Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Community engagement by treasure hunt Where would you find a mouse in the library? Not a difficult question, but as part of a treasure hunt I organised yesterday in Manningham, it got people interested and finding out about the proposals for the new library building. I love going to Bradford and I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to help out with consultation in Manningham lately in relation to proposed library renovations. For this occasion I designed a treasure hunt augmented with some SMS consultation to create interest. A Thumbprint site has just been set up - thanks to Andrew Wilson at Blink. For the treasure hunt I used the playful eBook technology developed by Giles Lane and his colleagues at Diffusion. These are digitally generated handbooks which, among other things, are ideal for jotting things down as you move about. Visitors were given an eBook with the first clue printed on the first page. At the location of the answer to that clue, the next clue was to be found in the form of a peel-off label, which was stuck (‘Clue 2’ etc) on the next page. There were eight clues, several of them designed to require some consultation of the plans (‘Where will the toilets be in the new library?’)... This usually necessitated a conversation with the architect, who was present; as well as reference to the history, place and role of the existing building. In addition to the clues, we used the eBooks to ask consultation questions. For example, Clue 4 required people to consult the plans where they would discover that a ‘community garden’ is proposed. We then asked them: What sort of garden would you like to see beside the new building? (A peace garden, a herb garden, a rose garden, or something else?) We encouraged people to hunt in pairs, where possible of different generations. In a couple of cases whole families went round, learning and discussing as they went. Language difficulties meant that we didn’t always get much written content, but what we did capture is valuable and augmented by plenty of conversations. Either by talking with staff or through a checklist on the eBook, residents had the chance to express interest in influencing a range of decisions to be taken as the project develops. This approach meant that the exercise hit some important objectives for us: it was intergenerational multicultural conversational informative created opportunities for volunteering, and fun. A key advantage of the treasure hunt was that it avoided those inactive ‘pools’ and conceptual congestion that you can get, where people stand around repeating the same points based on their own advance agenda. We have tried in the consultation exercises so far to be clear about what is negotiable and what is not, to avoid the risk that people get frustrated asking for something that is not on offer for whatever reason. Another point is to see it more in terms of engagement than consultation. The exercise was only partially about the latter and we hold no...

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