The role of subjective data in participative modelling

STAIN for City Resilience Strategies | Royal HaskoningDHV 

Collaboration between different parties is important in adaptation processes because Cities, as entities, do not own all the assets in a city region. City ambitions like energy transition, climate adaptation and health all require collaborations between different city departments and between the city and citizens, businesses, housing associations and other stakeholders. Participative modelling is a way to set up this collaboration in an early phase and then strengthen it in more detailed planning phases.

STAIN for City Resilience Strategies | Royal HaskoningDHV
Collaborative modelling workshop

Objective data versus subjective data

Sometimes we forget how valuable city expert knowledge is for these adaptation processes, especially when there are detailed maps available on heat-island effects, floods, air quality and noise. These experts know exactly what is important in a certain part of the city, how citizens respond to actions from the city council, what types of measures will work, and which won’t. Furthermore, they have ample experience in interpreting all these maps and data. If all these experts can share the most important aspects and insights with each other effectively, a comprehensive overview can be created for the benefit of all stakeholders.
This is especially important when stakeholders, who are less familiar with these data, join a collaborative modelling workshop. Using a digital tool that can translate numerous contributions into a collaborative design gives confidence to the participants that their views are being heard and will be the basis for further developments and collaboration. In this way, it is possible to incorporate valuable subjective data as well as objective data in the process.

Level of understanding needs level of abstraction

Participative modelling needs a common level of understanding for meaningful resilience strategies or city adaptation planning. This level will not be reached when all the available data is simply mapped for a design session, as people can get lost in the details and are limited in seeing the bigger picture. The wealth of available data needs a certain amount of abstraction for each of the experts and stakeholders to be comfortable with sharing their knowledge and views, to be able to work on a solution together.

Risk-thinking versus resilience-thinking

Many cities have finished their resilience strategies, and more will follow. There is currently a tendency towards working on these resilience strategies from a risk point of view, by calculating and collecting different risk maps and hazard maps and using these for city strategies. By doing this, we focus on single problems for which we design single protective solutions.

However, resilience strategy calls for a bigger picture and a combination of different types of solutions. Protective, robust measures will solve problems for a certain period, but for long-term, resilient planning you need to complement robust solutions (such as sewage systems and flood retaining walls) with integral (e.g. nature-based solutions), flexible (e.g. early warning systems, awareness campaigns and educational programs) and redundant solutions (e.g. flood protective transformer stations).

STAIN for City Resilience Strategies | Royal HaskoningDHV

Robust strategy based on protective measures versus a mixed strategy


STAIN is designed to reach that required level of common understanding and uses a certain abstraction to keep the bigger picture in mind. The people attending a STAIN workshop use their own expert knowledge on city assets, residents and short-term city plans and explain this to each other in order to reach a level of understanding and agreement. Not only does this result in an integral strategy, but the further planning and development phases also benefit from this level of agreement and understanding. This can accelerate the urban planning process. When a resilience strategy is designed within STAIN, the next phases will require detailed, objective city data to move towards a detailed resilience plan.

Case study: Rotterdam

The City of Rotterdam finished their resilience strategy “Rotterdams Weerwoord” in 2019 and used STAIN to translate this strategy into an approach for one of their city districts. City experts with backgrounds in, among others, asset management, mobility and water management, attended the workshop and talked about different ways to achieve the goals from the overall resilience strategy. Each expert knew about current projects and plans, where problems occurred, how residents would respond to certain solutions, and in which situations they would need to collaborate with different stakeholders.

STAIN for City Resilience Strategies | Royal HaskoningDHV
STAIN result for one of the districts in the city of Rotterdam

The workshop resulted in a district approach based on “Rotterdams Weerwoord”. Participants of the STAIN session were quick to show enthusiasm. “The best part of this workshop was being able to learn so much from my colleagues,” commented one of the experts. “What worked really well was to have the local area knowledge as a central element in designing the strategy.”

In conclusion, the key takeaways of the workshop were:
  • The role of key city experts is important as intermediate for bringing in citizen’s needs;
  • The value of subjective data as well as objective data;
  • The value of bringing together various stakeholders in an interactive setting using serious gaming like tools such as STAIN to create a collaborative strategy;
  • STAIN enables stakeholders to get proper insights into the needs and interests of other stakeholders;
  • The added value of STAIN for creating city resilience strategies.

How does STAIN work?