Sustainability in The Hague neighbourhoods; participation in co-creation

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The Hague

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Main actors

City Government, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2012/01

The Hague is harnessing the commitment, time and skills of citizens to help achieve its goal of becoming climate neutral by 2040. Practical support and grants for cooperative action at grassroots level are turning good ideas into reality across the city.

Citizens are crucial in helping cities achieve their CO2 emission reduction targets, in terms of understanding the need for environmental policies and changes in behaviour. The Hague, however, decided to take citizen participation to the next level. The city was convinced that letting community groups take the lead in sustainability action and innovation would achieve greater momentum and engagement, new ideas and better results.

The city allocated a budget of €1.4 million to its sustainability scheme, from which grants of up to €8,000 are offered to citizens with ideas for improving the environment or reducing energy use and emissions in their neighbourhood. These grants are for basic costs like setting up bank accounts and paying for research, legal and professional advice so that a group of neighbours can become a sustainable association or foundation with a feasible idea.

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

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


This project was shortlisted for the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2014 in the following category: Participation.

The Hague, Netherlands

Size and population development
515,880 inhabitants (as of 1 January 2015); growing population (+1% every year).

Population composition
50% of Dutsh nationality; 16% Western immigrants; 34% non-Western immigrants.

Main functions
Seat of the Dutch government and parliament. Third-largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The city is home to over 150 international organisations.

Main industries / business
Service sector (large number of civil servants and diplomats work in The Hague); tourism.

Administrative structure
8 Districts

The Hague recognised that a traditional subsidy alone would not be enough. It needed to add value by actively removing barriers to the transformation of ideas into plans. As a result, the initiative’s team works closely with project originators to help them become more organised, develop their ideas, find the right support from within city hall, connect with businesses and get their ideas off the ground. 

Prior to the scheme’s development, the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT) researched ways in which citizens could be mobilised to participate in the transition to a sustainable city. The city government then used these findings to set up and execute the incentive scheme Sustainability in The Hague neighbourhoods.

Groups of citizens who have an idea for saving energy or reducing CO2 emissions in their neighbourhood can apply for a budget to develop their plan. First, citizens must organise themselves as an association or a foundation (together with businesses and organisations from their neighbourhood if they like) to be eligible for a grant. This project must contribute improving the sustainability of their own neighbourhood by helping to reduce energy use or CO2 emissions. As soon as the grant has been awarded, each initiative is given a maximum budget of €8,000 for obtaining advice on how to draw up a project plan, paying for the notarial fees of setting up a foundation, or commissioning research into the financial or technical feasibility of their project.

Starting in 2013, a total of 27 groups of citizens started working with the scheme. Seventeen of the 32 neighbourhoods of The Hague had at least one group of citizens actively developing a sustainability initiative. A total of nearly 1,000 neighbourhood residents participated in the initiatives in the first year. Initial projects included for example the plantation of new neighbourhood gardens and the installation of solar panels. Owners' associations have created standard contracts for facilitating access to solar panels for homeowners.

To mobilise all citizens - not just active environmentalists - the scheme was carefully designed to encourage inclusivity and creativity. Ideas are evaluated on the basis of neighbourhood support rather than fixed criteria. And word about the scheme has spread through case studies published in the press and on the city’s website. As a result, while the first year’s 27 plans came primarily from sustainability frontrunners, 80% of groups are now made up of new activists.

For the municipal period 2011-2014, an extra budget of €725,000 was allocated for the establishment and implementation of Sustainability in The Hague neighbourhoods.

From 2015 onwards, €200,000 per year will be made structurally available to the incentive scheme for supporting active groups of citizens in transforming good ideas into plans

Results have exceeded expectations. Project numbers have risen each year and the city is now benefitting from 75 unique ideas involving thousands of citizens and providing work for hundreds of businesses. Many of these projects have already been implemented, without direct financial support for this phase from the municipality. New neighbourhood playgrounds and gardens have been created, including one that’s transformed a supermarket roof from a grey eyesore into a green haven. A system to supply homes in one street with residual heat from local shops has been set up. And whole streets have got together to buy and install insulation and solar panels, with residents benefiting from negotiation of better prices as well as cheaper energy.

Other projects prove the scheme’s impact goes beyond energy sustainability to making a social and economic contribution too. One of these is a ‘value-adding network’ set up in the Laak quarter, which stimulates greater use of products, services and knowledge available very locally, reducing transport use and CO2 emissions while boosting the community spirit and economy.

The scheme was subjected to an interim evaluation in 2013. The overwhelming majority of citizens who participated in the evaluation expressed satisfaction with the role and organisation of the municipality. The fact that team members can be reached in the evenings and weekends is indicative of the flexible and truly supportive role they play. Adaptations were made to the texts on the basis of the results of the evaluation, and the scheme was simplified for the new round of applications in 2014. 

Many good ideas contributed by citizens go often unused in the process of transforming them into a workable project plan. Finding the means to obtain support in the form of advice or administrative assistance can also be an obstacle. Sustainability in The Hague neighbourhoods is committed to prevent these start-up problems.

Sustainability is an ideal theme for mobilizing people and groups in the city. The shared concern for the quality of the living environment draws people together and motivates them to make a personal contribution to the issue. Thanks to the approach of "participation through co-creation", the Hague empowers groups of citizens and reconsiders the way in which it interacts with its citizens. This learning is currently being used to develop a new participation policy which will be applied to other areas of city policy.

In addition to the budget granted to a group of citizens, another important aspect of the incentive scheme is that the municipality is using its own organisational abilities to bring citizens into contact with experts and networks, organising a number of group and individual meetings. During these meetings, the municipality collects information about circulating ideas and can formulate more appropriate responses in order to increase the impact and success of the initiatives. The municipality organises additional meetings in order to help groups of citizens make progress on specific aspects of their project plans as for instance on how to generate and guide the volunteers needed in the organisation of a project.

Cities in action - Neighbourhood action in The Hague, Sustainability street by street - EUROCITIES, July 2015.

EUROCITIES awards entry form, Sustainability in The Hague neighbourhoods - participation in co-creation, May 2014.

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