Social Innovation Labs for a zero energy housing stock in the Hart van Brabant region (SMILE)


  • Petra Hofman
  • Arlette van den Berg
  • Martijn Groenleer

In cooperation with

  • Hart van Brabant region
  • Municipality of Tilburg
  • Energy cooperative Hilverstroom
  • De Twee Snoeken Architects

Funded by

  • OP Zuid (European Regional Development Fund)
  • Province of Noord-Brabant


  • 2017-2020


In order to reach the climate goals as set in the Paris Agreement, the entire built environment in the Netherlands has to be free of natural gas use in 2050. This means amongst others better isolation of dwellings, schools and office buildings, the improvement of heating systems, replacement of pipes and an increased local energy production. Consequently, this energy transition has a great impact on the living environment of citizens. However, there appears to be a gap between technological innovations and societal acceptance. Therefore, citizens’ involvement is essential for a successful implementation of energy innovations.

Municipalities and provinces are currently experimenting with governance tools facilitating bottom-up innovation processes. This raises important governance questions regarding the alignment of (inter)national goals and regional/local acceptance and implementation, responsibility and task divisions and ways to involve multiple actors in decision-making processes.

The SMILE project contributes to these experiments by facilitating social labs in ten neighborhoods in the Hart van Brabant region. Through these labs, local stakeholders of various backgrounds are brought together to formulate energy strategies for their neighborhoods. As such, the labs facilitate interaction between citizens, policy makers and local SMEs. Moreover, they contribute to the self-organizing capacity of citizens, fostering bottom-up innovation and intrinsic acceptance of energy strategies.

The role of TiREG is to investigate the innovative approaches developed in the neighborhoods’ energy labs, the extent to which these approaches ‘work’, and the conditions under which they work. This is done through quasi-experimental, action research, which involves observation of and participating in the labs, developing and testing governance interventions and monitoring and evaluating the effects of interventions. The research not only aims to increase our theoretical understanding of the governance of the energy transition, it also seeks to draw practical lessons that can be applied in other regions.