How do you encourage residents to get involved in their local community? And how do you promote social cohesion in your town or city? In an effort to answer these questions, the Municipality of Heerlen has come together with a number of external parties to launch a ground-breaking project. Residents who perform activities that benefit their neighbourhood can earn digital currency in the process. A specially developed app then enables them to spend these earnings on goods and services supplied by local businesses.
An extensive study into social cohesion in Heerlen began in 2019. In addition to the Municipality of Heerlen, its organisers include the Association of Dutch Municipalities, Statistics Netherlands (CBS), Brightlands Smart Services Campus, CoTown, central organisation Heerlen Mijn Stad and neighbourhood organisation Grasbroek-Musschemig-Schandelen. The project obtained funding from the European Commission through the Urban Innovative Actions programme, with the aim of offering innovative solutions to the social and economic challenges facing Heerlen. If successful, the study is likely to be replicated in other European cities facing similar problems.
Hans Schmeets, programme manager at CBS and professor at Maastricht University, explains why CBS is participating in this project: ‘Our expertise lies in the field of data collection and analysis. An earlier baseline measurement taken by CBS showed that Heerlen is lagging behind 50 similar towns and cities in a number of areas. That measurement was based on 17 key indicators drawn from a 2012–2019 study on Social Cohesion and Well-being and showed that Heerlen’s residents appear to have very little trust in one another and in public institutions. The same applies to their level of participation in aspects of public life such as volunteer work.’ From May to September 2020, CBS conducted another survey on social cohesion, this time involving over 1100 respondents in Heerlen. ‘Due to the Covid crisis, we were unable to visit people at home, so we contacted our respondents by phone and online. In total, we examined and compared five different areas. It was an approach that revealed major differences in social cohesion and well-being.’ CBS expects to be able to present a full report on the study to the Municipality of Heerlen in June 2021.