CBS and city of Zwolle join forces

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the municipality of Zwolle have joined forces in the CBS Urban Data Center/Zwolle. This new UDC will match the expertise available at CBS in the field of data infrastructure, data processing and privacy protection with the city’s ambitions to further boost the data-driven urban development already taking place in Zwolle. On 29 June, a collaboration agreement to this end was signed by CBS Director General Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi and Zwolle’s alderman Jan Brink.

Smartest city

Alderman Jan Brink points out that Zwolle has a long tradition in ‘understanding the city’. Not without reason, Zwolle was chosen as ‘smartest inner city’ at the Smart Data City meeting in October 2016. The jury stated that Zwolle stood out for its approach, which centres on operating in a fact-based and collaborative mindset. This reflects Brink’s ambition: ‘We have been engaged in fact-based policy with a view to developing additional services for our residents and visitors. The CBS Urban Data Center/Zwolle, which carries data and knowledge contributed by CBS, is a great asset in this regard. There is a strong connection between an organisation like CBS at the national level and a local organisation like Zwolle in the quest for answers to policy questions and to improve urban quality of life. More and more, this involves using data technology innovations.’

No blueprint

Collaboration between CBS and Zwolle municipality goes further back. Last year in May, Zwolle organised an ‘Innovation Hack’ at which dozens of driven data specialists and data scientists took on a 24-hour period assignment to find out how big data could aid in boosting the accessibility and hospitality of Zwolle City. CBS was represented by two researchers at this event. The final decision to work with CBS was taken during the event in October last year, when Zwolle won the smartest inner city award and CBS programme director Robert Hermans held an inspiring speech about the CBS Urban Data Centres. ‘There has been very frequent contact over the past few months. We have held fruitful discussions and looked at each other’s programmes. What I find appealing in this UDC concept is the fact that it is not a blueprint of the other UDCs, but rather a tailor-made concept based on actual local observations and policy questions.’ The CBS Urban Data Center/ Zwolle will not only benefit Zwolle but also the city’s catchment area (including 20 municipalities spread over 4 different provinces), as was discussed last month. ‘These are our regional partners, and we have been working with them in a close and effective partnership for a long time,’ Brink explains.

Zwolle making progress

It is evident that Zwolle is making great strides given the high position of several strategic topics on its agenda, including climate change, energy transition, circulare economy and hospitality. ‘Zwolle is in the midst of preparing for a ‘climate campus’. Together with several other parties, we examine how best to collect knowledge on climate change; think of local educational institutions, the business community and so on,’ says Brink. ‘Zwolle is gearing up to build the city of the future. This is outlined in our multi-annual strategic programme and means that urban development does not depend on an individual council.’

World Council on City Data

The initiative which led to the CBS Urban Data Center/Zwolle also includes an international dimension. During the official UDC launch, the city of Zwolle received platinum WCCD certification. WCCD stands for World Council on City Data, the global leader in certification of cities based on their implementation of standardised urban indicators, including 100 special indicators such as quality of life, sustainability and smart data, according to the ISO 37120 standard. WCCD takes care of ISO 37120 registration worldwide for cities in all shapes and sizes, e.g. Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Los Angeles, but also the Dutch municipalities of Eindhoven and Heerlen. ‘As a local government, you have your own data but then you still want to compare your city with other cities around the world. That can provide insight into any deviations you may have from the standard. Cities can learn from each other, in particular on themes that present challenges to them,’ says Brink.


Cor Pierik is a policy researcher at CBS and works at the Brainz building, where the Zwolle Urban Data Center is located. There, he acts as a local consultation partner for the municipality on behalf of CBS: ‘Zwolle had a whole list of potential topics, mainly in the field of sustainability. I translated this list to a number of information sources available at CBS.’ During the UDC launch, Pierik spoke about the fast-growing city of Zwolle and the topic of energy. Eric Roetman of the Windesheim University of Applied Sciences presented his research project on the circular economy. Pierik: ‘Aside from sustainability, the city’s areas of priority include data on poverty, crime, education and the social domain. Big data is a big topic as well, for example using sensors to measure air quality.’