The Child Package – using blockchain technology to improve services for residents

The municipality of Zuidhorn (now Westerkwartier) created the Child Package, based on the principles of Blockchain. The Child Package is a scheme intended for children from low-income households. Residents can log in on a website and use a QR-code to pay for child products at participating regional businesses.

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On an international level, there has been widespread experimentation with blockchain technology over the past few years, both in the private and in the public sector. In an effort to promote digital development, the Dutch government has put together the Digital Public Sector agenda, which specifies targeted innovations, as well as matters relating to the protection of basic rights and public values. On a local level, authorities are experimenting with, among other things, possibilities offered by blockchain. The Zuidhorn municipality (currently Westerkwartier municipality) in the northern part of the Netherlands was one of the Netherlands’ first municipalities to build a fully operational application that is based on the principles of blockchain.

Bridging the gap between dignitaries and ‘regular people’ is what alderman Stol has set out to do. One of his responsibilities is to stimulate the ‘knowledge economy’ in the Zuidhorn municipality (19,000 inhabitants). This municipality is located at a short distance from the University of Groningen, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, and other knowledge institutions. Zuidhorn has set out to use this proximity to its advantage in switching to a knowledge-based economy. In putting together the municipal executive, potential members were asked how they would handle setbacks. Would you fall back on rules and procedures or accept that things can go wrong when taking new initiatives, because it is simply part of it? Sustainability (GroenLinks (left-wing political party)) and stewardship (ChristenUnie and CDA (centrist political parties)) coincided in the ambition to shape the knowledge economy and innovation in the municipality, for residents, but also for their children and grandchildren. The basic principle was to embark on this journey together, go on an adventure, and explore whatever you encountered along the way, not hiding behind rules, but seizing opportunities.

‘Our aim is to make Zuidhorn a little bit more beautiful every day’ is the overriding motto for the municipal organisation’s activities. To do so, Zuidhorn has adopt an outward-looking perspective and rewards initiative shown within the organisation. Coming from this innovation-oriented context, department head Erwin van der Maesen de Sombreff attended a conference one day where he became inspired by blockchain technology. He believed this technology would make it possible to verify the identity of applicants for services or products using software instead of having civil servants review each application. He decided to recruit an intern and appointed Maarten Velthuijs, with whom he signed an internship agreement. Going into the project, Maarten made it clear that he did not merely want to produce a thesis, but wanted to deliver a fully functional concept. ‘If I really want us to change the way we work, I will simply have to go along with this’, Erwin told himself.

Maarten saw blockchain as a way to take personal data out of databases and put it back in people’s own hands. Blockchain would make it possible to put personal data in the network in an encrypted form. And only you have the encryption key. The data is not owned by Google or any other commercial party, but not by the government either. You are the only one who can decide who can access your data. It is basically the start of a new form of internet, but in a way that puts people back in control, instead of commercial organisations. He put together an international team and came up with a concept with them for all applications for public services by using the standard roles of applicant, donor, provider, and validator.

The Child Package is a scheme intended for children from low-income households. At the time, running this scheme was a cost-intensive undertaking for the local authority, involving physical vouchers that people could use to purchase products at certain shops, and which applicants would have to pick up on a date set by the local authority. After four months of hard work, which involved close collaboration with local civil servants, the Child Package process was changed and provided using the new technology. Using the Child Package scheme now no longer involved transactions where money changed hands. Instead, residents logged in on a website using an activation code and could use a QR code to pay for child products at participating regional businesses.

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Year: 2017
Level of government: Local government

Status:

  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

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