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Participation by Design: Connecting People to Place

This post represents the wrap-up of our 20 blog series called Participation by Design.  The series focused on the diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers covered the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Participation by Design Blog Contributors

Thank you to all the contributors to this series!  I really enjoyed reading each of the pieces and the different perspectives they brought to an ongoing conversation.  It was interesting to see common links amongst diverse topics. Not surprisingly, the importance of place-specific context came up frequently as a critical ingredient for planning, from multiple standpoints.  Here are some highlights showing the range of contributions and how they address the issue of context.

On data, tools, and technology issues, we have several contributors including Rob GoodspeedDaniel Saniski, Jason Reece, and Jason Lally.  Daniel describes how local information is critical to understanding complex data sets, giving an example in Denver where place-specific context was needed to accurately interpret unemployment stats in a region. Rob addresses techniques that integrate GIS and visualization tools to help people understand tradeoffs within the context of a specific transit oriented development.  Jason Reece of the Kirwann Institute examines spatial analysis techniques that can be used to address some of the more complex issues of equity, mobility, and economic development linked to place. A technique known as Opportunity Mapping provides a GIS-based platform for engaging a broad number of community stakeholders, and simultaneously focusing on the equity concerns of marginalized communities.

Nick Bowden and Jennifer Evans-Cowley provide observations on the efficacy of online sites and the use of social networking tools to encourage public participation linked to community planning.  For Nick, it boils down to content and context.  Online sites should not shy away from content that is emotional since emotion drives interest. Sites also need to be rich in context—linking people to the efforts of others and connecting people to the places they care about—since it is this context that fosters a sense of personal ownership and motivates people to get more involved.  Jennifer’s research looking at the use of social networking tools in Austin shows how communities can dramatically increase the number of people engaged in planning conversations by tapping into the blogosphere of respected bloggers and writers in the region.  Instead of trying to create a new following for a given community initiative, she suggests engaging established bloggers, adding to their conversation with thoughtful responses, and encouraging them to encourage others to link to the initiative.

On the artistic side of the planning spectrum, we had great pieces on museum exhibits, public art installations, and variations of performance art.  Jasper Visser notes the effectiveness of Candy Chag’s art installments in drawing people into meaningful conversations.  It is her skillful balance of urgency and simplicity that causes people to pay attention and to contribute their own personal reflections. Nina Simon, a thought leader in the museum world, focuses on how to make exhibits more engaging.  On her Museum 2.0 blog she suggests the role of museums is to create space that “encourages safe, friendly collisions in a community-wide pinball machine.” And in our last installment of the series, PlaceMatters’ own Jocelyn Hittle explores the potential of combining the somewhat whimsical qualities of flash mobs with the popular desire to celebrate the places we love, and how these gatherings might be used to catch people’s attention and encourage them to participate in other community building efforts.

The series also included terrific posts by Corey Connors on engagement with smartphones, Ethan Zuckerman on communicating complex data, Eric Gordon, Carissa Shively Slotterback & Cindy Zerger, Matt Baker, Jeff Warren, James Fishkin, Chris Haller, and Karen Fung on a range of very specific tools and techniques, Ariana McBride on using storytelling in decision-making, and Augusta Prehn on engaging kids in planning.  Thanks again to the contributors and thanks to many of you that provide comments and follow-up insights.  Stay tuned for our next series to be announced in the Fall.

Participation by Design: Flash Mobs, Frivolity, and Fun–Performing Arts and Planning

This post, by PlaceMatters blogger Jocelyn Hittle, is the twentieth in a slightly-more-than-a-month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Photo courtesy of Flickr User LegalAdmin, Creative Commmons.

Performance in Place! A Seattle flash mob, couresy of flickr user LegalAdmin

I hesitate to admit this, but as a once and future singer and dancer, I have often dreamed of walking down the street and having everyone around me—preferably a meter maid, constable (yes, a constable not a policeman), grandmother walking her dog, newspaper delivery boy, and cabbie—begin singing and dancing.  If you’ve seen pretty much any musical, you know the scene I’m sketching out here.

Here’s what many of you know already: This. Can. Actually. Happen.  Heard of flash mobs? Well, I have, and for me they are a dream come true.  Seemingly spontaneous public dance (and sometimes singing) performances, they are lighthearted, unexpected, and then over—everyone in the mob moving on as if nothing had happened.  They range from the most amateur to highly sophisticated (T-Mobile’s flash mob advertisement is probably the best known example).

Improv Everywhere, a group started by Charlie Todd, a comedian formerly of the Upright Citizens’ Brigade, is behind some of the most creative flash mobs, and other unexpected public acts of frivolity.  Their “no pants subway ride” event has been been livening up New Yorkers’ morning commute for years, and has now been replicated across the country, including here in Denver on our light rail.  Check out Todd’s TED talk for more examples.

What I’ve been thinking more about is how to relate this kind of public performance (mostly the kind that includes wearing pants) into the place where it is being held, because place matters (sorry).  There are examples of visual arts that use the context of their place, most famously Christo and Jeanne-Claude.  I’m interested in how we can similarly tie place to performance.  There are a few silly examples of using the context of a performance as part of the performance itself–this pool flash mob, for example–but I’m interested in rooting performance more clearly in the place in which is is happening,  linking these performances to planning processes to make the planning process more fun, involve the often overlooked groups of performing artists in a community, highlight a community’s strengths or challenges, and create excitement around a planning process.

Other performing arts options have been incorporated into planning processes–check out Winston-Salem’s video featuring local musicians that encourages people to get involved in the update of their comprehensive plan, for example.  The kickoff and wrap-up events of planning processes are also increasingly celebratory and feature live local music and cuisine (e.g., Imagine Austin’s launch of their comp plan, the New River Valley Livability Initiative’s kickoff).  On the more innovative end of things is the Sojourn Theater’s work incorporating dance and other performances into their BUILT process, which allows participants to discuss and place various land uses on a “game” board.  (On a side note, the BUILT process is being modified for the New River Valley Livability Initiative to fit a more rural context, and in this case is not using the performance art.)

There seem to be more examples of use of visual arts and storytelling in planning processes, including PlaceMatters’ own work on the Philadelphia LANDvisions project, than performing arts.  APA has a series of briefing papers on the arts in planning and they really don’t mention performing arts in any substantive way–and I’m interested in gathering more examples.  If you know of projects that have used performing arts (dance, music, theater, improv comedy, anything along these lines) please let me know.

I’ll be posting more about this topic outside of this Participation by Design series, particularly in cases where we are able to use performing arts in our current projects and have some lessons learned to share.

Jocelyn Hittle is the Director of PlaceMatters’ Sustainable Solutions Group, where she focuses on designing and implementing planning processes that are informed, equitable, creative, and transparent. She focuses on communicating complex information, involving typically underrepresented groups, and organizing spontaneous dance performances.

Participation by Design: Co-design as public engagement in planning

This post, by guest blogger Karen Fung, is the nineteenth in a slightly-more-than-a-month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Image: Co-Design Group

About three years ago, prior to entering UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, I had a chance to attend a demonstration of the co-design method pioneered by architect Stanley King. This article will give a brief rundown of the major activities involved in a co-design process, This will be followed by some links to other resources about co-design, examples of projects that have used the co-design method, and how King is moving forward with integrating co-design methods into current work.

What is Co-Design?

Broadly speaking, co-design brings members of the public together with artist-facilitators to dialogue and collaboratively produce a community vision. These visions can guide and inform planning and design activities as a project unfolds. Stanley King has been using this method with communities since 1971 through The Co-Design Group, an informal association of architects, designers and researchers based in western Canada.

The bulk of these activities occur during an event commonly known as a co-design workshop (although, depending of course on the circumstances of the project, this may be paired with other activities such as an ideas fair). Members of the public are invited to the workshop – often, a day-long event. As with many participatory activities, broad representation — by age, background, activity — is key, although groups within the broader community may need special consideration.

As with all dialogues and participatory activities, setting expectations and boundaries is key. As explained in the report of the use of co-design in Vancouver’s Woodwards Project:

Participants were asked to observe 3 rules during the visioning: 1. Speak for yourself – say “I” not “We”- let others speak for themselves. 2. Avoid negative criticism – if you don’t like an idea suggest your alternative. 3. Don’t attempt solutions – think of the life of the place, consider possibilities.

Co-design Agenda

A co-design workshop often starts with a Site visit and Walkabout, allowing the facilitators and members of the community to jointly learn or re-discovering salient features of the site, like lighting, topography or existing infrastructure.

With the atmosphere of the space fresh in everyone’s mind, the public is asked to brainstorm an Activity Timeline. As a group, the public discusses what kinds of activities they envision taking place in the space over the course of a day. I sometimes refer to this as, “A Day In the Life.” This brainstorming serves as an opportunity for people to give voice, in a large-group setting, to how a place would fit into their daily lives.

Next comes what is referred to as the Image Creation phase, and the heart of the co-design experience. The artist facilitators take what is said in the brainstorm and categorize it into general guiding themes that they will be focusing on for their drawing. Members of the public are then broken up into smaller groups and assigned to work with the artist-faclitators on those themes. The artists then begin to sketch an image of the place, in close discussion with their group as they discuss specifics. It can often result in a dialogue process rooted in the constructive: what should be here? What will the people here be doing, and how will they be doing it? (Artists, King notes, cannot draw absences — at best they can draw two desired things co-existing.)

Once all the groups have completed their images, the specific elements that have been included and highlighted in the image are listed. The images are displayed and the larger group is invited to view all the images produced and to express their preferences for the qualities and features in the images, as well as their suggestions for what might make them work or not work in the particular place.

Co-Design in Action

Co-Design Moving Forward

Stanley King and his colleague Susan Ng Cheung are applying their experiences with co-design to better engaging youth in planning activities. They recently released a book called Youth Manual for Sustainable Design:

Together they created a Co-Design Youth Program to help youth participate in the ecological design of the spaces they will ultimately inherit.  Recently, the program has enabled youth to participate in school garden design, architectural design of a waterfront and also in transportation planning. Currently, Stanley and Susan are researching the connection between co-design and the ecological interactions of communities.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of the method, because I think people inhabit a different frame of mind when they are in engaged in constructive processes of making things together in addition to the usual talking, discussing and deliberating.

It’s been pointed out to me that it may be challenging to some for relegating planners in a seemingly passive role, of recording and notetaking the public’s interests rather than more actively applying planning skill. I would respond that by hypothesizing that an awful lot happens in those conversations while the artist-facilitator is drawing. Furthermore, I’d be interested to see what role the images created in the process might have in identifying community assets for implementing what is brainstormed, and coordinating that with more formal activities involving developers, architects, designers and planners.

This post was contributed by Karen Fung, a researcher from Vancouver, Canada, examining the potential of social media and technology tools for expanding participation in planning processes. She advocates for user-centric approaches to placemaking and technology. She occasionally speaks on the impact of open government and open data on urban planning and she maintains the blog countably infinite.

Participation by Design: Three Inspirational Installations by Candy Chang

This post, by guest blogger Jasper Visser, is the seventeenth in a slightly-more-than-a-month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. Jasper originally published this post on his the museum of the future blog on July 19, 2011. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Amy Halverson photo (Flickr).

Candy Chang is an artist who makes public installations that address urgent social topics. Using simple tools she makes accessible art that is often participatory in nature.

Her business card says Candy likes to make cities more comfortable for people. Many of her projects close the gap between the public and the often almost intangible stuff that surrounds them. Her work connects people and asks for their contribution. Here’re three of her projects I’m sure many of you will appreciate:

Photo by Candy Chang.

Looking for Love Again

What to do with abandoned buildings? There’re hundreds of them in every city (especially once you start looking for them). For one specific building, the Polaris Building in Fairbanks, people were asked just that question. Plus, they were asked to tell their stories about the building. There’s also a website attached that asks for contributions in a refreshingly simple way. The number of contributions is overwhelming and I’m sure this will influence the future of the building.

Photo by Jason McDermott (Flickr).

I Wish This Was

This project also takes on vacated buildings with the help of the public. People can leave special stickers on empty storefronts to express their wishes for specific businesses or services. Policy makers can use the input to make policy (obviously), or even better: entrepreneurs can find a place to start their business. The website collects examples of people’s wishes.

Ed Merritt photo (Flickr).

Before I Die

Another similar project, but aimed much more at the public themselves, Before I Die tries to get people to focus on the things that are important to them. Originally it was installed on an abandoned house in New Orleans. Also, you can buy one of the chalkboards in limited edition to wake up everyday remembering you need to do what you love.

I’ve been using the Before I Die project in workshops ever since I discovered it to illustrate some key characteristics of good participatory design: it’s simple, accessible and there’s an urgency in the project.

The urgency is the most obvious: life’s short and there’s so much we’re postponing that we might miss out on the things we really want. Urgency doesn’t have to involve death, though (a topic you might want to avoid in participatory design), as I wish this was shows. Urgency compels people to participate.

Before I die is accessible both in the choice of location (really public) as in the make up of the project: everybody can answer the question. Accessibility is important in many ways, both physical and “psychological”. Accessibility allows all people to participate.

And finally, simplicity. All of Candy Chang’s work is simple in the way that it uses simple materials and tools (there’s no need for a manual) and addresses simple issues (no need for inside knowledge or long studies). Simplicity facilitates people in their choice to participate.

Urgency, accessibility and simplicity are just three take aways from Candy Chang’s amazing work. Another one (bonus!) is that participation is open and fun. It’s interesting to discover what your friends would like to do before they die. Certainly, there’s more to discover in her work. Be sure to check out her website to find more great projects.

This post was contributed by Jasper Visser, a cultural innovator and cofounder of Inspired by Coffee, an agency for digital strategy and innovation. He helps cultural organisations discover new ways to reach and engage people with a special focus on new media, technology and innovative business models. Jasper regularly speaks internationally about cultural innovation, gives workshops and keeps the blog themuseumofthefuture.com.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 24, 2012

Next American City reports on New York’s use of wikis to solicit feedback on an overhaul of its data publishing rules and on Oakland’s move toward an open data environment.

A new “collective online urban planning platform” is hitting the streets. Grist describes Neighborland, the latest in a growing ecosystem of promising tools for enabling community members to collect and organize ideas (with a hat tip to the Guggenheim/BMW LAB blog). The project grew out of Candy Chang’s amazing (but simple) participatory art installations in New Orleans (and now elsewhere), and Candy Chang posts about Neighborland on her blog as well. If you don’t know Candy Chang, well, you probably should.

Museum of the Future draws a useful distinction between outreach (communicating with people unknown to you and connecting them to your institution) and engagement (converting people from passersby to enthusiasts). Outreach can lead to engagement, but it’s a mistake to conflate them. Gov 2.0 Watch cites a TechPresident story exploring at a similar distinction between feedback and engagement.

EngagingCities argues, through two case studies, for a “blend of moderate technology venturing (in terms of scale), the readiness to look abroad for inspiration and solutions, and … deep engagement with their citizens throughout the process.”

EngagingCities also writes about Denver’s new participatory budgeting process and tool (Delivering Denver’s Future). It looks promising, and the team behind it is a capable group (we are fans of Urban Interactive Studio), but we’re also looking forward to the next generation of participatory budget tools that help constituents better understand the on-the-ground implications of the various budget options. It’s one thing to give constituents budget allocation options, which is what most participatory budget tools do, but it would be quite another if the users understood how levels of service or the quality of life in their community would actually be impacted by those various options.

Participatory budgeting is getting plenty of attention these days, including a New York Times article several weeks ago providing a detailed account of a participatory budgeting project covering four City Council districts in New York and and an Intellitics post mapping participatory budgeting projects around the world.

The concept, specs, and implications of Google Glasses are slowly working their way through the pundit/observer/technologist-o-sphere. We share Digital Urban’s sentiment: “With technology it always seems like one is waiting for the next big thing, but this takes it to another level….”

The Denver Post covered the Box City event here in Denver, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Colorado, enabling 200 kids to design and build a mock city (another h/t to BMW Guggenheim LAB).

Finally, Planetizen writes, now that everyone is back home from the American Planning Association conference in Los Angeles, about the “winds of change” blowing through the APA.

What did we miss?

Participation by Design: How Do You Capture Compelling Visitor Stories? Interview with Christina Olsen

This post, by guest blogger Nina Simon, is the eighth in a month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. Nina originally published this post, an interview with Christina Olsen, on her own Museum 2.0 blog on May 3, 2011. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Lots of museums these days have video comment booths to invite visitors to tell their stories, but how many of those booths really deliver high-impact content? Last week, I talked with Tina Olsen, Director of Education and Public Programs at the Portland Art Museum, about their extraordinary Object Stories project. They designed a participatory project that delivers a compelling end product for onsite and online visitors… and they made some unexpected decisions along the way.

How and why did Object Stories come to be?

The project arose from a grant announcement from MetLife Foundation around community engagement and outreach. I knew I didn’t want to do something temporary—a program that would last a year or two and then go away. And I also knew we wanted to connect with the Northwest Film Center, which is situated in the museum. There hasn’t been a history of collaboration between the museum and the film center and we wanted the chance to partner more deeply, and build a platform where we could continue to do so.

In the education department, we have some key values around slowing down, conversation and participation around art, and deep looking. And so this concept of asking visitors to spend some focused time thinking about their relationships with objects and artworks really made sense to me.

Also, on a personal level, I had this really powerful experience with my mother in a Storycorps booth in Grand Central years ago that had a profound impact on me. She had revealed things I’d never known, and I kept coming back to it. There was something in there that I wanted to play with in a museum concept.

What did you end up with and how did you get there?

Our first notion was all about something mobile, something that would go out to the community. We imagined an cart at the farmer’s markets where people could record stories. But we couldn’t figure out how we were going to sustain that with our staff.

We ended up with a gallery in the museum instead. It’s in a good location, but it’s also kind of a pass-through space to other galleries. It has a recording booth that you sign up in advance to use, and you go in and tell a story about an object that is meaningful to you. The other parts of the gallery are for experiencing the stories, and for connecting with the Museum collection. We have cases with museum objects that people told stories about, with large images of those storytellers adjacent to the object, and in the middle of the gallery is a long rectangular table with touchscreens where people can access all the stories that have been recorded.

Your recording booth asks participants for audio stories plus photos of themselves with their objects. Why did you choose this format instead of video?

We had planned on having it be video. The proposal to Metlife was all video. Then we started working with our local design and technology firms — Ziba Design and Fashionbuddha — and in the prototyping, it became clear we had to go another way.

We partnered with the Film Center to conduct workshops with community organizations around personal object storytelling. These really informed the project, and helped get the word out about the gallery. We rigged up a video recording booth in Fashionbuddha’s studios. We found people would go in, do their story, come out, say it was so powerful and cathartic, but then the videos would be really bad—boring, too long, unstructured. They were often visually uncomfortable to watch. And some participants were turned off by the video recording—they found it too scary, and being on camera distracted them from telling their story – especially older people.

We had this moment where we were going to sign off on design and move to fabrication, and I was really worried. We had participants who loved the experience, but the watchers were really lukewarm about the results. And we realized of course that the majority audience would be watchers, not storytellers. We invited a cross-section of artists, filmmakers, and advertisers to join us for a think tank. We all sat down and looked at the content and we said, “this is not good enough, this is not watchable enough.”

So what did you do next?

We came up with a system that was much more structured and is based on audio, not video. In the current setup, you walk into the booth, all soundproofed and carpeted, and then you sit down on a cozy bench. You can come alone or with up to three people. You face a screen, and the screen is close enough to reach out and touch without getting up. The screen prompts you, with audio and with words, and it’s in both English and Spanish, because we really wanted to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community in Portland.

First, the screen asks if you want to watch an example story. If not, it says “let’s get started.”

There are five prompts that follow, and for each, you get 45 seconds to record a response. Each of the prompts was really carefully written and tested to scaffold people to tell a great story. People don’t necessarily walk in the booth knowing how to do that. For example, the first prompt, which is about discovery, asks, “When and how did you first receive, discover, or encounter your object? What was your first feeling or impression of it? Who was there?” This prompt really gets people sharing specifics, sharing details—the things that make a story successful.

Another good example is the final question: “If you had to give it to someone, who would it be and what would you say to them?” This question really makes people focus on the meat of what’s important about their object, and it’s a natural summarizer… but in an interesting, personal way.

After you record your audio, you get to take the photos and give your story a six-word title. We experimented with when in the process to take the photos, and it’s nice at the end—it’s a kind of reward. The recording is often very intense—people cry, it takes something out of them. Photos are fun. We prompt participants to hold the object in different ways: close to camera, pose with the object in your lap, hold your object as close to your face as possible, hold it in profile.

How do you edit the stories?

Fashionbuddha built a backend content management system where you can choose audio segments, reorder them, and choose photos. This is made to be sustainable with current staffing– while we have the ability to edit within a 45 second chunk, 99% of the time we don’t do it—we just pick the segments and photos we want to use and put them in order.

The gallery also features objects from the museum’s collection with people’s stories about them. Who are the people who record stories about museum objects?

That is more curated. The first testing we did there was very much the same as Object Stories – anyone could sign up and get involved, pick an object in the museum and tell a story about it. Those stories were, frankly, often very banal. There was an imbalance between stories with people’s own objects, with which they have profound relationships, versus museum objects that they might come see once or twice and like, but not really have a deep connection with.

So we realized we had to have an equivalence–the museum stories had to be profound too. And it couldn’t all be curators, but these storytellers had to be people who had profound relationships with museum objects. We have four stories up now: from a guard, a curator, a longtime museum lover, and an artist. In the future, I’m thinking of really mining our membership, putting out a call to them, building some programs that might help us seed and support the museum stories.

The website for the stories is beautiful. You also got some prime physical real estate for this project. How did you get the gallery?

That was really hard-won. At first, it was going to be a little booth tucked away somewhere. As the project progressed, our prototyping showed us we didn’t want a shallow experience–a photo booth where you could just drop in and do it. We wanted something where people could spend the time and focus deeply on the experience at hand. That required more space.

And it was really important to the director and to me that Object Stories connected to our mission and to our collection. That led me to feel strongly that we needed to have museum objects in the space. It couldn’t be an educational space with no works of art in it. I wanted to integrate this experience into what you do in the rest of the museum. We ended up with a very multi-departmental team, and that helped too.

The big goal is to activate your connection with objects in the rest of the museum, that Object Stories models the idea of having deep relationships with objects for any visitor who comes in.

What do you know so far about the non-participating visitors to the gallery?

I only know anecdotally. People are really entranced with the stories, browsing them on the touchscreens, and with the museum objects as well. They even spend a long time looking at this big case we put up that just features 8×10 cards with photos of people with their objects.

I was surprised at how long many visitors will spend at this case. It’s just graphics. Why would people look at that? I think it may be because people are visually included in the space, and that’s rare in an art museum. They’re very interested and maybe even moved by it.
You can browse stories online and sign up to record one at objectstories.pam.org. Object Stories is funded by the Metlife Foundation, the Kress Foundation, the Lehman Foundation, the Oregon Arts Commission, and the PGE Foundation.

This post was contributed by Nina Simon, Executive Director of The Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, CA, author of the Museum 2.0 blog, and author of the book The Participatory Museum. Nina has published a number of other blog posts in recent years that would have worked really well for this blog series. They include “Fifteen Random Things I’ve Learned About Design for Participation This Year,” “How to Design From Virtual Metaphor to Real Experience, and an Example,” “The Johnny Cash Project: A Participatory Music Video That Sings,” “Adventures in Participatory Journalism: An Interview With Sarah Rich About 48 Hour Magazine,” and “The Psychedelic Experience.”

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: February 29, 2012

Kids and adults alike have at it in the Lego "free play" building area at the National Building Museum.

Kids and adults alike have at it in the Lego "free play" building area at the National Building Museum.


BMW Guggenheim Lab blog reflects on some Lego-based experiments in exploring urban form at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Planetizen has a guest post by Rob Goodspeed on the implications of big data for urban and community-planning (a subject we’ll be focusing on during our panels at the American Planning Association conference in April).

Ethan Zuckerman explores the use of (and challenges of using) video in a civic participation context.

EngagingCities (in a guest post by Rebecca Sanborn Stone) describes three very cool art-based civic participation projects designed to inform community planning efforts.

Engaging Cities also describes Crowdmap, a platform for gathering crowdsourced information and viewing the data on a map and with a timeline.

Bang the Table reports on a new study on the impact of e-participation efforts, focusing on projects in Seoul, South Korea (h/t to Gov 2.0 Watch).

Intellitics describes the Knight Foundation’s new Engagement Commons initiative.

Open Source Planning reflects on scenario planning.

Spatially Adjusted lusts after the new Ideum MT65 3D display … a 65″ 3D touch screen monitor introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show last month. It’s expected to sell for $18,000 when it’s released this spring. We aren’t likely to buy one anytime soon, but we share the sentiment.

The mobile industry association GSMA and the software company mCRUMBS are launching an augmented reality app for the Mobile World Congress, which offers another example of how augmented reality technology can provide rich, location-based content in a way that might be useful for community planning and decision-making.

On the PlaceMatters blog you’ll find posts on “The Tension Between Participatory Art and Participatory Decision-Making,” engaging community members around vacant property issues, and big data (and the use of Twitter and other geotagged data to understand human behavior in cities).

What did we miss?

The Tension Between Participatory Art and Participatory Decision-Making

From the new The Machine Project/Hammer Museum ebook.

From the new The Machine Project/Hammer Museum ebook.

Nina Simon wrote on her Museum 2.0 blog several days ago about a new ebook describing a year-long residency by the art group Machine Project at the Hammer Museum in L.A. We’ve been playing around with the notion that there may be useful parallels between designing for effective engagement in an art context and doing so in the public participation and community decision-making context. Nina’s lengthy post, and the Machine Project’s own blog post about the project and the new ebook, help highlight those parallels as well as the limits of the idea.

On the one hand, it strikes me that the goal of a museum or art-anchored engagement is different than what we typically strive for in a community decision-making project. For us, the goal is explicitly to make it easier for community members to participate in a community decision process in an informed and meaningful way. We have to design processes that engage people, but it’s also critical that we provide tools that help participants understand the issues, weigh the trade-offs between options, and craft their own options to the conversation. One mark of success, then, is the extent to which people feel informed, empowered, and respected in the process, and the extent to which they feel their contributions meant something to the final outcome of the process.

For museums and artists, however, as Nina articulates, the goal may not always be about clarity, understanding, and problem solving. In some instances, the goal may be precisely the opposite, aiming to leave visitors uncomfortable and uncertain. The goal may not have anything to do with reaching a decision or resolution, and it may not make any sense at all to evaluate the experience in terms of critical community decision-making values like fairness and transparency.

I don’t think the “Houseplant Vacation” project described in this video, for instance, is designed to produce a clear community consensus or even clear participant input.

On the other hand, part of the goal in both instances is design a circumstance that people choose to step in to. It’s important in both contexts that people actually accept the invitation to participate with the process and with the questions. And the process has to be interesting enough, and sufficiently well crafted, that participants really do offer something to the process, and walk away when it’s finished feeling like the experience was worthwhile.

I don’t think the contrast undermines our hypothesis that there are useful parallels between the two. On the community decision-making side of the fence, it’s clear that we can learn from the creative participatory strategies adopted by folks on the art side, and I suspect the inverse is true as well. But the contrast does highlight that we should be thoughtful about how we import specific participatory strategies in either direction, making sure we refine them to be appropriate for whatever the specific goals might be.

It also suggests that art can offer a great convergence opportunity. We’ve had and seen some terrific success when integrating art into the community decision-making process (like the LANDvisions project in Philadelphia), and I suspect there’s a lot of great work still to be done here.

Finally, it suggests some intriguing opportunities for museums and artists themselves to create spaces for civic participation, an idea that I know Nina has given some thought to and one that we sometimes encounter elsewhere in the art world (like Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” projects). This may not be a simple proposition, since there may some real tension between designing participatory experiences with very tangible, policy-oriented outcomes in mind versus designing them for different purposes, but our experience so far is that expanding the range of ways we ask people what they want for their community can make for richer, more meaningful input.

We are looking forward to exploring these themes in the coming year, and if you’ve got thoughts or examples, we’d love to hear about them.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 4, 2011

A clever public engagement approach: Common Sense California posts a video involving legos and something that vaguely sounds not-quite like hip-hop.

Common Sense California also posts about Yo Yo Ma and the Citizen Music Initiative, a music-based approach to community engagement.

Museum 2.0 describes a terrific crowdsourcing participatory engagement technique they developed at the San Diego Museum of Natural History using visitor feedback to develop labels for the museum specimens. I’m guessing the technique could be adapted for any number of community engagement purposes.

The Collaboration Project reviews online idea generation tools for public managers and published a guide to designing online community brainstorming.

The Spring 2011 issue of Planning and Technology Today is out, and it includes pieces by Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (“New Technologies for Visualizing Sustainable Planning”), Karen Quinn Fung (“Urban Planners and Open Data: Making the Connection), and PlaceMatters’ own Ken Snyder (“The Power of the Kindergarten Art Supplies in Planning”). Thanks to the Goodspeed Update for the heads up.

Deliberations reports that Recife, Brazil is the recipient of the Reinhard Mohn Prize for democratic innovation for its participatory budgeting process.

Another flavor of participatory budgeting, the Backseat Budgeter, is the subject of this Denver Post article.

We’ve noted IBM’s new City Forward effort a few times already, but Engaging Cities offers a bit more background.

Engaging Cities also posted a video on the Kennedy Plaza planning process in Providence, Rhode Island. Part of the effort involved actually programming community activities and events in the plaza as a way of testing ideas and introducing community members to the redesign possibilities.

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: March 30, 2011

I had a week off because of a few conferences in Washington, D.C. (including the terrific Nonprofit Technology Conference) and then an unplanned week away from the office as a raging wildfire threatened my town (we learned some great lessons about communication, community, and social media – I’ll blog about that separately), but I’m back and have got a great set of links to share . . .

PlaceMatters is presenting a panel at the APA conference in Boston in a couple of weeks called “What to do When Public Participation Goes Terribly Wrong?” Ken, who is a Planetizen blogger as well as the PlaceMatters‘ CEO, posted on the panel and invites folks to send in their own stories of near misses or total disasters. (He also cross-posted on our blog).

Bridges of B offers a lengthy description and generally favorable critique of Akoha, a civics-minded mobile-based direct action game. It offers a game-based platform for creating community-oriented missions, using game mechanics to motivate engagement. One criticism: “Place matters, especially in civics,” and Akoha doesn’t tie to one’s place very well, but Bridges of B seems pretty enthused about Ahoka as an early stab, and about the promise of the approach more generally.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation links to a National School Public Relations Association post called “Recipes for Innovation in Public Engagement,” focused on community engaging in the context of public education.

The Irish Cultural Center blogged about a photography project in which the subject of each photograph held a Polaroid image of the previous subject, so each photograph subject is connected to the person photographed just prior and the one photographed just afterwards. (Thanks for the link, Ethan!).

Ragtag posted a terrific (Euro- and Wikipedia-centric) data visualization relying on a cross-referencing of the location and date data in Wikipedia articles on historic events. (This one was Ethan, as well).

Reimagine Rural describes their Front Porch Forums tool, a social media application designed for smaller, rural communities. They contrast the tool with conventional social media languages and tools: it’s designed to encourage face-to-face interaction (rather than designed to maximize the time engaged with the tool). It’s focused more on general community and civic engagement as opposed to community decision-making, but it seems applicable to a wider range of situations. One post describes the Front Porch Forum and the other post has a short video explanation.

Intellitics blogs about the central role small group discussions can play in anchoring a community process.

Digital Urban continues their ruminations on the use of QRCodes in the context of museum exhibits. We find the technology and the applications pretty interesting from a broader public engagement perspective as well.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space grapples with the challenges of web-based engagement around redistricting.

Orton Family Foundation blogs about a story-gathering, asset mapping, and visioning effort undertaken by high school students for their Biddeford, Maine downtown.

Augmented Reality posted about two interesting innovations. The first, including a video, described an application involving driving a radio-controlled car around a track, with cameras for a real-time cockpit view and “augmented reality scenarios overlaying animations onto the live-video image which were triggered either with a light barrier or optically.” Very cool. The second shows the use of an augmented reality app to create a racetrack for a video game by mapping Red Bull cans laid out on the floor. Both illustrate ways in which augmented reality technologies can be used, and for us it’s always with an eye toward planning and community decision-making.

Common Sense California writes posts on the Marine Corps’ version of a town hall meeting at Camp Hansen.

Engaging Cities writes about the QR Code trend and offers some best practices tips for folks who may want to experiment. QR codes clearly offer process designers a tool for sparking certain types of engagement, and will be increasingly useful as camera phones continue their market saturation.

Engaging Cities also reflects a little on the use of film and community storytelling in urban planning.

My PlaceMatters colleagues have been busy with other posts as well, including Jocelyn’s on IBM’s City Forward online tool (about which Fast Company wrote recently as well), Jason’s interview with ESRI’s Matt Baker about geodesign and sketch-based feedback in ArcGIS, Ken’s thoughts on integrating DIY touchtables with GIS, and my post about the iPad 2 Best Buy vs. Mac Store face-off.

What did we miss?