An inspiring concept example of a graduation project, Delft University of Technology.

The Dutch Open4Citizens pilot focuses on public parks in Rotterdam being self-managed by citizen communities. In doing so, these communities face all types of challenges, that could potentially be addressed using open data. One such possibility could be through proving and documenting their added-value to the municipality. This is a post describing my graduation project at Delft University of Technology. I’ve worked closely with the Dutch Open4Citizens team while researching the park communities around Delfshaven, a district of Rotterdam known for their active citizens and its experimentation with democratic innovation.

A map that shows the locations of the parks, together creating a green ribbon throughout Delfshaven

I took part in the hackathon process during the Autumn of 2016 and learnt there about the similarity of issues these citizen communities are dealing with. The hackathon provided me with first input on what the park communities need and how open data could be of help. Based on this research I designed a platform that supports them in taking care of the parks. This is the story of the concept I have developed!

Defining a problem to work on: Increasing the outreach of the park community

One important requirement for citizen communities to show their value, is by increasing their outreach and having more citizens participate in the park activities. Currently, the park community tries to attract new citizens using social media to promote their activities. The promotion is often focused on activities that have to do with gardening, while my research shows that citizens who visit the park are more interested in sports, social activities or simply being outside enjoying the park. The designed platform therefore aims to create connections between park visitors and a park activity of their interest, and between park visitors that share mutual interests or skills.

Citizen communities are taking care of the park in their neighbourhood

Park Makers: Find matches and start projects

Park Makers is a digital platform that on the one hand matches citizens based on their personal interest, and on the other hand matches park activities to the personal interest of citizens.

The platform offers matching on two levels: activity-based matching (citizen to activity) and interest-based matching (citizen to citizen)

The matching function allows park users to connect with other citizens. By creating a profile, citizens can match with other citizens based on their skills and personal interests. Based on the profile information of the park user, the platform suggests profiles of other citizens that have similar interests and skills. Using the activity wall, citizens can match activities that they like. On this wall, the platform shows upcoming activities in the park, see Figure 4. These activities can be organised by the park coordinators, but also by one of the park users. The activities are sorted based on the personal interests of the citizen, so that (s)he will see activities that match their own interest first. Besides viewing activities, citizens can also propose their own activity using the platform and see if they have enough matches to get the activity going.

Based on the profile information, the platform suggests profiles of other citizens to match
The platform shows upcoming park activities that match the interest of the citizen

Extract park user data from the platform

The profiles of park users can be used to get insight in the demographic characteristics and personal interests of citizens living around the parks. Furthermore, tracking the behaviour of these profiles shows which activities are the most popular to specific types of citizen groups.

The data that potentially could be collected from Park Makers may be of high value to the park community for two reasons. First, it provides the community a better understanding of citizens in the park. The activities and ways to attract citizens can be better fit to the demand of the park users. Second, the data strengthens the position of the park. One challenge the park community faces is to prove its right to exist towards the municipality. Data that illustrates how the park stimulates citizens to become active and contribute to the community is a tangible way of showing the added value of a public park in the neighbourhood.

Exploring the potential of data collection from Park Makers needs to be addressed when developing the platform further. One aspect to beware is how tracking and using data is experienced by the platform users. The open nature and flat structure of the park community should not be harmed by this feature of the platform.

The work in Rotterdam has not stopped, and a new hackathon is on its way! Working together with the Green Connection, WIJ Delfshaven and the Municipality of Rotterdam, we are pursuing our hackathon Park + Zorg, between 8 and 9 December 2017. The challenges will focus on innovating the bottom-up parks and care facilities ran by active citizens. For more information and registration, follow the link or the Facebook event!