Information day builds confidence in net zero energy in Zoetermeer (NL)

The housing association De Goede Woning, together with general contractor Dura Vermeer, are planning to renovate 120 homes to net zero energy in the neighbourhood of Palenstein in Zoetemeer, in the Netherlands. An ‘information market’ about the project was held for residents on a Wednesday evening in July 2017. There was a great atmosphere and the turnout was high. Before residents left the market, they filled in a card where they shared their first impressions about the proposed renovations. Their reactions were almost completely positive with only one or two tenants expressing doubts about the scheme. What is the secret to this success?

Residents’ committee makes home visits

Prior to the information market, members of the residents’ committee visited approximately 80% of the 120 involved households. The committee had already been involved in the choice of the solution provider and was therefore well informed about Dura Vermeer’s net zero energy concept. Committee members’ discussions with residents flushed out many of the concerns, desires and needs that tenants had. De Goede Woning and Dura Vermeer were able to put this knowledge to good use by addressing these issues during the information market.

The presentation: communicating clearly and efficiently

The programme for the information evening consisted of an initial half hour presentation followed by an information market with various stalls. This format was repeated three times (at 15:00, 17:00 and 19:00). Residents could choose which time suited them best. Visitors were asked to save any questions they had during the presentation for the market. This made it possible to get the basic information across clearly and efficiently. Topics covered in the presentation included: the motivations behind the project, the objectives of De Goede Woning, the information gathered from residents to date, the nature of renovation, the approach, the planning and finally a short explanation of the ‘energy plan’ that residents would be expected to sign up to after the renovation.

A few tips:

  • At the beginning of the presentation take the time to go over the information that has already been gathered from residents. What are their known concerns and hopes? If people can recognise their own issues in the presentation then they will retain the information better.
  • Clearly state the advantages of net zero energy for residents.
  • Be careful with terms like net zero energy, energy plan, level of support, participation, etc. It is important to either explain these terms well or not to use them at all.

You can download the presentation used at the information market here (in Dutch).

The information market

After the presentation, the team from De Goede Woning and Dura Vermeer spread themselves out over the various market stalls in the hall of De Goede Woning’s office. At these stalls residents could see examples of the fixtures and fittings they would receive in their home. Things like: the colours of the tiles, the new kitchen cupboards, the new facade and window frames, the electric stovetop and new pan set, the exterior design and technology behind net zero energy. This provided a more relaxed setting to raise questions about the renovation of their homes.

On a large flip chart residents could note any specific issues that they had so that they can be addressed as the renovation proposal was developed further.

There was also a separate stand where people could ask questions about the energy plan they would be asked to sign up to after the renovation. And finally, residents could drop ideas and suggestions in an ideas box.

Happy green and angry red emoticons

When they left, residents were presented with a goodie bag to take home and asked to fill in a ‘first impressions card’ about how they saw the renovation. They could choose from four emoticons ranging from a green smiley face to an angry red face. This process also captured important additional information as the back of the cards were used to note down concerns and impressions. The majority of the cards collected displayed a green smiley face. Some chose yellow, as they still had technical questions. These questions will be addressed as the proposal is developed and during home visits. Two of the 120 cards displayed an angry red face. Both found the exterior renovation OK, but didn’t want the difficulties of an interior renovation (in one case due to a sick partner). The cards are a great instrument to get a feel for the level of support in the community.

Does this process work in every case?

In the Netherlands large scale housing renovation projects of this kind are growing in number. Is an information market like this a good idea in all cases? Amongst other things, this depends on the relationship of the housing association with its tenants, the atmosphere in the neighbourhood and the general level of support for net zero energy. Are these things predominantly positive? If the answer is yes then an information market can be a good way of reaching many people at once. It is important to get a feel for any burning issues residents have and the dynamics of the neighbourhood. You can read about how to go about such processes at (available in Dutch only).

Alternatively, things maybe predominately more negative e.g. if there is a lack of trust in the housing association and/or the project or a painful history? There may even be unrest or social problems In such situations it is better to first attend to the problems at hand and/or to use individual home visits or small gatherings to disseminate information (such as meetings in individual housing blocks) before considering an information market.

The information market was a good choice for the Palenstein project. This was because the residents were generally enthusiastic about the project and wanted their house to be included in the renovation scheme. In addition, the residents generally had a good relationship with their housing association and they had already received much information from both the residents’ committee and an informative letter.

This net zero energy project of De Goede Woning was partly funded by Transition Zero, a project funded through the EU’s H2020 programme under grant agreement 696186

If you want to read more about tenant engagement and communication in net zero energy projects you should take a look at (available in Dutch only).