Citizen science keeps the feet dry in Amersfoort

2021-03-16 16:15:33

Photo: Micheile Henderson

"Smart" techniques and methods for climate-adaptive design of the living environment are crucial for the future survival of our cities. An important role in these development is reserved for the residents of the city. The city of the future is only truly sustainable if it is designed on the principles of involvement and equality. In Amersfoort research done by the residents is key in the development of a smart sensor network within the city.


Climate change in combination with urbanization can lead to heat stress, water shortages and floods. Amersfoort is experiencing the consequences of more extreme weather conditions. Smart, climate adaptive, water management solutions are needed to keep this expanding city liveable. Through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme funded project, SCOREwater (2019-2023), companies, organisations and the local government of the cities Amersfoort, Gothenburg and Barcelona are conducting research into smart technology for more effective urban water management. The goal of this collaboration being to connect the physical and digital world of water management with innovative solutions. Unique to the Amersfoort case is the collaboration with residents in creating a sensor network within the city.

European testing ground for smart water management

Using data an technology to get a better grip on the consequences of climate change sounds great. Even more so when it happens in collaboration with the residents of the city and European partners. Where do you start with such an undertaking? Edwin Hubers, fundraising coordinator at the city of Amersfoort: “Together with counterparts in from Gothenburg and Barcelona and the Dutch companies Civity and Hydrologic, the city of Amersfoort wrote a research proposal on a Horizon2020 call for projects. The question voiced by this research and innovation programme was in the line of: How can ICT be used to provide insights into water and climate problems around cities and how can these insights contribute to making these cities more resistant to the effects of climate change? The Dutch organizations decided to work together because they have the shared ambition to contribute to the sustainable design of the Amersfoort living environment, each with input from their own expertise. Huug Meijer, project leader at the city of Amersfoort: “As a municipality, we can contribute to a climate-adaptive Amersfoort by designing the public space in a specific way. This requires information about groundwater, precipitation and soil moisture.” By participating in SCOREwater, the climate and water consultancy HydroLogic can further develop its services and products. The same applies to Civity, which specializes in harmonizing, standardizing and visualizing open (meta) data.

Sensors and collaboration

Together with the Future City Foundation and the water authority Vallei en Veluwe, the Amersfoort-based members of the SCOREwater consortium focus on collecting data that is necessary to gain insight into the climate resilience of the pilot area around Central Station, which will be redesigned in the coming years. The project works according to a method based on sensors, digital models and citizen science. Sensors are placed in the pilot area to gain insight into the current situation. The data measured by the sensors can be used in digital models that then serve as an aid in the (re)design of the public space and when entering into dialogue with local residents and stakeholders. This concerns measurements such as the amount of precipitation, the groundwater level, soil moisture and the temperature. In order to collect this data by means of sensors, there is a collaboration with the Amersfoort citizen collective De WAR. A logical partner for the city, because the collective has a long involvement in doing measurements within city, on their own initiative and with self-formulated research questions. Harmen Zijp (researcher at De WAR): "In the near future, we as a society will be faced with a number of radical decisions about the design of our living environment. Residents have their own questions and want to contribute ideas about the purpose and design of sensors in the city. " For quite some time already, the city of Amersfoort actively involves residents to think about the sustainability challenges. Under the label MeetJeStad (Measure Your City) residents have been taking measurements of their surroundings since 2015 and continue to do so and the network is growing.

Co-creation and equality

The collaboration between the municipality and her residents is based on equality and mutual trust. Some of the sensors used by SCOREwater are built by residents. The skills and knowledge of the residents are put to good use. Harmen Zijp: “We are residents who are intrinsically motivated to contribute to the development of sensors and to make analyses of our living environment. Working with locals leads to a better understanding of a particular street or neighbourhood.” Huug Meijer from the city of Amersfoort added to this: “Being able to involve a large group of residents in taking measurements leads to the accumulation of knowledge that we would be less likely to acquire without them. This sometimes involves verry specialist knowledge, on soil moisture for example. Luckily there happened to be local residents knowledgeable about this subject willing to look into this for their own neighbourhood.”
It’s a win-win situation for the city of Amersfoort and its residents. The municipality gets more insights on a neighbourhood level and the residents get a platform to share their ideas and insights. The city of Amersfoort wants to keep advancing this collaboration, using technological innovations combined with local collaboration to keep improving the living environment.

Future of collaboration

Government, business, knowledge institutions and residents need each other to take well-thought-out decisions with sufficient support, especially when it comes to complex topics such as digitization and sustainable living. The Amersfoort case within the SCOREwater project shows that flexibility, focus on the process of collaboration and the ongoing conversation between the local government and the residents are crucial for a successful collaboration. “The big benefit of citizen science is to see it with your own eyes, to get into conversations with residents. To talk with them instead of talking about them”.


Interested in this topic? Check out our event on Thursday March 25 titled: "How to collaborate with citizens in creating climate resilient cities?"