At this year’s DEEP conference (October 12-13, 2018), the Inclusive Cities team presented an overview of their co-design process and shared their challenges and learnings from doing multiple different embedded or led co-design sessions in different contexts. This presentation aimed to open up the discussion about doing co-design at the city level and also to provide an introduction for the following co-design activity.
The Inclusive Cities co-design session started at 1:30 on Friday and ended around 4:30 pm. Five IDRC members facilitated the activity. About 35 people including individuals from the Greater Toronto Area, Colombia, Mexico, and Nigeria participated in this collaborative activity. The goal of this activity was to bring a diverse group of people together to explore different collaborative approaches for public engagement and for actively involving public in the design and planning of their cities.
The Inclusive Cities team is looking for different ways to engage the public in the conversation about their cities. Although we have tried several different ways to involve people from the community and individuals at the margin in facilitated or embedded co-design sessions, we wanted to use this opportunity to envision other ways of bringing people together to collaborate. This activity was an opportunity to co-design collaborative public engagement strategies.
Objective: Discussion and brainstorming
Duration: 2 hours
Participants were randomly divided into groups of 4-5 people. ASL interpreters and translators were included in groups to ensure participants could equally participate.
The activity began by sharing this scenario with each team:
“The city of Toronto is planning to build a smart neighbourhood in the Greater Toronto Area. They have consulted your group to help them incorporate the accessibility needs of diverse communities in Toronto in order to build a more inclusive district. Your team has accepted this proposal on the grounds that the consultation they provide to the city will be based on a collaborative design process to involve the community in the design and planning of this new neighbourhood. In your groups, discuss and design a new approach that you will use to integrate the perspectives of different communities in the city.”
Then, groups were asked the following questions to think through their public engagement approach:
Objective: Share ideas and receive feedback
Duration: 30 minutes
Once groups had a chance to respond to the questions, they were asked to write a general summary of their proposed approach and give it to another team for a peer review. Teams that were on time, had a chance to review the feedback and revise their ideas. However, some other teams ran out of time and were not able to update their ideas based on the received feedback.
Objective: Large Group Discussion
Duration: 45 minutes
At the end, each team had an opportunity to share their proposed approach with the rest of the DEEP attendees and respond to any questions or comments.
Groups discussed different topics or issues about their neighbourhoods that they were interested in addressing in this activity. The topics discussed including the need for direct involvement of public in city planning, better access to information for the public, housing affordability, climate change and sustainability of cities, and immigration and refugees. Other areas of interest included the accessibility and inclusivity of services in the city with a focus on human centred design of streets. Some topics included intuitive wayfinding initiatives (e.g street signage) that can accomodate people with various capabilities (e.g cognitive and physical disabilities), transit services in the city, construction detours and impact on transit routes and reliance on digital technology.
After selecting a topic, groups discussed who they would invite to these co-design sessions. The suggested participants included people whose capabilities are at the margins (e.g. people with disabilities, older adults, low income/homeless, people living in subsidized housing, refugees/immigrants who do not speak English etc), caregivers/parents, children, teachers, construction workers, urban planners, engineers, artists/designers, businesses, city’s advisory committee, transit workers, environmental experts, farmers, and NGOs advocating for accessibility rights.
Groups discussed strategies to best involve community members in the collaborative design activities. The participants discussed engaging diverse groups (health care professionals, community members, and activist organizations) through constructive dialogue that is oriented towards solutions and offers opportunity for engagement through various means (e.g. online and in person meetings). The groups also discussed ensuring the accessibility of event venues, inviting signers and interpreters, and making accessible transportation available and free for all attendants of the event. Some other ideas included making these co-design events fun and creative (e.g. incorporating games like SimCity, Lego, and different forms of art), using plain language in activity assets and making them available in different modalities (e.g, written text, tactile, video and music instruments). Other ways to engage people in co-design sessions included incorporating these events in local town hall meetings, reaching out to different advocacy groups, hosting neighbourhood co-design sessions, conducting social media campaigns, and online surveys to engage people in different conversations.
Groups discussed their ideas around the most appropriate structure for their co-design activities. Some groups decided on having a semi-structured activity that would provide a problem statement or triggering questions to initiate the discussion in groups and provide opportunity for sharing of diverse perspectives and thoughts, and also ensure effective use of time. Other groups discussed a structure-less co-design with more fluid conversations that allows the participants to decide on the flow of the discussion and the activity format. The flexible format would include live stream interviews, hackathons, and video games and simulations. Some of the challenges with this approach included difficulty translating content to different modalities, interpreting data from diverse participants, and ethical issues associated with the use of public spaces (e.g. neighbourhood co-design/parties). Other groups preferred switching between different structures depending on the stage of the co-design.
The groups discussed the level of facilitation they would provide for their co-design sessions. Some groups preferred a moderate to high level of facilitation to ensure consensus in group discussions, to facilitate group reflection, and to keep the groups on track and to guide the discussion especially with large groups. The groups reflected on this approach and decided that this approach may limit creativity and problem solving in groups dynamics. Other groups decided on a limited to no facilitation approach in which facilitators would provide opening instructions but allow the groups to self-facilitate for the rest of the activity.
The next part of the activity was to discuss different roles and activities that could be used to engage participants. Some groups suggested engaging members of the community that are accountable and trusted by the public such as the city Mayor, healthcare professionals, members of the community, police officers, first responders, and education representatives such as teachers, students and tutors. Other groups discussed using different media to engage participants (e.g. live streams, surveys, art activities, and video games). Other ideas included ensuring the accessibility of the event by providing multi-modal and multi-sensory options for activity materials. Also, assigned roles for each group member (e.g. facilitator, note taker, ASL signer and interpreter) as well as others responsible for the event (e.g. large group moderator, captioner, facilitators for access needs etc) to ensure inclusion of all participants.
Participants discussed different ways to communicate the insights gained from the co-design session with the larger community. Some groups suggested using a website or a community wall on site that can be used to provide feedback, gain more information, and communicate issues around privacy. Other ideas included sharing the insights on a website, radio, television, in a library environment, on low-tech display boards in public locations, holding exhibits in different settings, or mobilizing delegates who can visit political settings and continue the conversation with politicians and lawyers. The groups also discussed the importance of transparency and providing opportunities for people to provide feedback.
The group discussions engaged with the importance of acknowledging and addressing the needs of all participants in order to ensure their participation in the events. They also discussed providing opportunity for participants to be a part of the process, provide their feedback, and make iterations as needed. Other ideas included reporting the results from the co-design session publicly so participants have access to the information and adequately attributing ideas to contributors to maintain their sense of ownership. The groups also discussed bringing together diverse communities to co-create ideas, and to provide incentives for continued engagement in these communities.
This group proposed an open and flexible feedback journey where participants choose their level of engagement with the process.
This group focused on the construction of smart cities.This group suggested using phone, online, and in-person methods to organize an open engagement process to ensure involvement of the general public in the planning and building of cities. This would include different organizations, NGOs, neighbourhoods, and disability communities who would have the option to share their uncertainties about the project and provide ideas for the city design. A community wall can also be built on-site to capture the project’s progress including successes and failures and receive feedback from the public. The general public can decide how involved they want to be in this process and those people who are highly engaged could act as the community spokespersons and advocate for specific issues. As the construction progresses, small successes and other milestones can be shared with the community either on the community wall, or through other communication channels.
One of the main feedback this group received related to the fairly open structure of this engagement process. Insufficient incentives for participants and lack of clear problem statement may lead to low participation from the community.
This group focused on human centred design of the streets for people. They proposed an initial engagement process to invite all those on social assistance, diverse members of communities from across the city, people who are underserved by the transit system, cyclists, pedestrians, and commuters. This group can carry out a needs assessment and map out different areas that need public input. Ultimately, this group will build a core group that will be responsible for further engagement through various channels (e.g. social media, live stream town hall meetings, self facilitated sessions, street interviews, art, games, hackathons, and pilot projects using multimodal and multilingual materials). The results from these events will be shared with the community.
The core group should offer accessibility services to ensure that everyone can participate equally, and provide a small honorarium to appreciate people’s contributions. The objectives of these events should be shared with the public. Appropriate timelines should be set and a discussion around data collection and sharing of data should be discussed.
The group received feedback on the broad scope of this project and the difficulty in tackling so many issues at once. It was also mentioned that although the continuous reporting is beneficial and keeps the participants informed, it may be very exhausting for the core team to produce these reports.
This group focused on climate change and environmental challenges of our future cities. For a smart neighbourhood that can be resilient to major change, they proposed involving environmental experts, economists, socially minded businesses, and future residents of this neighbourhood through an iterative process. Their goal was to propose an approach to break down the implicit “expert vs. resident” power structures that obscure honest insights.
With this approach, participants are broken into multi-stakeholder small groups. Each group picks one representative that shadows the other groups’ discussions, reports back to their own group members who provide feedback, and then relays their feedback to the original group. This approach is carried out through a flexible structure that enables open ended, truthful discussions and provides support for time management and encouraging diversity of ideas. This process repeats and the ideas are continuously evolved in each group based on the received feedback. The group suggested using different communication modes/channels (e.g. ability to remotely join a group) and alternative formats for the sharing outcomes, to ensure broader and more diverse participation.
The main feedback this group received was regarding some of the challenges with the proposed indirect report process as the shadower may have difficulty relaying information back to their group.
This group focused on accessible announcement and signage in public transit. They proposed holding several highly structured and facilitated co-design sessions and inviting representatives from the hearing and blind community, commuters, transit companies, information designers, and other disability groups to participate in those sessions. Participants share their unique experiences and backgrounds in small groups, brainstorm ideas, prototype solutions, and debrief with the large group for feedback. Then, each group would prepare an action plan with their next steps and iterations for the following co-design session and share these ideas with the respective organizations and communities. These co-design sessions will involve participants in different stages from brainstorming ideas to testing prototypes and evaluating the final products. This groups’ co-design process would ensure accessibility of the event venue (e.g. ASL interpretation, captioning, translation, transportation options, and materials in plain language and alternative formats) and showcase ideas to the larger public.
One feedback that this group received was related to the lack of details and clarity about the activities that would happen during these proposed co-design sessions.
This group focused on temporary path/route changes due to construction and proposed holding a street party in the area of the development with diverse stakeholders (e.g. construction companies, urban planners, people living in the community, people passing through the community, local business people, public servants, city councilor, taxis and transportation staff, past residents, and no fixed address residents).
Structured and collaborative activities will be used to engage diverse participants in discussion and build trust and establish common grounds. These activities include collaborative model building, descriptive wayfinding games, digital landscape games, a multimedia idea sharing board, remote digital sharing platform, and food eating. The activities are designed to be multimodal and multi-sensory and provide opportunities for people to participate both in person or remotely. Party staff and organizers will include local food vendors, volunteers, police/security, medical staff, local businesses (library, community centres). To ensure this event is accessible for different groups, sign interpreters, translators, and personal assistants will be included in the staff and organizers. Older adults will be provided with a diary package to document their insights and experiences, and ensure their inclusion in the event. The organizers will engage the participants and the community via updating the multi-modal sharing board, their website and sending out follow-up emails and newsletters and having follow-up sessions at the libraries and community centres.
Some of the feedback received by this group highlighted the challenges associated with providing activities in different modalities, collecting data and interpreting information from diverse participants, providing wheelchair accessibility, and providing activities in different modalities including translators and interpreters. Also, a street party would not be inclusive for people with social anxiety, homeless population, people with visual and hearing deficits, or those using mobility devices.
This group suggested that for a city to be accessible, it should incorporate these three pillars:
They suggested holding a town hall meeting and inviting various groups and communities to join the discussion (e.g. environmentalists, farmers, gardeners, councillors, funders, homeless, international experts, lawyers, and other advocacy groups). The event would include a moderator and note takers, and provide opportunities for remote participants. The goal is to make different stakeholders meet with the community to discuss key values and needs and priorities that are not reflected by the majority vote. ASL interpreters and translators would be available in this meeting to ensure everyone can participate equally.
Ideas from these sessions will be used to develop questionnaires that will be shared with the community. With the community’s feedback, a “vision” package will be created that provides clear action plans and timelines. This package is shared with the community and the stakeholders in pop-up stations where people can drop by and continue the conversations. The organizers will also run TV/radio shout outs, social media campaigns, public quarterly and annual meeting, and send out reports, newsletters, and community delegates to continue engaging the public and sharing information. These activities will be governed by a governance body that is independent of financial or political institutions and is able to implement public engagement programs.
This group received feedback regarding the scope of the proposed approach because it seems to be unclear on who will be responsible for different actions and how this process will be maintained over time.
This group discussed issues related to mobility, transportation and accessibility of buildings. They proposed having meetings, round tables, and surveys in different places, such as parks, schools, day cares, retirement homes, neighbourhoods, and community centres, or joining events, such as marathons, elections, or other public gatherings to reach people where they are. In so doing, a broad range of people including people with mobility devices, families with strollers, bikers, skateboarders, policy makers, businesses, artists and designers, etc. can be included in the conversation and their frustrations can be captured.
These meetings are proposed to be highly structured and participants will work on specific tasks to solve specific problems. Facilitators will provide instruction throughout the meeting, and try to keep the conversations focused on the selected topics. The group suggested that the organizers should consider selecting locations that are accessible and have climate control. They should also offer ASL interpretation and transportation service when possible to facilitate different groups to join. The results from these meetings could be communicated via a website, or social media, and office of commons in the government.