Venlo using data more effectively for city and region

19/05/2017 14:15 / Author: Jaap van Sandijk / Photography: Sjoerd van der Hucht / Category: Innovation and development
Following three other cities in the Netherlands (Eindhoven, Heerlen and Groningen), the Dutch city of Venlo launched an Urban Data Centre on 19 April in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands (CBS). With this cooperation framework, Venlo is able to deploy data more effectively in municipal and regional policymaking. Local government, residents, businesses and institutions all stand to gain better insight into the facts that matter. And this is essential for Venlo, a city in northern Limburg which plays a clearly regional role.

Adequate and up-to-date information

‘Being a municipality in a central Euroregion location, we have a pressing need for data,’ explains Stephan Satijn, alderman for Economic Affairs and Knowledge Infrastructure of the municipality of Venlo. ‘In deciding to set up the Urban Data Centre together with CBS, our main considerations were efficiency and availability. It is very important to us to have adequate and up-to-date information available. Until recently we had to wait for months to obtain research results. We get them so much faster now with our in-house professional data organisation.’

Care and economy

In which areas of municipal policy will the CBS Urban Data Centre/Venlo operate? Satijn: ‘As a municipal council, we need accurate data, for example when it comes to planning expenditure. Especially in the social sector, which accounts for half of our budget. Our own idea is that this is well-organised, but is this really the case? That is where the UDC/Venlo can demonstrate its added value. If this leads to even a one-percent reduction in social spending, it would already mean major savings.’ The city is also looking to utilise the UDC towards economic goals: ‘Venlo is a logistical hotspot. Not just for the region, but also within Europe. We could be searching information on traffic movements or the economic value of businesses. These data are hard to find for us, local authorities. In addition, we are interested in data on education levels and on the labour market.’

‘UDC/Venlo data increase awareness among locals and let them become more involved in local policies’  

Civic participation

Satijn stresses that the added value of the UDC/Venlo goes beyond supporting policy questions. ‘It is not merely for our enrichment but also an important instrument for the residents in our municipality and seven peripheral municipalities we have involved. UDC data increase awareness among locals and let them become more involved in local policies. For instance, how do we achieve a more efficient waste policy? What type of health care spending meets local needs? As a local citizen, once you discover the impact you can have, you can make better informed choices. I believe citizens should be granted these choices by the authorities. The time is over when the local government took all the decisions for its residents.’ As Satijn also points out, Venlo wants to develop into a smart city: ‘For example, we are developing a project on local car parking and have already developed the basis. By end of this year, visitors to the city will get directions for available parking space through our parking app and the sensors we place in parking areas.’

Workshops

Just like the UDCs established earlier, the UDC/Venlo combines CBS’ knowledge on data infrastructure, data processing and privacy protection with the knowledge and data available at municipal level. Two workshops were held to prepare for this work in more detail. Barbara Berkenbosch, project manager on behalf of CBS at the UDC/Venlo: ‘The workshops were guided by a CBS facilitator and staff from both the municipality’s strategic policy department and CBS participated. In the first workshop, we examined which spearheads are key to the municipality, and how CBS can assist by providing the right information. We are presently working to flesh out the details based on a global plan. Using CBS surveys on such topics as poverty, building vacancies and the circular economy, we translate statistical information into local and regional data, creating new statistics. In the second workshop, the focus was more on communication: the opening on 19 April, the fact sheet and a news release on Venlo, with a feature on goods transports going through Venlo.’

Cooperation

Berkenbosch is enthusiastic about working with the municipality of Venlo. ‘The workshops went very well. These were crucial in the run-up to the opening. At the workshops, we discovered the actual needs of the municipalities, and put in place a foundation for the joint product.’ These short lines are also a success factor according to Berkenbosch. Meanwhile, alderman Satijn is looking forward to the future: ‘I envisage a nice joint agenda for the years to come.’