Community Slate Team
University of Washington
An informative, updatable, printed development sign that connects pedestrians to a mobile website with an NFC tag.
A desktop website that presents and updates development information, and summarizes public opinion about development projects in a neighborhood. The site allows people to answer specific questions posted by city planners or give general feedback.
A mobile website, similar to the desktop site, that can be connected to from a mobile maps application layer that shows development locations.
Community Slate has introduced a new and more contemporary idea of community participation into urban regeneration processes, enabling people to be part of a collaborative decision process both by reducing entry barriers and simplifying the tasks.
The service is potentially appealing for public administrations and therefore highly scalable.
The overall presentation is good quality and clear.
Community Slate is a platform for city planners to inform neighborhoods about development projects and get feedback throughout project timelines. Its three parts are: An informative, updatable, printed development sign that connects pedestrians to a mobile website with an NFC tag. A desktop website that presents and updates development information, and summarizes public opinion about development projects in a neighborhood. The site allows people to answer specific questions posted by city planners or give general feedback. A mobile website, similar to the desktop site, that can be connected to from a mobile maps application layer that shows development locations.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
This project was created for the Advanced Interaction Design class at the University of Washington. In the class we competed with other student groups for a spot in the 2013 Microsoft Design Expo. The theme of the competition is “making data meaningful.” Students in the class first brainstormed ideas around the theme, and then formed into groups to research, prototype, and create video storylines for their specific proposals. Our team is made up of six undergraduate and graduate students from interaction, visual communication, and human centered design. Our initial proposal was “a street-level interface to connect the public to local government regarding community issues.” Through primary and secondary research we better defined our topic to focus on designing public participation in the urban development process. Community Slate seeks to improve communication between local governments and the public. Our project goals are to: 1. Transparently and simply communicate to the public the details about development projects. 2. Communicate when and how public input can be used in a project timeline. 3. Engage a larger percentage of the public by lowering the barriers that discourage interested people from participating in the process now. 4. Improve the efficiency of gathering public opinion about specific issues during different points in a development timeline. 5. Make it easy to summarize and quantify data from the public’s opinion of development projects.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The idea that initially inspired us was that networked social media technology could improve the confusing and often antiquated ways that local governments currently engage the public about development projects. Our hope was that an informed application of technology could provide easier access to information and opportunities for the public to participate in the planning process. The research we conducted with representatives from the city helped inform us of the frustrations faced by both local governments and citizens and confirmed our assumptions that the process could be improved. The amount of comments on community blogs regarding controversial neighborhood developments gave us reason to be optimistic as well. Because of conflicting interests, both planners and the public often try to ‘game’ the system to work in their favor. Based on this finding from our research, we adjusted our goals to take into account the concerns of city planners as well as residents. Instead of positioning our idea to only benefit the public, our goal shifted to improve the overall communication and transparency of the urban planning process. The intent of Community Slate then became to provide planners with more comprehensive, structured public opinion data at key points in the process, while informing citizens about developments and providing them more opportunities to participate and voice their concerns.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Our design process roughly included phases of research, design iteration, and final video and asset production. The first phase of our process was to conduct research to better understand the problem space we were working in. To do this we conducted multiple interviews with a design commissioner of Seattle, a design board member in a nearby neighborhood, a urban development consultant, and citizens who had never participated in planning events. We also attended design review meetings for a new condo development in the neighborhood around our university. The most beneficial secondary research we applied came from MIT Urban Studies and Planning PhD student, Rob Goodspeed. One of Goodspeed’s papers titled, “Citizen Participation and the Internet in Urban Planning,” provided us with crucial background information and historical perspective to guide our design process. During this research phase we deliberately identified the audience of our project to be city planners and the public who currently weren’t engaged in the planning process. Our initial understanding of the development process was that of a conversation between investors, the city, and the public. Thinking practically about which group would host and fund such a system led us to work from the city’s point of view and conceive our Community Slate as an addition to civic infrastructure. Our decision not to focus on activists and engaged public in the planning process was made under the assumption that these groups would likely still participate if the process was expanded. This decision allowed us to focus on making engagement more inclusive for people who normally wouldn’t be able to attend community meetings. In the latter part of our research phase we began sketching storyboards and interaction model concepts to to solidify our design direction. After deciding on an interaction model, we created rough comps and wireframes for the interfaces and sign in our system. The information architecture of our desktop and mobile website was informed by a condominium design proposal document that we collected in our earlier research. During this phase we were also advised by a professor to find an appropriate case study to ground the storyline we would later create. The urban rest stop for the homeless idea came from an actual development proposal that is currently in process in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. We chose this project because it provided us with both a controversial proposal and a history of possible adjustments made to similar projects that responded to public concerns. The last phase of our project involved refining our storyline and scenarios to reflect our case study, as well as the final visual design of each part of Community Slate. We also wrote a script to communicate the value of Community Slate from the perspective of a city planner using the system to engage the public on a project like our case study. With these assets and our script, we filmed video to communicate the value of our proposed platform being used by planners and the public.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
By improving communication between local governments and the public in urban planning processes we hope that Community Slate can: 1. Transparently communicate when and how public input is needed so that the process can be more predictable and easier to take part in. This transparency would also open the development process up to critique by those who find it limiting. 2. Lower the barriers to participation so that more people are included in decision making. This would help to make the planning process more inclusive so that decisions could reflect overall public opinion. 3. Gather and summarize public opinion more efficiently and democratically by asking quantifiable questions and by allowing participants to vote for comments they feel strongly about by pressing ‘agree’ or ‘disagree.’ 4. Allow people to see what others in their neighborhood think about development issues so that they would be encouraged to get involved and stay informed about projects. Our hope is that all of these factors would contribute to a more transparent, efficient planning process that could both save the city and investors money in delayed costs, and better inform the public and incorporate their concerns into planning decisions.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
The two main actors we identified with Community Slate are city planners and the public. We envision the public using the system as follows: 1. Someone enters the system from a maps app showing development locations, by walking by the streetside development site, or from a link to the website. 2. They read and become informed about a development location. The mobile website allows them to quickly participate and give their opinion when they have time. 3. They respond to specific questions from planners and see how their opinion aligns with others in their community. They comment on other issues about the development and click ‘agree’ to support comments they like. 4. Over the course of a development they receive updates on how the city has responded to specific public input and how the overall development timeline has evolved. 5. Through a map view, they’re also able to connect to other nearby development in their neighborhood to participate in. We see city planners using Community Slate as follows: 1. Post a development to the website and a sign to a development location. Specific questions are asked through both mediums. 2. The system tracks responses and receives constructive information regarding public opinion to act on. 3. The city updates the system with adjustments, and continues to the next phase with additional specific questions. 4. The project is archived so that the city (and the public) have a document of how public input was used to inform decisions.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
Our initial inspiration for the project were the imposing, and often graffitied white development signs in much of Seattle now. We asked, “what if someone could given their opinion regarding a development right from the street?” Our own experience viewing the hundreds of comments on community blogs regarding the closure of a much loved coffee shop encouraged us that a networked social media system could improve the way city planners inform and receive planning feedback. After researching public participation in development processes, we were optimistic that a multifaceted platform that allowed people to quickly be informed and give their opinion, when and where they had time, would improve both the quantity and the quality of feedback. MIT Urban Planning PhD student, Rob Goodspeed’s interpretation of Brody, Godschalk, and Burby’s five guidelines for public participation helped us evaluate the value of each aspect of Community Slate: “1. Objectives: provide information to as well as listen to citizens; empower citizens by providing opportunities to influence planning decisions. 2. Timing: involve the public early and continuously. 3. Targets: seek participation from a broad range of stakeholders. 4. Techniques: use a number of techniques to give and receive information from citizens and, in particular, provide opportunities for dialog. 5. Information: provide more information in a clearly understood form, free of distortion and technical jargon.” Our response to these guidelines was to focus on the following leverage points: 1. Design multiple entry points to initially bring people into the system. Using NFC technology on our sign allows us to quickly connect pedestrians to give feedback. Those without a smart phone can still participate by texting answers to specific questions on the sign. Including a development project maps layer in a popular maps application would allow people to identify projects around them when they used the app. 2. Redesign the development sign to visibly and functionally engage the public to participate. The current development signs are cold and impersonal, and the feedback we received from disengaged public was that they make passers by feel helpless toward development projects. With our redesign we hoped to make it clear that public input was wanted, as well as communicate and update important details about the project. Because one of the above guidelines was to engage the public throughout the development process, adding a sheet that could change to include news and new questions was an important feature of our sign redesign. 3. Allow planners to engage the public with specific questions, and then quantify and summarize the opinion data so that the city planners can transparently make decisions based on public engagement. Making it possible for the city to ask specific, multiple choice-type questions on the sign and website helps to make the public opinion data structured and easy for the city to quantify and bring into the decision making process. Letting users ‘agree’ with comments they like allows the city to track other issues as well.