Getting associations closer to their tenants: an afternoon at Zig’s housing hackathon

The hot sun beams down on the Westergasfabriek complex, still bustling with families, couples and friends, chatting and drinking, taking in the last of this fine afternoon. But these people are missing out on the main attraction here at the Werkkamer, hinted at only by a banner and a flurry of activity at its front door every now and again, as the techies inside briefly emerge from its beehive-like entrance to also make the most of the day before sauntering back inside to return to the task at hand.

article by Crispin Pownall, ISHF team

For today is Zig Websoftware‘s social housing hackathon event, and inside this veritable hub of activity are five teams of data- and code-literate bright sparks, here to attack some of social housing’s most difficult and worthy challenges for 24 hours straight, fuelled by a stack of pizzas, a pile of fruit and a fridge full of juice, sparkling water and sodas (and possibly by the chance to win the €5000 prize on offer).

Conducting the activity is Zig’s Menno Ouweneel, and also present are representatives of housing associations and IBM, to both present issues that they have identified as demanding creative solutions and to scout for talent themselves. On the table are three issues put forward by housing associations: Woonnet Haaglanden’s is communicating the interior of dwellings without infringing on security and privacy; De Alliantie wants to improve communication software to not only more efficiently address, but also monitor and predict, issues both physical and social within housing delopments and neighborhoods; Rochdale wants to know how the internet of things (IOT) can be deployed in order to similarly detect and predict physical problems in buildings and communities before they arise, and address the waste ingrained in our problem-solving mindset that is, at present, inherently reactive.

Alliantie’s Jan Theunissen sees the exercise as a way of getting associations closer to their tenants. How can they make solutions to problems if they don’t know they exist in the first place? The distance between tenants and associations must be reduced if developments proceed in a way that is not based on the conceptions of the associations, but on the needs of the tenants. Associations “have a long way to go” in this aspect, he says. “And developments in society and in housing mean that in the future there will be more vulnerable people, from the sick to the old, and people with precarious lives such as ex-prisoners living in association housing, so it is essential we can better see problems before they manifest.”.

Ouweneel himself exudes an air of ease and gezelligheid amongst all the activity; maybe it is his calm and collected manner, but it could just as easily be his brightly-coloured Hawaiian polo shirt, which definitely transports a bit of Miami cool to the event. Why is Zig doing this event? “Tomorrow, we celebrate 10 years as Zig. Zig stands for ‘Zekerheid, Innovatie en Gemak’ (security, innovation and ease). Therefore, ‘innovation’ is really our middle name! Secondly, we are building on experience. Last year we did another hackathon, this time for 3 days, in Berlin, which not only provided us and participants with solutions but also served as a place where all the energy and excitement got reproduced and inoculated everyone who attended with a renewed vigor for innovation and thinking outside the box.”

What motivates him? “Waste is what drives me. It annoys me. For instance, why must we still always check IDs with our eyes and spend so much time and so many resources on that physical process? There must be a better, secure solution. The amount of waste reminds me every morning of all these problems that can be so easily solved” And what would constitute a success for this event? “When associations and customers– even just two or three customers– start seeing technology as a friend, not a threat.”

Meanwhile, the atmosphere amongst the developers is upbeat. Expat Harry Stormfeltz, here with his wife and co-producer Petra and 9-year old daughter Rebecca, sees activities such as this as one way he can help the world along to what he calls ‘humanitarian government’. “What is challenging and worthy about these tasks is that it is part of a move towards what is being called a ‘micro-economy’. The world is getting more and more sociable and social, and technology is a key tool we must use to embrace this, and really make it easy for people to get along.”

“I think that we need to get people to be less afraid of sharing things so that associations and other people can help them. Maybe we can reward people with discounts on their groceries for reporting problems and sharing information– I think there are many ways we can make technology work for everybody”.

featured image: Elodie Burrillon, Hucopix

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