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What tools and why? Co-designing the brief

Together with Leon and Gemma from PROUD we met with Helen Ryan, Public Realm Officer at Lancaster City Council, on Friday morning. Having revisited the key ideas identified for potential development in July, we spent the morning exploring what Helen considered most important about using the tools, and separating ideal-luxury elements from those she considers an absolute necessity

The conversation allowed us to refine the brief, begin tool specification and plot out the next few weeks of design development, prototyping, modification and production.

Key to our discussion was gaining deeper insight into the process of successful face-to-face consultation and public engagement undertaken by Helen and her team.  This was broadly defined in 4 steps:

  1. Being seen and attracting people to engage
  2. Collecting information and ensuring a range of types of data
  3. Filtering information/ data
  4. Voting on preferred options.

Using the steps as a framework for evaluation, we worked with Helen to determine which tool ideas might best serve a successful consultation. Ideally, the more functions they potentially met, the higher the value.  Our decisions were also informed by a number of other insights gained during the morning:

  • Meeting the challenges of public engagement in outdoor settings is most important. Barriers include coping with poor weather conditions, attracting participants, rapid set up and take down and easy transportability and portability (no more than 5-10kg per item) whilst still maintaining stability. By contrast, there are far fewer physical challenges when facilitating indoor events.
  • The tools could well be expected to last 5-15 years. Used at an approximate rate of 30 times per year, we should aim for durability over 150 outdoor consultations.
  • Capacity within the team usually allows for planning and collating printed materials a few days in advance of an event. If suitable templates were provided, these could be customised each time.
  • It was recognised that Helen’s team would benefit from attractive, concise, accessible instruction using a mix of instant, easy use guidelines as well as provocations to inspire experimentation over time, though this was regarded as a secondary function.

Remembering these are working titles, among the tools initially identified those being developed further are…

Zoners: Serving the functions both of being seen and collecting data, these are large markers in physical space, used to both mark out pertinent locations and the event site itself. This dual purpose could lead to their appearance informing the theme for the general look and feel of the consultation process. A long discussion took place around the visual language and a preference was expressed for echoing familiar online map pins. This could form an appealing link between the physical and online space. However, we will need to ensure that if we use digital icons it might follow that participants would expect an online presence for the consultation. For now this falls outside the scope of the brief but we would like to explore apps and digital possibilities in the future.

Commenting/ prioritisation/ structuring: This tool will collect and filter data. It should allow for a range of physically connected ideas and comment, offering an impactful visualisation of engagement.  This will fulfil the key need for personal, face-to-face interaction, encouraging playful contribution.

Hayler Alter and Sarah Pickard: PROUD designers