Mooi, Mooier, Middelland

In 2015, a group of engaged citizens, entrepreneurs and civil servants started the co-creation project Mooi, Mooier, Middelland (“more and more beautiful Middelland” or MMM) to improve their neighbourhood’s quality of life. Halfway through, the question arose: how can we organise co-creation so that as many residents as possible are included in the conversation and decision-making? It’s an issue many cities and communities are wrestling with. DRIFT evaluated this experiment and gave recommendations.
How it all began
Mooi, Mooier Middelland took off in 2015. Quickly the project took a positive turn: the municipality opened up the decision-making process, and reached out to citizens to start a process of co-creation. And a collective budget of 7 million euros was made available by the city of Rotterdam.
Mooi, Mooier, Middelland soon developed into a platform for collaboration through which approximately 200 people are involved and part of different thematic project groups geared at improving the neighborhood.
DRIFT provided a half-time evaluation
In 2017, DRIFT was asked to evaluate the project and reflect more fundamentally on the process, because participants were fuzzy on the meaning, form and impact of co-creation. We addressed a set of three questions:

  • What is MMM? What is the democratic and administrative legitimacy of MMM?
  • What are the bottlenecks? What implications does co-creation have for the participants?
  • What are the conditions for fruitful co-creation?

The goal of the evaluation was to explore the way Mooi, Mooier, Middelland contributes to A) the renewal of local democracy at the neighbourhood level and B) the reassessment of the relation between the way of working of the municipal at the district and neighbourhood level. With this we expand the body of knowledge DRIFT developed throughout the years

DRIFT explored how participants experience MMM, using interviews, observations at meetings, sessions and festivities, and two reflection sessions in the neighbourhood.
MMM provides a broad base – over to city government
DRIFT concludes that Mooi Mooier Middelland has developed from a fairly radical change-oriented starting point to a broad and open platform for neighbours that want to do something constructive for their area. By shifting to cooperative community-building, the experiment has laid the foundation for next steps towards democratic action.

“To truly realise this experiment’s potential requires changes to Rotterdam’s formal and institutional context.”

But the dominant structure, culture and way-of-working at city government is limiting the space for residents to become involved in policy & legislation. Co-creation has so far been confined to neighbourhood limits.  Governmental processes downtown aren’t aligned with neighborhood initiatives which not seldomly leads to conflict and harms the principles of equality and co-creation.
For further development and success of such projects changes to they city’s formal and institutional context are needed. City officials should take these local networks seriously, listen, and be of service.
This is bigger than Middelland
This experiment is part of a larger change process in local Rotterdam democracy. Budget cuts, ‘the big society’ the city is asking a lot of initiative from its residents. Meanwhile, new democratic initiatives are coming onto the scene that are defying the established order.
At the same time, the traditional driving force behind neighbourhood development (the coalition of municipalities, housing corporations and welfare/resident organisations) has lost some of its clout, creating space for other initiatives. So the lessons learnt during this projects have relevance far beyond the neighbourhood’s borders.
We’re seeing the same dynamics in other Dutch cities (like Tilburg or the Hague). DRIFT is working on democratising this transition, together with residents, city officials, and other parties.
Interested? Please get in touch to exchange ideas.
You can read the evaluation here (in Dutch).
This project ran from medio 2015 until May 2017.
Municipality of Rotterdam/Mooi, Mooier, Middelland
DRIFT team
Frank van Steenbergen, & Karlijn Schipper