Project OpenBorough, Digital technology guides citizenship, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Project OpenBorough, Digital technology guides citizenship, Amsterdam, Netherlands - ©City of Amsterdam

OpenBorough: active citizenship via e-participation

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City Government, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2016

The City of Amsterdam has embarked on a project to make democracy more dynamic and interactive by developing a digital participatory platform to engage with residents.

The OpenBorough project was established in Amsterdam-West to trial the use of digital tools together with offline interactions to enable more collaborative engagement between the council and citizens.  OpenBorough aims to encourage citizens to share their ideas, vote or undertake action and mobilise their creativity and knowledge. The project also intends to provide public servants with the opportunity to become more skilled with new working processes and methodologies.

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: 

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Eurocities Awards

This project was shortlisted for the 'Eurocities Awards' in 2016 in the following category: Participation.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Size and population development
2018 municipality data records the population of Amsterdam at 866,737. The city covers an area of 219.4 square kilometres (166.76 km2 is land and 53.56 km2 is water). Amsterdam is intensely urbanized with 4,457 inhabitants per km2 and 2,275 houses per km2. Parks and nature reserves make up 12% of the city’s land area. Amsterdam has shown the fastest population growth rate among major Dutch cities. The accelerated growth of the city is due to foreign and domestic inflow into the area.

Population composition
The 2018 data shows that the city population comprises 50.5% females and 49.5% males. 70.3% of citizens are aged between 18-64, 17.4% are children aged 0-17 an 12.3% are aged 65 years or over. With 180 different nationalities, the population of Amsterdam is one of the most diverse in Europe. Over the last 50 years Amsterdam has known an influx of people from other countries including Suriname, Turkey and Morocco. It is expected that within the next ten years, half of the Amsterdam population will have been born abroad or will have parents or (great) grandparents who were born abroad.

Main functions
Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city in the Netherlands located in the Western Netherlands, in the province of North Holland. The river Amstel ends in the city centre and connects to a large number of canals. Amsterdam is approximately 2 metres below sea level. The city is the cultural capital of the Netherlands with over 40 cultural institutions including the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, The Stedelijk and Rembrandt House. Tourism draws more than 5 million international visitors annually.

Main industries / business
Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters there, including Philips and ING. Additionally, many of the world's largest companies are based in Amsterdam or have established their European headquarters in the city, such as leading technology companies Uber, Netflix and Tesla. Amsterdam is a service centre with international trade and transport medical technology, telecommunications, banking, insurance, health cultural and social services and tourism the largest sectors.

Sources for city budget
The City of Amsterdam draws its budget for public expenditure largely from property tax, fees, operating revenues, other taxes and subsides from the National Government of the Netherlands.

Political structure
The City of Amsterdam is a municipality under the Dutch Municipalities Act. It is governed by a directly elected municipal council, a municipal executive board and a mayor. The mayor is a member of the municipal executive board, but also has individual responsibilities in maintaining public order. Since 1981, the municipality of Amsterdam has gradually been divided into semi-autonomous boroughs called stadsdelen or 'districts'.

Administrative structure
Unlike most other Dutch municipalities, Amsterdam is subdivided into eight boroughs. Under the borough system, municipal decisions are made at borough level, except for those affairs pertaining to the whole city such as major infrastructure projects, which are the jurisdiction of the central municipal authorities. The municipal council of Amsterdam recently voted to maintain the borough system by replacing the district councils with smaller, but still directly elected district committees (bestuurscommissies). Under a municipal ordinance, the new district committees were granted responsibilities through delegation of regulatory and executive powers by the central municipal council.

Amsterdam-West is a borough of Amsterdam, to the west of the city centre. According to 2013 census data, it is the most densely populated borough of Amsterdam with 138,500 inhabitants, approximately 16,000 per km2.

In 2014, district councils were abolished and replaced by smaller, but still directly elected district committees. Responsibilities delegated to the 2014-2018 district committees include parks and recreation, streets and squares, refuse collection, permits and events, preparation of zoning plans, passports and drivers licenses, and welfare work.

This political change convinced the Amsterdam City Council, already interested in finding more open ways of working with citizens, to consider how it might apply the sharing economy’s principles and technologies to bring greater transparency and flexibility to its own participation processes.

Through the engagement of more residents in the consultation processes, the OpenBorough project aims to improve the legitimacy of council actions and to generate evidence of political engagement and the cost-effectiveness of participatory democracy so that it becomes policy across all borough’s in Amsterdam.

The project is managed by a small innovation team that council staff who are looking to actively involve citizens in their projects can consult with. The team begins by analysing the specific needs and motivations of the citizens involved and then translates these into the design of digital participation tools. The idea is that through an iterative process, OpenBorough trails with stand-alone functionalities and simple prototypes will gradually build the city’s e-participatory capabilities. The innovation team is then in charge of sharing learnings between boroughs.

The first trial was the redesign of the interior of a cyclists’ tunnel. Rather than asking one or two artists for design proposals as had previously happened, the council opened up the design challenge to all residents and created a tool for uploading and voting for designs.

Simultaneously, an offline campaign was created to help less digitally-able residents to enter their proposals. Knowledge gained through this project directly influenced the next: the redevelopment of a residential square. As with the tunnel, the project was promoted through flyers, offline meetings, a banner at the square itself and an online discussion forum.

The OpenBorough pilot project received a budget allocation of €225,000.

The redevelopment of the cyclist tunnel received 49 designs from citizens aged 9 to 60, 6,125 votes were received and the tool was downloaded by 12,629 unique visitors. The online participation process moblized many more citizens than anticipated while traditional consultations had a far lower response.

For the redevelopment of the residential square, a digital forum enabled the 150 directly-affected households to upload ideas for the square. Residents could then post statements for and against these ideas. The most popular ideas were then transferred for implementation to the project leader responsible for redesigning the square.

In 2015 Amsterdam was named Europe’s first ‘Sharing City’ by ShareNL, the Dutch network for the collaborative economy. This award recognised the city’s open-minded approach to new, cooperative business models.

Both trials were deemed successful due to the levels of participation. The council is confident that e-participation benefits all citizens and plans to continuously refine and embed the process. OpenBorough is planning more small- scale trials involving different aspects of local consultation and the up-scaling of existing participation platforms created for specific projects.

- Cities in action - Amsterdam opens up democratic process, Digital technology guides citizenship - Eurocities, November 2016

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