City of Amsterdam – innovation made real in the social domain


Since 2015 the city of Amsterdam centralized the organization of it’s main public services for efficiency reasons. This, after a very long period of decentralization of decision making and public services. But how to connect all different parts of the city with these newly formed, centralized services and fit them to specific neighborhood demands? Some twenty City Area Managers, each with their own logical part of the city in their portfolio, are appointed to do the job.


Much is expected of the City Area Managers, but it’s a completely new role in a completely revised organization. Forms, ways and means: all look fine on paper, but – in practice – have to be discovered and (re)developed from scratch. After a year, it’s clear that they see issues in their areas that are not addressed fully and/or properly by the new organization as a whole. Also on paper, there is room for them to improvise and innovate to improve. But it’s hard to find common ground for collaboration between the managers and on where to start innovation without irritating, or maybe even disrupt and undermine the newly formed centralized municipal organization, on which services they depend.


An intensive learning line is developed to empower the City Area Managers and help them to get a stronger grip on their tasks and ensure output. An important part of this learning line is helping them to identify issues and challenges, find outside-the-box solutions and define projects that address them. But topics are scattered over an almost infinite arena of possibilities, experience is limited and time is scarce: the learning line demands results within a year. So: how to get started, collaborate, accelerate and innovate?


VANBLEND is asked to develop a workshop to address these issues.

  • Structure the arena. After a fact based analysis of the above, we decided that the first step would be to put some structure in the arena of possibilities. We did this by sorting the issues of the City Area Managers in four logical groups: citizenship & participation, welfare, entrepreneurship & employment and public space. We asked attendants of the workshop to choose one of these subjects, based on urgency for their area and for them professionally.
  • Formulate challenges. We had four tables ready, for each of the subjects. Each table had a VANBLEND designer to help out in the process that followed. Systematically and under high time pressure, attendants on each table where helped to formulate their challenges and score them on urgency and impact.
  • Aggregate to collaborate. Next, we asked (and helped) the attendants on each table to try to aggregate the issues they had addressed, to see if common ground could be reached for collaboration in one or maybe two themes.
  • Explore solutions. Using Design Thinking tooling, we then supported the City Area Managers to explore user centered, innovative solutions.
  • Define projects. Last part of the workshop was to define specific projects to get the solutions prototyped, tested and eventually implemented and to present this plan to the colleagues.


5 innovative and specific projects where defined and presented. Each of the 20 City Area Managers is fully connected with one of these projects and – having developed them freely, with ‘time’ as the only external pressure – they have full ownership. Projects are started immediately and means are made available – all as an agreed part of their learning line. Full results will be presented by the end of 2016.