Issue 14 - December 2016

WHERE DO WE START IN MAKING CHANGE HAPPEN IN PLACES?

By Diarmaid Lawlor, Director of Place, Architecture & Design Scotland

One possible starting point might be with efficiencies. The need to save money drives different ways of doing things. However, the output might be money saved, doing similar things. And, the opportunity cost is in not changing the culture of the doing of the doing to tackle what needs to be done.

We can shy away from raising expectations. Sometimes, we consult rather than engage, and miss the potential of collaboration. Future thinking is sometimes seen as a distraction from solving problems. We prioritise projects over programmes.

A different start point might be transformation, a discussion about the kind of place we want to be, and the steps needed to achieve it. The problem here is how we engage with ambition. We can shy away from raising expectations. Sometimes, we consult rather than engage, and miss the potential of collaboration. Future thinking is sometimes seen as a distraction from solving problems. We prioritise projects over programmes.

In either case, there is a challenge of expectation. A rational view of assets and services in a place may conclude that there are too many that cost too much. And the answer is to reduce. So, the decision is what to lose. A different view would be to understand the geographies of meaning people participate in to better understand what works and why, what people need and value, and what can be shared. This is central to unlocking the possibility of sustainability in citizen led approaches to innovation in public and civic services.

At the heart of this issue is the way we see places, and how we resource places. Jarmo Souminen is a designer advising Espoo, the world’s first learning city, in Finland . Everything in the city is seen through the lens of learning to enable citizens to build the capacities for a 21st century economy. Planning for the future, the city needs new schools, new infrastructure, more investment. But, there isn’t enough resource to invest in all that is needed. And the landscape of change is putting pressure on existing budgets and services. So, what’s the answer?

Souminen talks about three ideas of city, or a place that exist and operate concurrently in the minds of decision makers and citizens. The first is the ‘industrial model’. Here, we think of the city as a central place with lots of routes leading in and out. The logic of this model is about centralised production. Dealing with change is about improving efficiencies, reducing costs, centralising more. The second is the ‘smart city model’. Here, we think of the city as clusters of clusters, organised around similar issues. The logic of this model is about products, digital infrastructure, data and decentralised structures. The third is the ‘human place’. Here, the focus is on services, using the existing city infrastructure as a platform for co-creation with citizens.

The third [model of a city] is the ‘human place’. Here, the focus is on services, using the existing city infrastructure as a platform for co-creation with citizens.

Drawing on these ideas of place, the City of Espoo are moving their thinking from ‘school as product’ - a central place that everyone has to go to, to ‘school as a service’ which offers a range of learning experiences mapped into existing spaces across the city; universities, museums, meeting places, places people want to be in, places people recognise and value. The learning experiences in each place are co-created by learners and local learning partners. Connections between learning experiences are enabled by digital technology and public transport integration. The outcomes include greater ownership and participation in learning experiences by learners, greater independence and greater integration of community and learning. And, the project is achieving savings; the average cost of education per student has reduced by almost €25,000.

What seems critical about this story is not the efficiency story. It’s not the principle of sharing spaces and infrastructure. It is not citizens doing everything, and it is not citizens left out of key decisions. The critical thing is about building up the conditions for success for alternative ways of doing the doing, through engagement, prototyping and clarity on different levels of who can do what.

The principle here is that some things need to be centrally planned, like infrastructures, systems, sewers. But we also need the spaces for co-creation, different ways of doing things. We need both, which mean different logics and cultures of doing things. The Espoo story shows what might be possible if move the public sector from direct service provision to platforms for co delivery. This is a way to channel activism, distributing ideas, open sharing of knowledge between neighbourhoods. Co-creation is about better and faster, together. This needs both a new form of public servant, and a new form of civic engagement, with new cultures and new logics, driven by a shared purpose to improve outcomes.

Sustainability for places is about building the conditions for success for better, more efficient infrastructure, and meaningful, scalable and embedded social innovation. The big data element of this transformation might be as simple as powerful conversations on possibilities.

Diarmaid Lawlor, Director of Place, Architecture & Design Scotland

By Diarmaid Lawlor, Director of Place, Architecture & Design Scotland

Issue 14 - December 2016

PREVIOUS ISSUES

Looking for a previous issue? Use the menu below to select an issue.