Photo by flickr user tsuacctnt (Creative Commons license).
I asked folks in the office here at PlaceMatters what treasures they think 2011 might hold in store for community engagement, civic participation, and decision support. Here’s what they said:
I’m excited about the new iPad rumored to include cameras like the iPhone4. This will make it possible to view spatial data with augmented reality apps. Imagine pointing your iPad at a city streetscape. On the iPad screen data pops up about the place and planned projects. Walkscores for the area, bus frequency and realtime data on the location of the next bus on its way.
I’m excited about integrating interactive touchtables into charrettes and public meetings, helping participants make more inspired, informed, and collaborative decisions.
I’m excited about emerging online dashboards that will enable communities to monitor sustainable indicators in their community and experiment with alternative futures.
I’m excited about the our Decision Lab, creating a platform for tool developers, programers, and practitioners to collaborate in the development of new tools and techniques to improve planning.
Mobile applications are reaching a point of maturity and acceptance where using them in planning and civic engagement this year will become easier and more exciting. While there are and still will be generational gaps in technology usage, the utility of using mobile platforms to engage a portion of our audience has increased. Foursquare now allows photos and comments attached to checkins, QR codes enable us to attach digital information to physical objects (check out 5 unique uses of QR codes), and the new SCVNGR can give your entire city (or small business) a place-based mobile gaming platform. These platforms provide low cost methods for creating reality based games (RBGs) that can be linked to real planning objectives.
Incidentally, Reality Based Game is not something that seems to be crowded intellectually, especially not applied to planning or civic engagement. The concept of mobile gaming like this is not entirely new but when applied to planning it’s barely born. I think there may be an opportunity to “own” this concept (not in the IP sense of ownership, but in the intellectual sense). I will devote a much longer blog to SCVNGR as a platform and this concept of RBGs in general.
A city could reward citizens for finding QR codes attached to real places that provide background information about a plan and the history of the city. Quiz people on what they learned and provide a nominal prize. Or link your QR codes to mobile sites that allow citizens to comment and engage with the planning process around particular places and issues. Even those that don’t participate directly can learn vicariously through media coverage and interactive websites that track participant progress. Foursquare can be used to engage people similarly to find special tips posted by the planning department. Attach unique codes to these tips and encourage citizens to enter these in on a mobile website, then reward those that enter the the most by a certain time. Or use SCVNGR, which is already designed as a mobile reality-based gaming platform. Simply, SCVNGR offers rewards to users that complete place-based challenges. Within one application, reward citizens for following a certain path and completing challenges like finding QR codes, entering specific text or entering general comments.
While none of these reality based games will guarantee a better plan, they will hopefully become mechanisms to playfully engage many people in a planning process asynchronously. In this next year, I would like to engage at least one city in an RBG that is thoughtfully designed and executed to increase the level of participation and if we’re lucky, maybe they’ll even learn something in the process.
2011 will see the ramp-up of sustainability work across the US as the 45 regions and communities that received HUD Sustainable Communities Grants will be implementing their proposals. PlaceMatters is a partner on the New River Valley Region project, which received $1 million for sustainability planning, and I am excited to get started. Not only do these grants mean that planning work will be focusing on issues we’ve long championed, like understanding the implications of land use patterns on things like greenhouse gas emissions, but also that there will be an increasingly large amount of information on best practices for involving citizens and improving decision-making around sustainability in general.
PlaceMatters has been working to improve sustainability decision-making since its inception in 2002. We have worked on creating ways for communities to easily track progress toward sustainability goals, and these grants, with their focus on implementation, will doubtlessly demonstrate a variety of methods for measuring success–including some methods we’ve used, and some new options for us to consider. In addition, the grants focus on public participation and capacity building, which PlaceMatters considers indispensable for successful planning processes.
While we track the latest developments in all these areas, and continually push ourselves to be creative and advance the state of the art, the influx of new thinking and resources will doubtlessly spur some creative solutions we haven’t yet tried. The opportunities for us all to learn from the work that will be undertaken this year, and in the years to come, around sustainable planning is very exciting!