Went to a workshop presented by the director of Organizational Development at the City of Amsterdam, Frank van Erkel, last weekend. The theme was about civil society, with citizens as initiator, including examples of innovative projects that have started in the Dutch capital. In recent years, they began to change from a hierarchical structure, “pyramid”, gradually towards “pancakes” where people-oriented and bottom-up initiatives become supported.
This was started by some officials seeing the increasing divide between the government and the citizens and wanting to re-connect. The transparency and response from the government is also made easy by social media. Inspired by KLM, a Dutch airline, the government now has a twitter account that responds to people stuck in traffic almost immediately. If they receive several complaints about a particular congestion, the traffic commanders can change the traffic lights to ease the jam directly to respond to the situation, and then responding to the people who sent the tweets.
To have a government official sharing that they are learning from the wisdom of the people and using an open government format, focusing on bottom-up solutions, shows the strong civil society in the Netherlands-
Here are some of the interesting innovations:
G1000 is a bottom-up, citizen-organized summit attended by 1,000 citizens, government representatives and community leaders. Participants are randomly selected and invited through the mail, join the event to discuss issues in the community that they care about, and come up with plans and representatives to carry it out afterwards to bring out the common good.
Benches Collective is a street movement, inviting Amsterdamers to bring their benches/chairs outside, and start pop-up cafes around the city. Each bench has a nickname, and people share anything from homemade cookies, conversations to dance lessons. An amazing way to connect people in the neighborhood, giving face to the people.
Pakhuis De Zwijger, a former warehouse which is now a venue for ideas exchange and proactive citizenship. Entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants and ordinary citizens take stage in all kinds of topics, from social innovation, to conversations on how to make the city better, to philosophical talks.
Makkie, community currency programme in the East of Amsterdam, a deprived neighborhood. Encouraging skills sharing, and pride in one’s skills.
Borrowing the online crowdsourcing model popularized by Kickstarter, this is a Dutch version for supporting community projects. Anything from supporting a youth football team from the neighborhood, to a resident counsellor in the cafe down the block, backers can support different projects for the community at this online platform-
Feeling inspired by the bottom-up projects and the support they get from government, I asked Frank for tips on how we could convince the government to get onboard with this. He shared a few thoughts: starting many small movements, facilitating leadership, developing trust and respect with the government, and making it cool for them to adopt it. Instead of looking at the government as a giant entity that is challenging to change, focus on finding officials who are keen to bring change and work with them.