.
As EIP-SCC Marketplace Ambassador City, what is your message to other European cities aiming at reinforcing citizen engagement?
Citizen engagement is the key to creating successful solutions in your city. Actively engage citizens from the start of initiatives. All cities are of course unique, but smart city’s work together exchange insights and replicate, where possible.
While thanking Utrecht for sharing its experience and knowledge with the EIP-SCC Marketplace, the Action Cluster would also remind that he ‘Ambassador Cities’ initiative was recently relaunched. The purpose is to harvest and share good practices in citizen engagement by selecting additional cities amongst the most advanced ones in relation to the six areas of intervention urged by the Manifesto on Citizen Engagement. To this end, an online survey was launched on 27 November that will remain open until February 2018. Results of the survey will support the identification of additional Ambassadors.
For additional questions, contact us at [email protected]