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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: March 14, 2012

Participatory mapping in action (the from TheCityFix blog, is by Lee Shiver.).

The City Fix describes some examples and some of the value of participatory mapping in urban planning.

Engaging Cities blogs on a similar theme, writing about the use of maps in community decision-making.

The New York Times has a lengthy piece on IBM’s Smarter Cities implementation in Rio de Janeiro and IBM’s vision of a data-driven city.

We keep coming across more info about the new crop of massive, multi-touch, multi-user tables, including a promotional video from Ideum on their MT55 Pro 55″ (with a “vandal-proof case”), starting at $22,000. Yes, we are drooling.

NCDD reports on a Chris Quigley presentation about using gamification to support digital engagement.

Augmented reality technology continues moving forward. Although the tools they use here – a promotional app for a hotel – are pretty advanced, they give a sense of where AR technology is headed and the types of applications that might be useful in a decision-making context.

Open Source Planning offers some thoughts on open data and on the hype around City 2.0. It’s helpful to us in thinking about our upcoming “Community Engagement in Intelligent Cities” panel at the American Planning Association conference in April.

Ascentum makes an argument about validating the economic case for public involvement in policy decisions.

InCommon mentions a new e-commenting system adopted by the City of Arcata, CA. The Granicus system allows community members to submit comments online in response to the agenda items listed for the next public meeting of the City Council or other public bodies. We’ve been using the system in Golden, Colorado for a couple of years now, and while its functionality is pretty basic and use by Golden residents is pretty minimal, it does offer another channel for providing comments. It’s really just a web-based commenting system, though, and doesn’t break any decision-making ground.

And this time-lapse video from the International Space Station made the Roundup just because it’s cool.

What else did we miss?

Participation By Design: Planning for Transit-Oriented Development with 3D Visualizations

This post, by guest blogger Rob Goodspeed, is the second 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. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.

Participants worked in small groups to explore potential outcomes of various scenarios. Here they are using CommunityViz to compare alternatives.

Recent expansions of public transportation systems across the country mean many communities are planning for new stations. Done successfully, orchestrating changes to zoning and public infrastructure can result in lively transit oriented development that produces amenities, affordable housing, and economic development for their communities. Poor planning can result in unsightly stations, vast parking lots, and missed opportunities.

An innovative planning process in Medford and Somerville completed last year demonstrated the power of new tools to facilitate an informed discussion, such as keypad polling, 3D modeling, and interactive workshops. The process utilized a broad outreach strategy featuring a variety of traditional and new outreach methods including city and community mailing lists, outreach to local television and print media, social media, and community meetings.

The Green Line Extension is a planned extension of an existing subway line in Boston that would result in new transit stations in Somerville and Medford. Although questions about financing remain, the major engineering and design of the extension is largely complete. The prospect of new transit stations has raised concerns about the challenges — and opportunities — it will create for the neighborhoods it will serve.

Although the current phase is planned to end at College Avenue in Medford, there is continued interest to extend the service to Mystic Valley Parkway. MassDOT contracted with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to conduct a community visioning process for this potential new station. (Disclaimer: I work for MAPC but was not involved in this project directly).

Through several public workshops, community members explored topics of opportunity and concern and provided MAPC staff with ideas about what they would like to see developed in the station area. MAPC staff used this community input to develop alternative visions for four focus areas around the station. A model was developed in CommunityViz containing 3D models along with benefit and impact assumptions for each alternative.

An example of a CommunityViz visualization.

At a workshop held on June 23, 2011, participants worked together in small groups to discuss the various options for each of the four areas while providing feedback to MAPC staff about what they liked and did not like. The model also generated indicators for each scenario choice such as housing units, office square footage, job creation, tax revenue, etc. Participants were able to see how their choices affected the indicators and were then able to weigh choices based on what was more important to them. The power of the CommunityViz software was in its ability to generate discussions around the table amongst community members about the perceived versus actual benefits and impacts of land use and development decisions.

The process resulted in a vision for the station area that emphasizes neighborhood connections and housing, jobs, and tax revenues from new mixed-use development.

Learn more about the project and review meeting materials on the MAPC website or the MassDOT website.

This post was contributed by Rob Goodspeed, a PhD student at the M.I.T. Department of Urban Studies and Planning with the Urban Information Systems program group and part-time research analyst at the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Participation by Design: A Blog Series

Just one example of the huge array of very cool participation design approaches: chips, legos, and blocks can be used in ways that promote shared learning and creative, collaborative problem-solving.

Today we are kicking off our “Participation by Design” blog series, highlighting examples of strategies, approaches, and tools to effectively designing for participation. Our focus is on community decision-making, and you’ll see a lot of examples tied to communities making decisions on issues like transportation and land use. But we are also reaching out to folks in other fields who face similar challenges – museum exhibit design, architecture, and others – designing experiences and processes to be genuinely participatory.

Our goals: highlight a diverse array of amazingly cool engagement and participation approaches, and draw attention to some of the many folks who are actually doing all of these cool things.

Starting tomorrow, and lasting about a month, watch the PlaceMatters blog for great examples of designing for participation and engagement.

And if you have any suggestions for folks we should invite to contribute, or specific strategies, approaches, or tools that we should highlight, please let us know.

Mashing up the Scaffolding (or, Scaffolding the Mashups)

National Building Museum staff left this pyramid overnight. The result on the next day: a room filled with Lego pyramids.

One of the hidden gems in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. (which is itself a largely hidden gem) is the Lego exhibit on the second floor. The room includes a bunch of stunning off-the-shelf Lego models of many of the most recognizable skyscrapers around the world as well as an adjacent “free-play” space filled with tables and Legos and dominated by an invitation to build.

Alex Gilliam posted on the BMW Guggenheim Lab blog last week about noticing that the Lego creations assembled by museum visitors (many of whom are kids) are often dominated by a specific type of building or pattern. On one day Lego skyscrapers filled the room, while on another day it might be houses. This lack of diversity seemed to happen despite the staff systematically disassembling everything at the end of every day. Every morning the room offered a clean slate, yet some design approach took hold and then persisted throughout the day.

On one occasion, departing from the usual practice, the staff left a structure – a large pyramid – intact overnight. The next day, the room was filled with pyramids. Alex writes about placing strange structures in different locations around the room at the end of the day and seeing the same dynamic unfold in the morning, the initial creations serving as points of departure for many of the visitors during the day.

The dynamic is really important for designing civic participation processes, a point which Alex explores as well. People participating in a process of some kind, whether formalized like a community planning effort or informal like the National Building Museum’s free-play area, respond to, are inspired by, and perhaps are even limited by what they see around them.

Alex suggests that nearby examples serve as “scaffolding” for subsequent participants (a metaphor that gets used elsewhere in the museum exhibit design world, as well, such as in Nina Simon’s NODEM 2010 talk), but that doesn’t sound quite right to me. The best we’ve come up with so far is to think of mashups or remixes … those initial expressions become elements that subsequent participants build on, riff off of, react to, or in some other incorporate through their own lens, often mashing them up with other ideas or models they might have on their mind.

The mashup metaphor isn’t entirely satisfying, either, but regardless of the metaphor the implication for architecting participatory processes is substantial: the questions you ask, the tools you provide, and the examples you offer can all have a profound impact on the scope of the participants’ imagination and creativity.

Scaffolding is important: as Nina Simon explained in describing a Denver Art Museum project inviting visitors to draw their own versions of the psychedelic posters they had just seen in an exhibit, if the invitation was limited to art supplies, the people most likely to participate would be those confident in their artistic abilities. By providing tracing paper and prints of some of the posters in the exhibit, they offered visitors a tangible starting point, dramatically reducing the barriers to participating.

But the scaffolding, prototypes, and models can also deeply constrain the universe of ideas as well.

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?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: February 15, 2012

The professionals who lead community planning efforts are often less diverse than the communities they are working with.

Professional planners, urban designers, and architects (this is our own Ken Snyder working on a comprehensive plan project in Shreveport) are typically much less ethnically diverse than the communities they work with.


Grist explores the lack of people of color as professionals in the fields of planning, urban design, and architecture, and what that means for community design processes (h/t to Planetizen).

Metaio has a new video showing some impressive improvements in their augmented reality engine, most notably with “3D markerless tracking,” aka real-time orientation of the mobile device. The original videos illustrating the technology were very cool but were shot in a controlled lab environment. That’s not true here.

Artist Candy Chang is at it again with another “Before I Die” interactive art installation, this time in London. We love this.

This is cool: a diversity of Swedish citizens each get to tweet under the @Sweden handle for a week at a time: “Every week, someone in Sweden is @Sweden: sole ruler of the world’s most democratic Twitter account.” Time and others have reported on this.

This is dated but we stumbled across it recently … a performance-based approach to community engagement on land use and urban design issues in Portland by the Sojourn Theater.

Here’s a new tool in Washington state for helping voters sort through issues, discuss and deliberate about them with other voters, and identify points of agreement and potential compromise (h/t to Jon Stahl’s Journal).

TheCityFix describes a photo- and art-based project aiming to engage younger community members in a rethinking of public transit.

We’ve started thinking about ways Pinterest (which is experiencing spectacular user growth and now drives more referral traffic on the web than Google+, YouTube, Reddit, and LinkedIn combined) could be helpful in community engagement efforts. Its ease of use and its deeply viral dynamics may make it a really useful tool for collecting and sharing images. The Museum of the Future and Quicksprout each have some nice summaries of potential uses. Don’t be misled by their focus on museums and marketing, respectively … many of their suggestions apply more broadly.

The New York Times takes a stab at a mildly interactive data visualization of the President’s 2013 budget proposal.

EngagingCities reports on a new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service exploring internet use for civic life across generations.

In a separate post, EngagingCities reflects on “the democratization of mapmaking” and some of the implications for civic participation.

EngagingCities (which ties for the ‘most mentions’ award this week) also describes the growing momentum around the idea and emerging field of geodesign.

Digital Urban has three posts that we spent some time with, as well: one offering a first look at the new CityEngine and an integration with Lumion (which collectively they call “a game changer”), a more detailed look at the CityEngine and Lumion combination, and a third demonstrating live 3D Kinect-based streaming.

California Common Sense launched a new civic engagement website focused on state policy and financial issues, providing background on issues, soliciting opinions, and sharing those opinions with elected officials (h/t to Gov 2.0 Watch).

And on the PlaceMatters blog we posted a rundown of some easy rules for screwing up your public process.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: January 5, 2012

TechCrunch reports on a seriously cool new augmented reality application: instant translation of foreign-language text. It’s not hard to imagine how useful a tool like this might be for community decision-making efforts in mixed language communities.

Cooltown Studios describes Popularise, an unusual private sector approach to crowdsourcing development plans. I’m not convinced the “long tail” metaphor makes sense here, and it’s not clear how the developers will actually use the crowd-supplied preferences given all the other considerations that the developers have to take into account, but it’s an intriguing idea.

Museum 2.0 has a great list of lessons learned over the last year about designing for participation (and links to another great list on The Museum of the Future blog).

Gov 2.0 Watch points us to a fascinating online, multiplayer city-building game called “Crowdsourced Moscow 2012.” Although we haven’t had a chance to play the game, a few things stand out in the promo video: players adopt one of several roles, each with specific interests and strengths; making tradeoffs is embedded in the gameplay; background information relevant to the various choices players must make is part of the game experience; and the game is intended to help participants imagine a wide range of possible futures.

As Intellitics reports, the New York Times launched another crowdsourced budget cutting project, this time focusing on the planned $450 billion in Pentagon spending cuts over the next decade. The problem, common to budget calculators, is that it’s very difficult to determine the real impacts of any of the choices. While those impacts are often the subject of fierce debate (e.g., just how valuable is the V-22 Osprey or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter), without this context it’s not clear how well participants understand the trade-offs between the options they are presented with.

Intellitics also reports on a new study exploring online deliberation design. The study evaluates a range of design considerations and the empirical evidence on their utility and effectiveness.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: February 22, 2011

Nina Simon, the Museum 2.0 blogger and author of Participatory Museum, posted a video of her “From Place to Presence” talk at the Nodem 2010 conference. Although she is focused on museum design, her comments might as well have been about designing for effective participation in any community venue. Her three key observations: a) scaffolding and constraints are critical to effective participation and engagement, b) the design of the prompts matters a great as well, and c) responsiveness to participants is even more important than the design of the process or the prompts.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation offer a nice roundup of participatory budgeting tools and resources.

Next American City interviews PennPraxis director Harris Steinberg about the role of community participation in Philadelphia’s riverfront development plan. He touches on the importance of understanding the politics in order to move the ball forward on the planning process and produce a plan that was likely to be implemented.

Full Circle Associates describes a cool post-it note-based coalition-mapping process to better understand their existing social networks and how those networks can either be weakened or strengthened. We’ve used and seen this type of approach in other community decision-making contexts, but the explicit network-weaving lens is a helpful twist.

Our friends at Strongtowns write about crowdsourcing sidewalk design.

GigaOm reports on Zynga’s massive (closing in on $10 billion) valuation. What is Zynga and why do we care? They’ve managed to attract a reported 45 million users to their various social games, including the breakout Farmville. Social gaming and gamification are here to stay, at least for now, and the trend seems to offer a lot of promise to the civic participation and community decision-making universe. By embedding game dynamics in an interactive process, process architects can improve the likelihood of engaging community members and keeping them engaged. Do a good job of designing the game dynamics, and you might also find ways to generate high-quality input from those very same community members. As if the press the point, TechCrunch just reported that Foursquare – the icon of geolocation-based social gaming – is on the verge of hitting the seven-million users mark. Yes, that’s seven million registered users. They saw 3,400 percent last year in check-ins. Some clever community engagement folks will figure out how to use Foursquare directly in their work (including Foursquare’s new-ish photo uploading feature), while others will create engagement strategies that riff on the basic Foursquare setup. One way or another, games – geolocation and otherwise – offer a lot of potential.

This Thursday at 2 pm mountain time I’ll be joining Jon Verville of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on the Community Matters Open Government call. Jon and I will talk about two different versions of the same basic challenge: how human nature, inertia, and caution all figure into the challenges of persuading governments to become more open.

New Geography challenges Andres Duany’s recent argument that public participation impedes great projects.

I posted yesterday on the PlaceMatters blog about the future of community participation. And check out the PlaceMatters web site’s new look.