An estimated number of 60 Dutch municipalities are currently working on experiments, projects and initiatives to give substance to the increasingly popular ‘smart city’ concept. Dutch municipalities try to implement new forms of ICT to address issues related to urbanisation, climate change, labour market participation, mobility, digitalization and sustainability. Whilst the smart city concept is still relatively new, and most projects are still in their pilot phase, typical Dutch characteristics of local governance are clearly present and play a role in the way smart cities take form in the Netherlands.

In the design of smart city projects, there is a great emphasis on cooperation. In a so-called ‘triple helix’ or ‘quadruple helix’ model, Dutch municipalities, private parties, knowledge institutions and citizens come together to enable the application of technological innovations in a city or region. A practical example of this governance approach is the ‘Living Lab Smart Emission’ that is being implemented in the municipalities of Zeist and Amersfoort. This happens in collaboration with the RIVM (National Institute for Health and Environment), KNMI (The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute), the WAR (the Scientific Advisory Board) and citizens. In this living lab, the quality of the air is measured via sensors in real-time A participatory process has been set up to develop the sensors in collaboration with citizens and to ensure that citizens are better informed. With the collected data, and the input of all actors, more objective decisions can be made by the parties involved regarding the quality of the air.

Dutch smart cities are also characterized by a pragmatic and solution-oriented approach, focused on “policies that work”. Dutch municipalities, citizens and other involved stakeholders tend to have a positive attitude towards innovation and see technology as a possible solution to different types of problems. When issues arise during the cycle of a smart city pilot project, all involved actors generally try to solve these rather than seeing these as a barrier to the innovative process. Additionally, pilot projects that are implemented need to be achievable, practical and financially viable. To achieve these goals, municipalities try to ensure that communities and local businesses are involved in the process of project development. This approach assures that the projects are relevant to the municipality’s challenges and opportunities. Rather than starting with the type of technology they want to implement, Dutch municipalities try to start with the problem that needs to be solved, and the smart city responds to the citizens’ needs.

Participatory governance and a pragmatic approach towards implementing smart city solutions form the basis for reaching consensus. Through this approach, most of the parties involved or affected agree on the fact that technology can be a solution for a municipality’s problems and are open-minded towards experimenting with those technologies in living labs and other smart city pilot projects.  The project in Eindhoven ‘Your light on 040’ is a good example of both a pragmatic, and a consensus-oriented approach towards a challenge. In this project, the residents of Eindhoven, the Technical University of Eindhoven, private ànd the municipality look for opportunities and ideas on how smart lighting and smart-grid can meet the needs of the neighbourhoods.

Reliability, sustainability and continuity are important values for Dutch municipalities, when developing and implementing smart city projects. The to be implemented technology needs to be reliable and beneficial for the citizens and the municipality in the long term. Urban development tends to be an incremental process with small steps towards the end goal of building better cities. This ultimately contributes to the stability of Dutch municipalities. The trust-based cooperation, pragmatic and consensus-oriented approach are characteristics that enable a continuous process of innovation. Therefore, Dutch municipalities already have a solid base to grow further on this subject and to play a key role in the international field of smart city development.  

Read more about VNG International's expertise and projects on Involving Citizens in Decision Making and Developing Sustainable and Resilient Cities and Communities


Click here to go back to 'the Essence of Dutch Local Governance'