Project update: Designing Rhythms for Social Resilience

Designing Rhythms for Social Resilience (DRSR) is an interesting research project, where data science and social science come together. The research explores rhythm as a new methodology for policymaking, with the goal of strengthening the sharing of culture for social resilience in neighborhoods. Together with residents, civil servants and creative industries, physical rhythms and data rhythms are analyzed in Amsterdam Southeast. We spoke with project leader prof. Caroline Nevejan and PhD candidate Pinar Sefkatli about the current state of events in this project.

Rhythm as a basis for trust

DRSR has a long history: in her own thesis, Caroline described in 2007 that rhythm is an important factor in the creation of trust. The well-documented City Rythm project, a collaboration between three universities, six municipalities and the Digital City Agenda, built on that idea. Nine case studies were conducted around various social problems. Caroline: "Rhythm analysis turned out to be a very suitable method to talk to different stakeholders about what's going on in a neighborhood: rhythm as a concept stands on the crossroads between different disciplines and therefore makes conversation possible."

This is not to say that this makes the conversation happen automatically, even within DRSR's multidisciplinary research team. It is sometimes challenging to work with different methods and a wide variety of data sources: interviews, observations in public spaces, data sets on mobile phone usage and on ecology - in DRSR they are all integrated. Data scientists and social scientists also have a different mindset, Pinar explains. "Repeatedly asking and answering the question 'what do you mean by that' is very important to make sure we understand each other. This process helps us come up with new concepts and generate knowledge. This is why we rigorously document our process on our open research platform - this is essential to the success of this project."

From beats to base rythm

DRSR picks up where City Rhythm left off: the team aims to validate previous findings and identify the impact of rhythm-based interventions. But what exactly is rhythm? "We talk about rhythm as the variation in pattern in a given structure," Caroline explains. "By structure we mean, for example, the traffic, the house or a city square. Sometimes simple interventions based on rhythms can have big consequences. In the morning rush hour, for example, you might want to make traffic lights run faster to improve traffic flow. Later in the morning there are more elderly people on the street: if you make the traffic lights run slower then, it makes it easier for them to participate in society."

Within DRSR, the concepts of beat, street rhythm and base rhythm have been developed. A beat refers to the state of a specific area at a given time, for example, the amount of cars on a street. Street rhythms show the significant transitions of beats through time. The base rhythm of an area is determined by comparison with other areas. These abstract concepts are sometimes difficult to grasp. Therefore, multimedia artists are indispensable in the project: they help visualize these abstract concepts, making it easier to understand them.


Validating the existence of base rhythms and finding out what they are based on is an important research goal, Caroline says. "If base rhythms exist, then local governments could link regulations to them. These can relate to all sorts of social challenges. In Amsterdam, for example, 4,700 streets have to change because of the energy transition. If we can now identify 7 or 8 base rhythms for energy transition, that will save a lot of time during implementation. Moreover, it is nice for the residents: via rhythms the municipality can make a bridge from the systematic policy world to the world of citizens."

To further explore concepts such as base rhythms, the researchers are working on four themes: litter, youth unemployment, parents & children and loneliness. "These themes came out of brainstorms we had with the area brokers of Amsterdam's Zuid-Oost district," Pinar says. "They know the problems in their neighborhoods up close. We then set to work with various methods to analyze rhythms. For example, litter is in public space, so we can use observations in space and time. In the end, based on our analyses, we were able to develop new arrangements for handling waste: these have even already been implemented by the municipality!" Many officials want to start working with findings from the DRSR project as soon as possible, Caroline adds. "Sometimes we have to hit the brakes. Because the concepts we work with are still so new, we work very precisely and thoroughly."

Luctor et Emergo

The start of the project had difficulties, Caroline explains. "The company that ran our collaboration platform was sold on twice and the new owner had no interest in research at all. In addition, my colleague at TU Delft was offered a job abroad and left. Suddenly Pinar and I were left alone." What followed was a complex process, but the team came out stronger. "With professor Alessandro Bozon, post-doc Achilleas Psyllidis and PhD candidate Julia Ubeda, we have a good academic team. The data from Research, Information and Statistics Amsterdam is of great value. And I like that our partner Habidatum is really part of the research team. The collaboration is now running like clockwork."

Together, the team is carefully trying to put a new approach to policy making on the map. Caroline: "Policies based on rhythm help make a city more people-friendly. We need to make room for our rhythms between the fixed patterns: people get tired of everything we have to fill in. I think it's wonderful that base rhythms have been able to discover - that streets resemble each other in this. But before we start arranging all the institutions accordingly, the evidence must be harder. We are only just getting started!"

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