You want engagement? Get involved!

Written by Manon den Dunnen Smart City programs in general aim for a sustainable and livable city and do so by stimulating innovation and collaboration between governance, business, and knowledge institutes. For me this means changing people’s behavior for the long run. But to realize that, citizens have to get...

Written by Manon den Dunnen

Smart City programs in general aim for a sustainable and livable city and do so by stimulating innovation and collaboration between governance, business, and knowledge institutes.
For me this means changing people’s behavior for the long run. But to realize that, citizens have to get involved. Initially it might seem easy to mobilize them, especially in the area of sustainability there are a lot of people motivated to engage. But these are not the people Smart City Programs should be focusing on. It is the other; let’s say 80% that has to get involved to make a real change, people not conscious about, or interested in items like sustainability.
And that is my main question, how to get enough citizens to care enough so they will change their behavior. The numbers need to get to the tipping point…

As explained in my previous blog, social media mostly reaches the 20% already engaged. And big projects, like the smart grid, provide necessary infrastructure but don’t necessarily change behavior. It’s like the smart energy meter. The EU ruled that we should have one, but getting people to use it, is a completely different thing.

Experience has shown that people won’t change behavior because you tell them so. In marketing they’ve known this for a long time, so they invented strategies appealing to people’s emotions to get them to do or buy something.
For a change in the long term we need to know what really triggers people and how sustainability helps realizing mutual goals. That means getting involved ourselves.

To sharpen my thoughts and get inspiration I looked into the Amsterdam Smart City project in Nieuw-West, “ Mooi, Slim, Duurzaam Wildeman”. Here project staff has been made available, without strict goals and agenda’s, in order to ensure connection with the neighborhood. To do so, they chose a close cooperation with an existing community. Building from a solid base, provided by the existing community, they have the time to get to know the neighbors, their daily problems and what drives them.

The beauty of the project in Nieuw-West is that they give the inhabitants their vital and central role. And because of the absence of a strict agenda, they can follow through on well known principles as “not everybody is the same”. With some people it works to have meetings and workshops. Here the project provides a platform to get to know each other and a network that can help them realize their ideas for the neighborhood.

But for most people an extra motivation is needed to get together. A best practice from the staff in Nieuw-West is the women they meet every Wednesday to bake bread. The baking provides for familiar surroundings where a conversation about health and livability naturally arises.
This is the way the program is really going to make a difference, realizing lasting change. Change with effects far greater than just sustainability. Issues like safety and livability are addressed in a way that not only encourages people to take matters into their own hands but also provides them with means and connections.

The challenge is to get back from the very small local change to a big smart city. Lasting change requires an effort that goes beyond a campaign, social media or workshops. The inhabitants of Amsterdam take in a central role in the Smart City projects, their involvement is essential. We have to realize that it means first getting involved ourselves. It’s good to see Amsterdam Smart City is doing just that, but the program is not everlasting. So hopefully this initiative leads to best practices, that can be transferred to other communities in such a way that the people already involved there, can take over and spread the change!


About Manon den Dunnen

Manon specializes on the digital transformation of society. She is fascinated by the way digitazion facilitates new concepts like the sharing economy, a more efficient use of resources, transparency and local online communities. But above all she is a citizen of Amsterdam which she experiences as a smart city full of inspiration, innovation and initiative! For the Amsterdam Smart City Event she writes a series of 4 blogs sharing her findings.

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