Putting humans first for city services

What was the challenge?

The City of Rotterdam provides many different services to different target groups. These services are often organized from the perspective of the municipality and are linked to its departments and systems. But this is not always in line with the needs of the citizen. As a result, the service provision can be perceived by citizens as unclear, complicated and frustrating. The City of Rotterdam wants to change this by putting citizens at the heart of its services.

What did we do?

We developed an ongoing innovation lab (2019-now) for the City of Rotterdam which includes projects for various departments. In each project the aim is to optimize services of the municipality, so they better meet the needs of the citizen.

The division of roles between Emotion Studio and the municipality differs per project. In some projects the employees are intensively involved in the project. By having employees’ interview residents, they see with their own eyes how citizens experience the service. We see that employees often find this experience very valuable and that it has a much bigger impact on their work. By means of masterclasses, we of course taught employees the intricacies of research.

In other projects Emotion Studio carried out both the research and concept development. The advantage of this is that all the time can be spent on the research, instead of having to teach the methods to those involved, which makes the projects more time efficient.

What did we discover?

  • The colleagues who interact on a daily basis with citizens can offer a wealth of information, use this
  • A research report is often not the right format to make the most impact. Think carefully about how you want to use the results within your organization and which form fits best with this. That could be a conference, a workshop, a game, or a series of posters for the office.
  • Ambassadors are needed to really take the results of a research further within the organization
  • Much research has been carried out already by the municipality. At the start of a new project, it is important to share existing information in order to understand what you already know and what you don’t yet know.
  • Think carefully about how you are going to recruit respondents. This can easily become a bottleneck. Groups of organized residents, such as the citizens’ panel, often already exist and can be used really well for research purposes.

What did we deliver?

We have now carried out six innovation projects on various subjects. For two projects, the digital city, and the interaction between the municipality and entrepreneurs, we highlight some of the outcomes.

The digital city

We developed two frameworks that the municipality now uses in its policy on sensors. One framework shows which different needs citizens have when it comes to (information about) sensors. The second framework shows the attitudes citizens have towards sensors. These two models are now being used to test policy and communication materials about sensors. The perspective of the citizens is now much better understood and included in decision-making.

My fear is that data is collected for one purpose but used for another purpose. You must remain vigilant.

Citizen of Rotterdam

Regional Bureau of the Self-Employed

In contrast to other experiments, we did not focus here on the citizens, but on the civil servants of the City of Rotterdam. They are in direct contact with the citizen, but have to act according to policy, which sometimes leads to complicated dilemmas. We examined what happiness at work looks like among civil servants who assist entrepreneurs who have run into financial difficulties. Using the Fundamental Needs theory, we asked them to reflect on their work. Not only did this help employees to look at their work with a different perspective, but it also mapped out difficulties within the department such as the gap between the young and old generation of civil servants and losing sight of the human dimension.

If you stop talking to entrepreneurs, your attention shifts, and you can lose yourself in processes and figures. Then you miss the human touch.

Civil servant

Service design

The service we used for this project

Work smarter and deliver better solutions by designing services built around actual humans and actual human behavior.

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