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In Zwolle, people and machines work together for social good

With the help of ArcGIS and a unique open data platform, the city is building upon a comprehensive ‘nervous system’ to overcome environmental and other future challenges. 

Zwolle

Type Zwolle on your search engine and you will know that it is a city and municipality in the northeastern Netherlands that also serves as the capital of Overijssel province. It has a rich history and breathtaking architecture, apart from many picturesque locations. However, what the search engine does not tell you in the first go is that Zwolle is one of the few cities that are building upon a comprehensive ‘nervous system’ in which people and machines work together towards common goals, including climate control.

Innovative ways

 Zwolle is following the philosophy of resolving social issues through close collaboration between authorities, companies, institutions and residents by sharing data, information knowledge and tools. At the core of this philosophy is the idea to collectively ‘see and act’. “We had a lot of problem with standing water. We knew that the climate is changing and we could have more rains and more water in future. We figured that things were continuously changing and thought we must understand the impact of this change,” says Marcel Broekhaar, Program Manager, Smart Society, Zwolle.

In an attempt to become a smart community and improve the overall quality of life, the city authorities wanted to utilize Big Data to effectively address important policy issues. ArcGIS offered a way to accomplish this as various departments were already using information through maps to accomplish everyday tasks. “The ArcGIS platform integrates information with other data. It is the link between all data and expertise,” says Broekhaar, who made a presentation about the innovative ways being adopted by the city authorities, at the Esri User Conference in July.

The city began the SensHagen experiment, which involved around 50 households in the neighborhood Stadshagen, authorities and knowledge partners (companies). After using professional sensors for a while, the resident of these houses placed self-built measurement stations in their gardens to daily monitor their home environment by recording and processing the temperature and humidity levels.

The data gathered from each household was combined with professional sensor data from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) on the Smart Zwolle Hub, which acts as a data, information, communication and knowledge platform for both laypersons and professionals. Apart from basic recordings, the data also included information about measures such as enhanced or reduced greenery. Once all the data was brought together, insights could be gained into how the climate is changing and what are the best ways of dealing with it.

Scripting more success stories

The city stakeholders are now planning to follow up SensHagen experiment’s success with Smart Zwolle Alliance in other social areas such as energy transition, livability of public spaces and the urban housing conundrum. The alliance is like starting a movement by using information technology and of course the Smart Zwolle Hub.  “Over the years, we have realized that the most important thing is to make people understand what are the challenges they are facing. We put in a lot of efforts to do that. Our initiatives are driven by two guiding principles: hand out the map and tailor-made solutions,” says Broekhaar.

Apart from information exchange and innovation, the alliance will enable authorities and institutions to better analyze the social problems and come up with focused policies and activities. It will also equip companies and organizations to develop new and effective products and services.

Zwolle

What distinguishes Smart Zwolle Hub from open data portals is the fact that it offers residents better acting perspective with reliable information both individually and collectively. Simply put, the platform goes beyond the stage of peer-to-peer (open) data sharing and moves towards jointly bringing together and using data in an innovative manner. “The idea behind the open data portal was to get people directly involved. We wanted the residents to put up a map and then ask a question or seek a solution,” adds Broekhaar.

Zwolle is developing from a ‘centripetal strategy’ that encourages partners to share data, information and applications (synergy, efficient and effectively) and develop products and services accordingly. The key behind the success of this model is experimentation, through which the stakeholders and partners can highlight how the movement will work in future. In 2016, the municipality of Zwolle was voted the ‘smartest city’ in the Netherlands. The efforts being put up by all stakeholders leave you wondering whether this is just the beginning of Zwolle’s accomplishments. 

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