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In the Dutch province of Zeeland lies the municipality of Terneuzen, with over 55,000 residents, making it the largest municipality in Zeeland by population. Situated in a unique border area, Terneuzen faced a challenge: increasing citizen involvement in decision-making. In February 2023, the municipality launched the online platform Hoplr to enhance participation and strengthen the bonds between neighborhood residents. We spoke with the driving forces behind this initiative within the municipality of Terneuzen – Jozien Borgmeijer, Advisor for Citizen and Government Participation, Stefan Joos, Neighborhood Coordinator, and Ruth de Bruin, interim project manager – who enthusiastically shared their experiences with Hoplr, emphasizing neighborhood participation.

A strategic approach to neighbourhood participation

The municipality of Terneuzen faced the challenge of realizing a digital participation platform as outlined in the administrative agreement that the city council wanted to adhere to.

They quickly realized that traditional participation platforms require significant effort from the government to engage people. This was contrary to their strategy; they wanted a platform where members themselves kept the conversation going without constant government intervention. They were looking for a central place where people were intrinsically motivated to participate. Hoplr, initially seen as an outlier among traditional participation platforms due to its bottom-up approach to participation, was considered the ideal solution to stimulate participation and contribute to a healthy neighborhood.

The implementation for Hoplr and creating internal support

After deciding to work with Hoplr, the team quickly took steps to implement the platform. However, within the municipality, it was not always easy to get everyone on board. They encountered resistance from some project leaders who, despite the importance of participation, struggled to get started with Hoplr. There was a fear among colleagues, a perception that participation would cause delays and complications, and only lead to questions and discussions. It remained necessary to guide people and help them overcome the threshold. This had an effect; colleagues who shared projects were satisfied with the responses and suggestions they received from residents.

Hoplr has since become an indispensable tool within the municipality and has quickly gained popularity among the Council. They regularly receive questions from council members about whether a particular message has already been shared via Hoplr, knowing that the platform is the way to get the message to the neighbors.

“Hoplr is now indispensable in Terneuzen. We regularly receive questions from council members about whether a particular message has already been shared via Hoplr.”

Jozien Borgmeijer, advisor participation municipality Terneuzen

Hoplr as a tool for social cohesion and neighbourhood participation

Within the municipality, Hoplr is used not only for environmental issues but also for social issues such as loneliness and preventive health. The platform serves as a versatile tool reflecting the needs of various departments within the organization as well as those of the residents. What originally began as a tool for citizen participation has evolved into a central communication channel for neighborhood-related matters within the municipality of Terneuzen. This use of Hoplr is enthusiastically received by residents, who appreciate the personal interaction and experience a stronger bond with their neighbors.

Residents and associations actively use the platform to help each other and exchange items. Promisingly, these initiatives are entirely driven and maintained by the residents themselves. They help with finding leaks, assist neighbors by walking dogs, and several residents join forces to help a diabetic neighbor get to work when she is unable to drive herself.

“And we play no role in this; it just happens naturally, which is so beautiful.”

Jozien Borgmeijer, advisor participation municipality Terneuzen

Hoplr conquers the municipality after one year of use

After one year, Hoplr has achieved impressive results in the municipality. No less than 17.9% of households, which translates to 4600 households, actively use the platform. This achievement was made possible through a coordinated approach, distributing letters about Hoplr to residents and running a communication campaign with both unpaid and paid publicity. The number of participants in participatory activities varies depending on the topic but often ranges around 400 to 500 responses.

A remarkable aspect of the results is the diversity of the audience involved in Hoplr. Previously, the participant group mainly consisted of older men over fifty, but now they see a much broader representation, including younger adults and more women. Another positive development is the involvement of expats in Hoplr. They find it valuable to be able to post and read messages in their own language, which helps them build social contacts in their new environment. This demonstrates that Hoplr is not only valuable for the local community but also for newcomers looking to find their way in the neighborhood.

“The audience is now much more diverse than before, with not only older men over fifty, but also many young adults and a larger number of women.”

Jozien Borgmeijer, advisor participation municipality Terneuzen

A look at the future of Hoplr within the municipality of Terneuzen

Although the results are already fantastic, there is still room for further improvement and growth. The municipality of Terneuzen aims to increase the number of participating households from 18% to 25%, which will further enhance community involvement. Additionally, they aim to stimulate the use of communities within Hoplr and plan to implement the neighborhood concierge to better utilize social capital.

Furthermore, they want to make more use of available data, as this can provide valuable insights for management and give a better understanding of the public mood. With these ongoing developments and adjustments, they hope to further increase the impact of Hoplr and better meet the needs of their community.

Improve neighborhood engagement: Learn how Hoplr can support your municipality! Do not hesitate to contact us. We are ready to explore the possibilities together.

Do not hesitate to contact us. We are ready to explore the possibilities together.

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