DemoS Strandeiland

Involving inhabitants in their neighbourhood's development

In October 2018 residents of IJburg proposed to the Amsterdam alderman of New Democracy, Rutger Groot Wassink that they would represent the future residents of Strandeiland in an innovative participation trajectory with the municipality to collectively design and develop a sustainable and social new Amsterdam neighbourhood. Design & Publics (working for the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) was asked by the residents to provide guidance and reflection on this innovative process. Together with the team of the Strandeiland project leader, the municipal innovation team (CTO) and local municipality (Stadsdeel), three IJburg residents and reseachers and students of the AMS institute participated in the living lab project ‘DemoS’ from 2018 -2020.

(Action) research

The focus of the DemoS project is twofold. On the one hand, the participation team aims to develop new forms of organization in urban development to increase citizen involvement and ownership. These new forms are developed by experimenting with participatory methods. On the other hand, the project looks at how sustainable and circular innovations can be applied in the development of the island. Therefore, the participation team will contribute to the planning around the themes of sustainability, inclusiveness, and social cohesion using experimental forms of participation and new democratic models. By involving future residents in the development process, the team wants to enthuse them about the development of the new Strandeiland. It is the first time that this form of organization is applied to a city-making process in the city of Amsterdam.


The participation team added value to the ‘official’ Strandeiland planning processes by reaching out to IJburgers and Amsterdammers in new ways (off and on-line). Secondly the civil servants involved learned how collaborative processes with citizens (and hence participation in its essence) work. Operating at the boundaries of the institutional system and experiencing the value of an inclusive process adds to creating awareness of the benefits and need of institutional change.

Within the Strandeiland project there was a power imbalance noted between the civil servants (as the ‘client’) and the citizens (as the ‘subcontractor’). The position of the students within the living lab setting was, although their input was regarded to be highly positive, energetic and valuable, because they did not have a direct stake in the process (other than graduating).

A few lessons were learned during the first two years of DemoS:

  • Firstly, collaboration between civil servants and citizens is not so straightforward as one might hope. Different interests, roles and responsibilities create power imbalances that hamper collaboration. Voicing these different interests and values and defining shared values at the beginning of the process help create understanding eachother’s position and the feeling of a collaborative spirit. Theory teaches us that a living lab project is based on equal say by each stakeholder in order to create a level playing field which maximizes collaboration and meaningful interaction. In reality this level playing field was tricky to accomplish.
  • Secondly, one of the aims was to reach out to the people who are less likely to be heard or raise their voice in city-making processes. Although the Participation Team succeeded in a number of cases to give a number of IJburgers a voice, it was found difficult to reach those non-usual suspects.