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How simulation software can improve the support of environmental management.

Interview with Henk van Hardeveld (Waternet)

In times where digital tools which enable for simulating various urban scenarios are gaining a more prominent role in urban planning processes and public management, it is crucial to investigate how the urban planners and policymakers engage with them and what influence can they have on urban management.  Henk van Hardeveld, a team leader of Hydrology and Ecology at Waternet is a scholar who in his work investigates such issues. In his work, he has gained considerable experience in working with the Tygron Geodesign Platform which has been a case study to his research on how simulation software can improve the support of environmental management. In an interview with Tygron about his research, he shares the insights that he gained during his research on the users’ experience with Tygron’s software.

Workshop session where the participants engage with the Tygron Platform.

The questions for the interview with Henk van Hardeveld were posed in relation to his research on the influence of interactive simulations on environmental management. [1] In his research, he tested ISS (interactive simulation system) with real-world stakeholders in multiple interactive workshop sessions, through questionnaires and video recordings of the sessions. The case used for his research was the collective management of Dutch peatlands for which an ISS was developed on the base of the Tygron Platform. The interview evolved around four key issues.

How to stand the test of critical reflection on the tool and data

The participants that took part in the workshop were experts in the field and because of their domain knowledge they did not take the results shown by the simulation for granted. The outcome that the stakeholders were often sceptical about was the estimation of costs and profits given by the software. According to van Hardeveld, some of the participants were curious about the data, which was used in the simulation. Because of the tight schedule of the session though, there was little time to explore the actual data sets that were loaded into the tool. However, key settings could be easily adjusted at the start of the session, using the input of the participants. Therefore, the tool was perceived by the participants as credible and legitimate. According to the interviewee, it also evoked trust because the ISS was designed by experts on the Dutch peatlands and because of the fact that the tool is fully customisable. 

How to use the tool successfully

In the experience of the interviewee, the way to use the tool successfully depends on the level of expertise of the participants in the interactive sessions. A team of participants which consists of only experts will do just fine. They not only have extensive knowledge in the field but are also able to understand the data and the technicalities of the software in a relatively short period of time. Another fruitful possibility is a team which consists of a person who is skilled at using the tool and a person who focuses on the scenario and negotiating a solution. From the observations of van Hardeveld, such combination results in effective collaboration within the team.  The last type of a team is one that consists of users which are neither familiar with the tool nor experts in the discussed problem. According to the van Hardeveld, the work of such a team is not very fruitful without a proper instruction. Otherwise, the technological aspect of the workshop turns out to be too complicated. In order for the session to be successful, you need to allocate more time to explain the use of the software and the background of the posed problem.

Reactions to the software

The interviewee has observed among the participants both enthusiastic and hopeful attitudes towards the software, as well as strong enthusiasm for solving real-world issues with the help of a ISS. According to the interviewee, the informal and friendly atmosphere of the session and the game-like character of the tool contributed, for the most part, to a better engagement in dialogue and negotiations as well as increased the productivity of the participants. The one thing almost everybody mentioned was that they gained a better understanding of the stakes of their opponents. Some even claimed this would be a big help in designing more successful deals in real-world situations. However, the interviewee also warned that real-world application requires more than just organizing one session. If you will use the tool over a longer period of time in a real-world policy process, you may encounter participants who are more sceptical towards the tool. This may also be related to the fact that it would change the work processes that they are used to. According to the interviewee, they may even fear that the new technologies and calculation models are going to replace humans making decisions. However, he does not regard this as very plausible. Instead, use of interactive simulation systems has been shown to enrich decision making in many cases around the world, enforcing rather than replacing the decision makers. 

The advantages of serious gaming for both experts and citizens

The serious game properties of the ISS are according to the interviewee beneficial to the problem-solving process.  The degree of learning amongst the participants is much deeper because they are actively taking actions in the simulation from the perspective of the stakeholder that they are representing. The users are immersed in the experience and the roles that they have assigned and try to communicate between each other and negotiate in order to broker a deal. The serious game mode deployment of the software can according to the interviewee be also a great tool for civic participation. The combination of data and the three-dimensional interface helps to present the issue to the citizen multidimensionally. It reveals relations between different aspects of the problem such as its causes as well as the impact that it has on the area. The realistic visualisation helps the citizens to identify with the area that is modelled. Moreover, during the interactive sessions with the ISS, the citizens can learn more about the objectives of the other stakeholders engaged in the discussion which helps them understand the complexity of the problem.

RE:PEAT ISS developed by van Hardeveld and his team

Besides the benefits that serious gaming has for citizens in the urban planning processes, van Hardeveld recognises a limitation to such mode of deployment, namely the time. The process of creating an ISS, depending on the complexity of the problem that needs to be visualized is very time consuming and therefore such interactive sessions do not align with the time schedule of many projects. On the bright side, there is at least one notable exception: the ISS that van Hardeveld and his colleagues created is freely available for all users of Tygron software. To underline this feature, they baptized their ISS ‘RE:PEAT’, and invite all stakeholders in peatland processes around the world the repeat their successful application of the Tygron software.

 

[1] van Hardeveld, H. A., P. P. J. Driessen, P. P. Schot, and M. J. Wassen. “How interactive simulations can improve the support of environmental management‒lessons from the Dutch peatlands.” Environmental Modelling & Software 119 (2019): 135-146.

Tauw makes the spatial integration of wind & solar energy explorable in three dimensions

Tauw supports the Regional Energy Strategy (RES) Noord-Holland North and Noord-Holland South with the spatial integration of wind & solar energy.

Thirty energy regions in the Netherlands are investigating, as part of the RES, in which areas they can best generate renewable energy to be energy-neutral by 2050. This process requires careful consideration. That is why stakeholders, initiators and residents are involved in this process.

Almost a year before the final RES 1.0 is due to be ready on 1 July 2021, the draft RES of each energy region had to be submitted. This was initially June 1, but due to the Corona crisis this deadline has been postponed to October 1. During the process of creating the concept RES, Tauw offered interactive design sessions in which Tauw used the 3D environment Tygron to quickly investigate and clarify the spatial compatibility of wind and solar energy. In addition, Tauw also offered 3D animations for wind & solar energy. These 3D animations were also made in Tygron.

Interactive design sessions

An interactive design session provides insight into the spatial applicability of wind and solar energy, in relation to existing spatial restrictions for wind and/or sun from laws and regulations. In preparation for the session Tauw loads the search area into the Tygron platform. In addition, the limiting contours are prepared in the Tygron platform.

During the design session, we draw a new wind or solar initiative using the 3D environment of the Tygron Platform. These suggestions are delivered to the present stakeholders. Restrictive contours from the current situation are immediately visible in the 3D environment, such as the minimum distance from windmills to homes and pipelines.

An interactive Tygron session can be used for municipalities and initiators to gain insight into the various configurations and spatial effects that await them. The interactive sessions were successfully held at the municipalities of Haarlem and Diemen. 

3D animation wind and solar energy

Tauw also uses the 3D environment of the Tygron platform for  3D animations. These are used to easily show wind and solar energy to a large audience. This is provided by translating the search areas from Tygron into a 3D movie. The film shows setups from different camera angles, such as from eye level and bird’s eye view and from far and near. In this way formations can also be spatially explored in relation to each other.

The 3D animations have been used for the municipalities of Amsterdam and Diemen and for the Gooi & Vecht region and IJmond-Kennemerland. These 3D animations were shown at residents’ evenings and were very well received.

 

 

Tygron Geodesign Platform as the building blocks of the Edible Game 1.0

The Tygron Platform has been working to support scientists of the ICRA Catalan Institute for Water Research in developing an urban serious game. Edible Game 1.0 as a part of the Edible City Network project has been designed to help the cities to implement Edible City solutions and therefore improve the liveability of urban areas.

The Edible City Network is an international initiative that strives to improve the liveability of the cities through the implementation of Edible City Solutions. The projects objective is to find solutions to make cities more sustainable by planting greenery and crops within the urban space and through that, it hopes to increase the overall social welfare of the cities and strives towards making it climate and future proof.  The project is a result of multidisciplinary collaboration between different scholars, universities, local city administrators and non-governmental organizations and private enterprises all around the world which all work together for the same goal.

Tygron too plays a role in the initiative by giving the building blocks to a serious game Edible Game 1.0. The game has been developed by a team of scholars from the ICRA Catalan Institute for Water Research involved in the EdiCitNet project. Josep Pueyo-Ros, Lluís Corominas, Joaquim Comas, Joana Castellar and Alexandra Popartan have developed the game in the hope that it will help with designing the transition of the cities into spaces which align with the objectives of the Edible City Networks. The game was designed to present the major urban challenges and to understand how different Edible City Solutions can address them. It provides the players with knowledge base and methodology to successfully implement the Edible Cities Solutions which will suit their city’s needs best.

Edible Game 1.0 – street view of Girona

The first version of the game has been based on the map of Girona, the city where the game’s designers are based in. The game however, because of the fact that the Tygron Platform is based on a gaming engine,  can be applied to and played in all of the cities that belong to the Edible Cities Network. The game can be played from 9 different perspectives, as every player represents a different stakeholder group. Among them are the municipality, tourism promoter, neighbour’s organization and the educational sector. In order to reach an optimal outcome in the game and implement the Edible City Solutions successfully, the players need to be in constant dialogue with each other. Every player has a defined budget and goals that they are striving towards. All of the players’ actions influence the indicators which in order for the scenario to be a success, need to be kept at a certain level. For the purpose of the game, new indicators such as the absorbed NO2, people involved, jobs created and food production were created. During the gameplay, the players make use of different overlays which help them to make informed decisions. These overlays give the players the access to information on, among others, the heat stress effect, distance to green areas, NO2 emissions, food production and the locations of plots available for urban agriculture.

NO2 emissions overlay showing the concentration of NO2 in the city of Girona

The game can be used by policymakers and urban planners for scenario testing as it provides feedback on taken actions. In real time, it visualizes the changes made in a 3D model of the area and indicates what influence they have on different aspects of the area. The simulation properties of the software make it a tool perfectly suitable for experimentation and testing different proposed solutions.  Moreover, because of the fact that the game is played by various stakeholders which need to debate with each other during the game play to reach a desired outcome, the Platform is a tool suitable for participatory planning approach where the citizens discuss about a problem together with urban planners. The game gives the players the opportunity to empathize with the other stakeholders of the city and understand their, sometimes conflicting, interests.

The holistic approach to city planning with the Tygron Platform

In 2021 the Netherlands will face a major change in environmental laws. The approaching implementation of the Omgevingswet (Environment and Planning act) is expected to bring many improvements for citizens, but also requires the reorganization of  work processes of municipalities and a shift in their approach to city planning. In  order to find out what the future of city planning will look like, and in order to see if tools like the Tygron Platform can be important in the process, Tygron reached out to Hans Wisse, a former project secretary of the implementation of the Omgevingswet in The Hague Municipality and an advisor at Ludanta. In his work, he has considerable experience in working with the Tygron Platform as well as in leading Serious Gaming sessions with the use of the Tygron software.

Spatial planning

In the light of the Omgevingswet, according to Wisse, there needs to be a shift in approach to city planning. Currently, the discussions about urban problems and urban solutions are conducted with limited spatial awareness and with the use of two-dimensional plans. This way, the problems are tackled with little attention to the fact that every problem exists in relation to multiple factors and that every solution to this problem will have an effect not only on the direct issue but also on the environment in which it exists. Policymakers and city planners, according to Wisse, need to start planning three-dimensionally. They need to see the space, which is the subject to their discussion as well as they need to understand the other factors which are tied to the problem that they are trying to tackle. Wisse compares the urban environment to a living organism where one problem treated by a specialist might result in major consequences for other vital organs in the body. Therefore, city planners need to treat the urban problems holistically, paying attention not only to the immediate issue but also to the effect that the solution will have on other parts of the urban ecosystem. 

Working integrally

In order for this vision to become reality, it is crucial that policymaker and planners specialized in different domains work integrally. Currently, policymakers are required to make laws and regulations for each domain individually. The cooperation between the different departments is limited yet, in light of the objectives of the new Environmental Act, in order for the city planning to be effective different specialists need to work together.

As Wisse says, such a way of working is a result of the well-established work manner within  municipalities. Switching to a more horizontal, collaborative city planning is a big step that the municipalities are slowly making. In order to make the transition process easier, Hans Wisse says that he searched for a digital medium that would help bring different stakeholders together and be a starting point to productive discussions. The tool that he saw potential in was the Tygron Platform.

Kijkduin 2- a serious game developed by Ludanta based on the Tygron Platform

With the help of Ludanta, Wisse now uses the Tygron software and serious gaming to introduce the municipality workers to a new way of planning the cities. According to him, such a way of deployment of the software is the most approachable way of introducing the new tool. Among the serious games used by Wisse to tackle city-planning problems are the Kijkduin 1 and 2 developed by Ludanta. In the interactive game sessions, different stakeholders are gathered together to debate and to find an optimal solution to a problem. In order to achieve their goals, the game requires the participants to make compromises. The team goal is more important than the goals of the individual stakeholders and in order to reach it, the participants need to negotiate and discuss the issue together. As Wisse says, the Tygron Platform provides the participants with a visual presentation of the problem area and the situation. That way, the area, and the issue discussed become transparent and the stakeholders are provided with a sense of reality. The proposed solution and the discussions held at the table are no longer two dimensional and theoretical. Thanks to the Platform, they come to life and are visualized to the participants. The problems are shown to be a part of a bigger system. It is made clear that they are a part of a web of different, co-existing aspects of the city and therefore, the participants see how important it is that the city-plans need to be made with the joined effort. The Platform provides a safe space for creative thinking, testing, and experimenting with possible solutions without the threat of making mistakes.

Civic participation

Currently, the Kijkduin application is used for gaming sessions for civil servants as well as the citizens. Both groups are however participating separately. According to Wisse, the next step is to use the Tygron Platform to hold discussions at one table with both, citizens and the city planners. Municipalities cannot succeed in their work without the input of the citizens. The citizens are the experts that the municipality needs, says Wisse. They live in the area day to day, they are the ones who know everything about the needs and the problems of their city. It is therefore crucial that these two groups work together more closely, and the cooperation between them can be made easier and more effective if supported by tools such as the Tygron Platform.

Using the Tygron Geodesign Platform within the Dutch Municipalities

In an interview with Tygron, Edward de Wit, a senior policy officer, shares his experiences in using the Tygron Geodesign Platform.

Edward de Wit is a senior policy officer working by the Authorization and Supervision department by one of the big Dutch municipalities. In his work, he is currently using the Tygron Geodesign Platform in a project about nitrogen pollution where he aims to gain insights into the nitrogen deposition caused by the building sites. Having considerable experience in using the Platform, de Wit shares in an interview with Tygron insights on affordances of the software, its practical applications and the data culture within the municipality.

Nitrogen pollution made visible in the Tygron Platform

Tygron Platform for the Environmental and Planning Act

According to de Wit, the innovation to the public management that Tygron brings, is of value in the light of the new Environmental and Planning Act which will be put to work in January 2021. One of the aims of the new law is making the spatial laws simpler and more accessible to the citizens. A solution which would help reach this goal is the so called Digtaal Stelsel Omgevingswet (DSO), a system which would let the citizen view an area on which he wants to build and show him on a map if his building plans are aligned with the rules posed by the government. Such way of verifying building plans would simplify the long and complicated procedure of applying for building permit. According to de Wit, such shift in the law is only possible once the government possesses the right tools to support such functions. Tygron, among other simulation software is suitable for this purpose. Even though the technical base for such innovations already exists, the government is cautious with handing such tools into the hands of the citizens not only because of financial matters but also because of the possible mistake margin of the calculations and the prediction performed by such software. Therefore, according to de Wit, the incorporation of simulation software in the permit assigning process is a discussion point in the government agenda, but only in distant future. 

Data culture within the municipality

In the department where de Wit works, there is not so much scepticism about the data used for the calculations in the Tygron Platform. The data which is used for the calculations belongs to the department and is accepted as the truth. In their work, the employees of the Authorization and Supervision department are also making use of the Aerius model developed by the province, therefore they do not feel the need to verify the data. Asked about the general data culture within the municipality, de Wit says that the institution has at its disposal a general ICT and data department. The municipality has however ambitious plans to strive towards becoming a more data driven municipality. To reach their goals, the municipality had developed an extensive data-strategy for the years 2020-2022. One of the objectives of the innovation programme mentioned by de Wit is that every department within the municipality should have a data specialist who would give advice on data related topics and who would help in preparing the data so that it can be reused by other departments.

De Wit is positively inclined towards the Tygron Platform. According to him, the visualisation properties of the software are impressive, and it is a great communication tool which can support the discussion among multiple specialists from various domains who decide upon the building permits. There are however steps to be taken with regard to the tool to make it available to the citizens. At first, says de Wit, the tool will be used for solving the nitrogen problem and if successful, the municipality will broaden the application of the software to other challenging issues such as the external security, noise and air quality.

Tygron for improving spatial planning in the Utrecht Province

Maarten van Helden is a senior sustainable development advisor at the Province of Utrecht who works day to day with the Tygron Geodesign Platform. In an interview with Tygron, he shares insights on the improvements that the Platform brought to his work processes, the reactions within the municipalities to the software and the collaboration between Tygron and the Utrecht Province to create new, custom features that improve the usability of the Platform.

Benefits of the Tygron Platform

According to Van Helden, the incorporation of the Tygron Platform into the work processes of the province brought beneficial change to the development of spatial plans. The major advantages of the tool are the visualisation capabilities of the software. The tool can turn a chosen two-dimensional area on the map into a three dimensional interactive model. It can be applied to any area and the user has instant access to multiple information layers (overlays) that can be drawn over the neighbourhood or area. Without the software, any change proposed to the area needs to be first calculated and subsequently, a new map needs to be drawn. This delays the decision process as drawing such plans and making the calculations can take days. The Tygron Platform, however, allows to make changes to the plan and assess their impact to the area almost instantly. That way, time and effort can be saved and the decision making and planning process can accelerate.

Quality scores developed for the Utrecht Province in the Tygron Platform

Tygron for Utrecht Province

At the Utrecht Province, the Tygron software is helping Van Helden and his team to develop quality scores of varieties of aspects of the environment. Issues such as noise pollution, air pollution, energy and soil quality are assigned a score from 1 to 10 which gives the urban planners insight into the state of these aspects in the current situation. The scores are calculated by the Tygron software automatically, however the meaning behind the numerical values is decided by Van Helden and a team of specialists who have expertise in various domains related to urban planning. In order for the plan to be approved, all indicators need to be above 6. According to Van Helden, the province is not satisfied with plans which score just above the legal minimum. The advisors are not focusing on what is allowed but they strive to explore which solutions will guarantee the best possible health and living conditions for the people. If certain scores are not satisfactory, the user can take different actions in the platform which could potentially improve the situation and test what influence on the area they will have by running a simulation. According to Van Helden, because of the fact that every decision has an influence on the other aspects of the environment, every issue and every choice needs to be discussed by multiple specialists which are involved in making the urban plans. Even though some scores are impossible to be objectively measured, they are contributing to the discussion because they put the discussed issue in context and provide the planners with a sense of perspective.

Working with Tygron to create custom solutions

While working with the Tygron Platform, van Helden and his team often rely on the assistance of the GIS department within the Utrecht Province which, holding expertise in Geo data, helps them to translate the maps into the software and create custom calculation models. According to Van Helden, even with the help of the GIS department in developing custom solutions catered to the needs of his team, there is need for thought exchange between his team and Tygron as often specialistic features need to be developed in order for the software to support his projects. Holding a partnership with Tygron, Van Helden, his team and the GIS department are in constant dialogue with Tygron and its’ developers about how the software can be adjusted, and improved, and which features can be added to meet the needs of the users.

Reactions to the software within municipalities

Through using the Tygron Platform by multiple various projects within the Utrecht Province as well as in various Dutch municipalities, Van Helden and his team have gained considerable number of insights on how the employees of governmental organizations react to the software. The visualization properties of the platform evoke positive reactions among the users and make them gain trust in visualized information quickly. It is common that the users are often impressed with the realistic image generated by the software and do not always question the scores and results predicted by the software. Even though not everyone is reflecting upon the calculations performed by the tool and the data fed into the software, there is a considerable number of users who ask good and interesting questions about the innerworkings of the tool.  According to the observations of Van Helden, the Platform is a tool which aids the discussion and by showing the issue in relation to other aspects to the area, gives context to the discussed problem and motivates the specialists to work and debate together.

Giving advice to smaller municipalities

 

From the experience of Van Helden and his team, the advice that they give to urban planners influences the plan initially, however, as they can only join the project for a short amount of time, the plans can develop in a different than the advised direction. As Van Helden mentions, keeping knowledge within the organization is difficult as some small municipalities have limited access to advisors with expertise in the Tygron software. He claims that best results are achieved when the Tygron Platform is incorporated in the planning process right at the beginning of the project. Changing spatial plans halfway usually results in high costs.

Looking into the future

In the interview, Van Helden mentions a number of possible applications of the Platform which might become more common in the near future. According to him, at the moment, little social data is used by the province while working with the Platform. The province has the access to basic social data such as the information about jobs and income of the area, it is however difficult to combine it with spatial planning. It is therefore not yet the focus while working with the software. Van Helden indicates however that it might be more incorporated in the future. Another possible application of the software which is exceptionally relevant in the light of the Omgevingswet (Environmental and Planning Act) is using the Platform as Digital System (DSO) which can inform the citizens about the spatial laws and help to communicates urban plans to them.

Related Post:

https://www.tygron.com/en/2018/07/17/provincie-utrecht-gebruikt-tygron-platform-voor-omgevingswet/