posted July 03 2013
on Erik Romijn

Appsterdam lunchtime lecture summary 3: Code for Europe

This is part of my summary series of the Weekly Wednesday Lunchtime Lectures, an initiative to allow people in Appsterdam to talk about technology and share knowledge, allowing participants to receive training in public speaking. The lectures cover a wide range of topics related to making apps on any platform, from technical to non-technical including computer languages, modelling, testing, design, marketing, business philosophy, startups, strategizing, and more.

Today’s lecture was about Code for Europe, by Ohyoon Kwon, Giovanni Maggini and Piotr Steininger.

Ohyoon, Giovanni and Piotr have been working the last six months on three different challenges, for stadsdeel Oost, West and Zuid. Code for Europe aims to solve local civic challenges with temporary agile teams, in a way that makes the solutions reusable for other cities.

In Amsterdam, they were hosted by the Waag society and the city of Amsterdam. They worked with three runners from the municipality, that presented the challenges. The aim is to create a collaborative environment, between municipalities, local communities and developers & designers.

Stadsdeel West

In stadsdeel West, they worked on social problems in deprived neighborhoods. One of the problems for the stadsdeel is the lack of a common information system to support practices across the various organisations.

The fellows went outside, into the neighborhood, together with experts from the stadsdeel. This was followed up with brainstorming sessions, looking at all the existing tools, how they worked and how they could be used, and then making a plan for further steps. The concept was first tested using existing software, and they made paper prototypes first to make sure their implementation will fit the needs.

Stadsdeel Oost

In stadsdeel Oost, the Indische buurt has a very high demand for community space, as the community there is very active. The fellows built a web application that allows citizens to manage facilities and reserve rooms.

The Indische buurt has four active community clusters, with about 22.000 citizens involved. The existing booking system for shared spaces consisted of flyers and paper calendars, posted in the shared facilities. Management was done through post-its and phone calls. The system was unreliable and unfriendly.

The fellows identified immediate needs, prototypes the system together with the user, and this resulted in an open source social neighborhood platform, which currently features room booking and room management.

A challenge in projects like this, is to ensure long-lasting maintenance of the project. It’s open source, so other people can already contribute. They’d like to see future fellows to continue the project. Next steps are to complete the booking portion, allow publishing of potential initiatives, and organizing a workshop with the people from the community.

Stadsdeel Zuid

In stadsdeel Zuid, the fellows worked to attract more tourists. They try to help the tourist crowd find the less commonly visited areas, outside the city center, and particularly in stadsdeel Zuid.

They built Take a Hike, which turns it into a fun and engaging game experience. It’s an offline playable scavenger hunt. They started with manned checkpoints and QR codes, but both had practical difficulties. Currently, it’s based on the compass. To validate the concept, they spoke to many people within the city and showed paper prototypes to people in Museumplein. It was a real challenge to finish the app in time for the June 22nd deadline, but they managed to publish it on time. The app is open source as well.

The app runs on a custom CMS backend which makes it easy to maintain the routes for the city. They also collect check-ins, to see how well the app is used and which places are most popular. The backend is built on Ruby on Rails and deployed on Heroku. Both iOS and Android are native apps, which was chosen to create a smooth experience, support proper multithreading and have simple sensor access.

On the launch day of the app, it rained most of the day. Few people were on the street, and in the end they decided to do a self-test. This still brought up several problems, like having markers inside closed buildings and problems with the Dutch version.