Case: Ghent

Case: Ghent

ZWERM- introduction

From 23 February till 23 March 2013, the neighbourhood game ZWERM[1] was played in two Ghent neighbourhoods. The game was created via a crowd sourcing process (5,500 internet users participated, 128 ideas were submitted, which received more than 4800 votes). ZWERM used various channels such as a website, a smart-phone interface and tangible street furniture. In this way the ZWERM pilot service can be deployed in a variety of contexts, even in cities where the ‘digital divide’ is still significant. ZWERM was developed on the open source content management system Drupal, which affords a free, flexible and robust development environment, and Apache Flex to create a rich interactive application to be run on the hollow tree computer.

The ZWERM components

The tangible street furniture consisted of different street furniture elements: two ‘hollow trees’ (one tree per neighbourhood) with a touchscreen computer and rfid reader inside for community gaming. Also part of the “Zwerm” (i.e. Dutch for “flock of birds”) were 8 sparrows, scattered around the participating neighbourhoods, placed on windowsills and balconies of resident’s houses. People could interact with them: they lighted up when whistled at.

The ZWERM sparrows were networked to form a real flock of birds by the cloud based SenseTale/MAX platform. This platform allows connecting and managing sensors and actuators, transforming sensor data in more complex events, defining rules that define the behavior of the bird, etc. The platform provides an SDK that allows easy programming of new applications and games using the birds’ processed sensor data. Each sparrow is equipped with a set of high power LEDs that can be remotely triggered and contain a set of sensors that measure parameters like movement near the bird, whistling and other environmental parameters. Every sparrow also has mobile connectivity to send the sensor data to – and receive commands from – the SenseTale/MAX platform that runs in the cloud. The sparrows measured more than 250.000 sensor samples that were send to the SenseTale/MAX platform.

 ZWERM and gamification

ZWERM uses game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences. This ‘gamification’ makes ZWERM more engaging, encourages users to engage in desired behaviors and takes advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. Thus, the gamification layer of ZWERM ensures the engagement of other target audiences when reused in another context. The ZWERM concept can be adapted to fit the needs of other neighbourhoods in other cities.

The goal of ZWERM was to earn credits for oneself and for one’s neighbourhood. Citizens checked in in at the hollow trees using an rfid card. The players could increase this score by checking in together with people from their neighbourhood that they had not checked in with before. Ghent Mayor Daniël Termont himself participated in such group check-ins in both neighborhoods. They also could answer to various neighbourhood-oriented challenges to earn these credits for the community. Citizens could also upload own assignments into the system – thus stimulating the co-creation aspect of this Smart Engagement pilot. Even the sparrows helped to increase the neighborhoods score. Whenever you whistled at them, they lighted up and added points to the score. In addition, players could post classifieds on the ZWERM website. Looking for a babysitter? Need help with a job? Both placing and responding to a local ZWERM advertisement delivered points. Points could also be earned by answering questions on the website. There was a question, for example, “As a mayor of your neighbourhood, what problem would you tackle first?”. The answers to these questions are valuable information for the city administration.

The ZWERM pilot in Ghent

More than 250 people from the selected neighbourhoods “Papegaai” and “Ekkergem”  have actively participated in ZWERM. 1.400 RFID cards were distributed, which means that 18% of the distributed cards have been used. A real success!

The unique aspect of ZWERM was that players could enrich the game themselves. If they had a great idea for an activity within ZWERM, it was examined whether and how this could be integrated into the game. At the request of team “Papegaai”, an assignment was made to  map the locations of illegal dumping and litter. This information was then used during a neighbourhood cleaning up activity.

The way the players handled the game elements, was impressive:

  • The involvement of the participants was large: if a tree or sparrow was not working properly, the organizers were informed about it immediately.
  • The trees were a daily meeting point for group check-ins, often with a snack and a drink and, in the cold temperatures, even a fire pit.
  • The rfid cards were also used in a creative way: people brought the cards along from roommates or neighbors who for some reason at some point could not check in and the group check-ins were organized in often ingenious ways.

 At the end of ZWERM, on 23 March, Ghent Mayor Daniël Termont celebrated the individual game winners and the participating neighbourhoods. Both neighbourhoods received a 500 euro budget to spend in consultation with all ZWERM players. Prelimary evaluation results show that ZWERM was greatly appreciated by the players. More than 80% of the players stated that ZWERM helped them to get to know the people in their neighbourhood better, while more than 75% stated that ZWERM induced a feeling of sense-of-community and neighbourhood cohesion (see Figure).


[1] The Ghent Smart Engagement pilot is officially called SCOGA (backoffice, software) / ZWERM (the gamification layer).