Open Up

In light of the pandemic caused by Covid-19, much of the connections we have and continue to make in the physical world has been swiftly transferred to the digital sphere. This sudden shift and expectation to adapt to digital ways has forced us to reckon with its benefits and consequences. One of the issues that came to the forefront during this period was the importance of human connections and how it can be translated into the online world. Our perception of and experience with human interactions have changed, but more than ever, establishing and maintaining human connections are central to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Cities have potentials to address urban challenges together with local residents and relevant stakeholders. Residents are now fully realizing the importance of being part of a community and having a public and open space, digital or physical, to interact with others and freely express themselves.

The Open Up team consists of designers and researchers from different disciplines and backgrounds. What binds us is our interest in digital transformation and dedication to support social and sustainable activities in local neighborhoods. During the 20 week traineeship, they merged those affinities together and built a digital tool that aspires to support the Middelland neighborhood, within the Delfshaven borough in Rotterdam.

Our app offers several features that differentiates from other existing community apps.
1. Usage of avatar offers playful elements and informal way for residents to engage with one another. This creates a safe virtual space without stereotypes.
2. Group finder allows users to connect with other residents who have similar interest and strengths during on-boarding process.
3. Information Support provides the users with up-to date neighborhood activities in neighborhood map and question board gives legal/administrative assistance to residents.

Project Website:

Project mentioned at Digital Society School HvA:

Youtube Video:

Our Digital Prototype:

Overview of the issue and the approach: Our case study for the project was conducted in one of the neighborhoods in Rotterdam (NL). To support the project, the team conducted research with local residents in Middelland, Rotterdam. It was important for us to understand the context of the neighborhood and identify the goals and frustrations of the Middelland residents so that the community participation grows and becomes more inclusive.

From our research, we found that the neighborhood with 12000 inhabitants already had various citizen initiatives and active community centers where residents, entrepreneurs, and municipality collaborated together. The neighborhood has relatively young population where 66% of the residents ranged in the age of 20 to 54 years old. In addition, majority of residents are Dutch natives and non-western immigrants. Thus, the approach of building a digital engagement tool for young and diverse residents allowed us to brainstorm and iteratively design to bring informal ways to interact within the neighborhood.

From our research, we found that:
1. It is crucial to have certain level of trust before engaging mutual reciprocity
2. Shared interest can empower the residents to create support system and sense of belongingness
3. Intermediary actors can provide wide social networks
4. Initiators play an important part in organizing and facilitating local activities
In order to address a long-term community resilience and inclusivity, it is important to strengthen already existing and newly forming initiatives within neighborhood groups to work together and create synergy to build a social and sustainable neighborhood not only for the residents but also with residents.
The essence of the solution: The Open Up digital tool creates an open, safe virtual community with playful elements where the digital participation can also be translated into offline engagement.
The stakeholders in the project: The stakeholders in our project are: Digital Society School at Hogeschool van Amsterdam, De Middellander Het Wijkbedrijf and Stichting CAATS. Also, it is important to mention that the data from the app is intended to be stored within the neighborhood.