Urban participation 2.0

06/15/2017

Throughout June, we’re experimenting with a new format to involve citizens in policy making. We’re collaborating with the town of Schilde (near Antwerp, Belgium). For this experiment, our research team created a ‘participation pavilion’. This physical installation is designed to be placed in public spaces of a city or municipality for a set amount of time. The goal of the installation is to collect opinions, ideas, needs and wishes of the citizens. All interaction is audio-based using natural speech, which gets digitally processed afterwards.

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"Digital participation"

With the solutions developed during our ongoing research projectITEA C3PO, we aim to support cities and municipalities that want to organize regular participation and co-creation with large groups of stakeholders. These new ways of participation move beyond the classical survey format, and hence allow us to get 'rich' insights based on qualitative data gathering.

Before starting this project, we noticed the increase in attention and interest regarding citizen participation in urban settings. In many cases, this comes down to an online platform which collects survey responses and provides a place to post new ideas. This is an important step forward, but it is apparent that these novel types of online urban participation are limited to a specific segment of citizens. That triggered us to explore and enhance the ways in which urban policy makers can reach out to and involve a larger slice of citizens on a repeated and continuous basis.

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Schilde is listening

Our first larger participation experiment started in June 2017, in collaboration with the municipality of Schilde, in the Antwerp region (Belgium). Studio Dott designed a 'participation pavilion', which was further developed in collaboration with Christophe VG, Cropland, Solution Group, Orange and CitizenLab.

The participation topic being addressed is the reconstruction of the square near the local church in Schilde. Using our participation pavilion, we wanted to present citizens with the opportunity to express their opinions and ideas to improve the square, in a way that it would be most appealing to all stakeholders involved.

To make this possible, we took a layered approach. Firstly, the participation pavilion travels through the municipality for a period of 3 weeks. In the pavilion, citizens are introduced to a variety of themes related to the square (mobility, activities, materialisation and atmosphere). By picking up a digitally connected handset, citizens get prompted with a question related to these themes and are able to express their opinion. We deliberately chose for an audio-only approach in order for the interaction to be as natural as possible. Secondly, an online participation platform was set up to run in parallel. On this web-based platform, we present the same themes as in the pavilion and invite citizens to discuss them.

After this period of 3 weeks, all captured data gets processed and interpreted in a digital way. The recorded voice fragments get processed anonymously by computer algorithms. Eventually, the outcome of the analysis will shed light on the content (topical clusters, overarching opinions,...) and on the sentiment of the answers received (use of words, expressed feelings,...)

“Using the participation pavilion, we open up digital urban participation for everyone.”

#SmartCities

It’s Studio Dott’s strong belief that cities and municipalities should frequently and continuously engage in a constructive dialog with all involved stakeholders. Within an urban context, we notice that technology is increasingly being applied to facilitate this dialog, but also results in an increased need to improve they way citizens can interact with these technologies.

Our participation pavilion provides a physical touchpoint in an urban environment, and aims to support digitally connected cities and municipalities by radically focusing on a citizen-centric approach.