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What If Lab | Province of Noord-Brabant

24 October 2018

What if Lab | Province of Noord-Brabant - Photo: Oscar Vinck
What if? One of the most powerful questions ever asked, the basis for science and innovation. It challenges the dominant logic. Boundaries are stretched and solutions are created from a different perspective by letting the “what if?” question take centre stage. This is exactly what the What if Lab is all about.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Your vote matters!

The provincial elections are coming up in 2019. If we look at the past, a very low turnout is what we should expect. Instead of influencing the voters incrementally, we want to amaze them by showing them the role the province plays in current, relevant issues. There are preconceptions on both sides. According to the politicians, citizens lack political interest, while citizens claim that politicians are uninterested and uncommitted to topics actually relevant to today’s society. As one citizen of Brabant puts it: “What does the province actually do for me? They don’t lobby for us. Why would I vote?”

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. These words were attributed to Socrates, but it still sounds modern to us. What if we let go of our prejudice and discover what the future scenarios could be for Brabant? Do the people of Brabant and their provincial administrators even know what they could mean to each other? How can we get these two parties to communicate with each other? During the process of creating an exhibition for Dutch Design Week, designers developed new manners to establish such a connection.

The goal of this What If Lab is to show the politicians of Brabant which topics are important to the citizens of Brabant and to make sure to voters that their vote actually matters. It is not about pushing topics by politicians, but about finding out the concerns and dreams of people in Brabant. And by addressing their dreams, hopes and fears, people will be more engaged to vote and see the importance of their vote.

What if Lab | Province of Brabant - Oscar Vinck

Understanding ‘de Brabander’

Brabant Valley
People living in Brabant benefit from innovation. How can we use the innovative power of Brabant to make cities and the province more modern and how can we ensure that the inhabitants of Brabant take advantage of all technological knowledge in the province? A young father in Helmond says: “all kinds of complicated chips are developed in Brabant, but I don’t notice that our cities are getting any more modern.”  

Green Brabant
As a 9-year old girl from Eindhoven outs it: “there should be more forests in Brabant. That would also be beneficial for animal life, as animals live in forests.” Nature and space as the strength of Brabant. How do we ensure that Brabant remains a province with lots of space and nature and a place where all ages can recreate?

Accessible Brabant
Solve traffic congestion in Brabant. How do we ensure that Brabant is able to participate in the international market without roads getting clogged, villages remain accessible and public transport is well organized? A Brabander who deals with the consequences every day: “because the ring road of Oudenbosch misses a connection to the motorway, cars need to drive through a couple of villages. This results in unnecessary nuisance.”

Brabant international
Room for ambition while maintaining the essence of Brabant. How can we ensure that Brabant seizes opportunities internationally, without losing the characteristic solidarity? In a working-class district in Eindhoven, residents see this happening: “There is a lot of diversity in the neighbourhood, which makes it difficult to organise things. More direction from the housing cooperative is necessary. Because of restructuring, you don’t know who your neighbours are anymore, and this results in disappearing ownership.”  

Brabant cleans up its mess
Towards a clean and sustainable future for Brabant. How can we make it easier for citizens to keep Brabant clean? And how do we increase awareness? How do we make Brabant a sustainable province? A woman from the west of Brabant says: “empty pigsties should be demolished to prevent pot farms from moving in. There is also a lot of rubbish and waste dump in the forests related to drugs production.”

Vivid cities
Vivid Brabant cities all day long. How do we ensure that the typical characteristics of the inhabitants of Brabant are also visible in the cities? How do we ensure less vacancy and vivid, dynamic cities? A student in Eindhoven yearns for more: “Now you find the same stores everywhere, that could all be more exciting. And after 6pm the city turns into a ghost town. It is not really a 24/7 economy.”

From insights to experiment

With the insights from the research as a starting point, 6 teams of designers worked on one of the themes. Their assignment was to develop a concept that shows the Brabant residents that their provincial administrators listened to them and that encourages conversations between the people of Brabant and government representatives. Two teams with the best concepts further developed their idea and will present the outcome at Dutch Design Week.

What if Lab | Province of Brabant - Oscar Vinck

Experiment 1: The Voting Bin (theme Green Brabant)

In four years’ time we make an average of 292,000 choices about our food and only one about our province. With the abolition of the referendum, this number will most likely remain one. What if making choices about your environment became as easy as running your errands? What if you could vote on every street corner?

Carelessly throwing your rubbish onto the street is obviously discouraged. But if it were up to Daan Wubben and Bouke Bruins, carelessly throwing your rubbish into the trash bin will soon be a thing of the past too.

They’ve come up with the 'Voting Bin’ where you vote by throwing away your rubbish. When you throw something away, a question or statement appears on a screen. A statement is shown and encourages you to throw away your waste in either a "Yes" or a "No" waste bin. The statements correspond to the themes Brabant deals with on a daily basis. The Voting Bin is thus a playful data collector and daily referendum, where your waste becomes your voting pass.

The prototypes are going live during DDW. The Voting Bins will be at six design-related hotspots, where Bouke and Daan will present DDW visitors with a different question or statement each day. The information will be collected and visually translated into their physical 'database' on the Ketelhuisplein. Do you want to keep track of the audience’s votes? Take a look at for the latest results.

Experiment 2: B.I. Brabant Intelligence (theme Brabant Valley)

Brabant has a history rooted in innovation and is looking forward to a bright future. It is bursting with innovative technological developments. In high tech, logistics, agriculture and more. But many people in Brabant feel far removed from these innovations. What if you were the one being asked about the future of Brabant? What if you were the expert?

Everyone comes into contact with innovation in their daily life, even if it’s not consciously.  Anne Ligtenberg and Mats Horbach want to show people how they are experts. After all, we all use new technologies. Contactless payments and our new smartphones are examples of innovation in our daily lives. What happens if people recognize themselves as being an expert? Will they be more engaged and give their opinion? Will it lead to a vote? After all, many people don’t vote because they think they know too little about politics and the topics that are addressed.

So, what kinds of experts are living in Brabant? Anne and Mats have created 5 profiles from their research into the Brabander: The User Expert, Digital Professional, Analogue, Media Socialite and Tech Optimist. What happens with people once they find out they too are an expert? Will they share their opinions? Will they be more engaged and vote?

This article was written by Rob Adams, owner Innovation Agency Six Fingers