Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week we look back with project leader Linda Vlassenrood. Read all the articles here.

In Eindhoven, technology seems to be the answer to everything, according to Linda Vlassenrood. But the questions that people face are not always clear. On behalf of the municipality of Eindhoven, she, therefore, went looking for questions instead of answers.

At the end of 2015, Vlassenrood started her search on behalf of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. The first year this was done with the name De Staat van Eindhoven, later her project became more specific, and the name changed to De Datastudio. Commissioned by Mary-Ann Schreurs, wethouder in Eindhoven, she went into the city neighbourhoods with one central question: how do we link data to the reality of the street?

“We saw two developments in the city”, explains Vlassenrood as her assignment is coming to an end. “On the one hand, Eindhoven wanted to be a Smart City, just what the whole world wants to be. On the other hand, the city would want to operate more as a participatory society. A necessity throughout the Netherlands.”

According to Vlassenrood, bringing these two developments together creates something new: the Smart Society. A society with smart solutions to real problems in society. “Problems raised by citizens themselves. A participatory society implies that people have to work for it by themselves, while the ambition to be a Smart City is clearly a top-down decision”, she says.

Those who are not in contact with citizens do not know what the problems and questions are. So Vlassenrood and her team went to the Henri Dunant Park in Woensel. A typical Eindhoven park where youngsters hang out, elderly people walk and dogs are abundant.

“It is a very widely used park”, says Vlassenrood. “For us it was the ideal place to find out what is really happening among Eindhoven residents.” For over a week Vlassenrood and her team were doing research in the park. “We asked a simple question: what is it like to live here?” The stories that Vlassenrood and her team collected can be read back on the website of De Datastudio.

After retrieving the stories, Vlassenrood searched for a common ground. What were the recurring themes and what data are known about them? The main themes were loneliness, fear, and expectations citizens have of their government. Three subjects for which there are no data at all. She calls them data deserts.

“For example, there was a man who himself had once fled to the Netherlands, who thought that his neighbourhood was housing too many refugees”, says Vlassenrood. “His fear of change creates a huge gap between newcomers and those already living in the neighbourhood. This is a tricky theme that the municipality has no control over. In fact, the municipality is probably unaware of this.”

Returning from the Henri Dunantpark, Vlassenrood learned an important lesson: “Hard data must always be enriched with soft information, with the personal story.” She learned even more: “You should always start with the question, not with a solution”. This question must be determined by the municipality itself, which must actively question its citizens.

Identifying this question is not easy, Vlassenrood realizes as well. “We have organized various lectures, workshops, and other activities”, she says. Sometimes there were 20 people, sometimes it was 80. They did not reach the general public.

But Vlassenrood believes in the oil slick. The first steps have been taken, the first citizens are enthusiastic about the Smart Society. Now the municipality has to get on with it and focus even more on the question. “Because technology is not the answer to everything.”

Photo: Linda Vlassenrood during the research of DataStudio in Woensel. Photo (c) Het Nieuwe Instituut

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