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CUNY

Under the leadership of Terry Huang the Center for Systems and Community Design at CUNY in New York is working with New York City to study the impact of public investment in parks in urban neighborhoods (PARCS Study). As part of this project, the Center wishes to collaborate with local communities: first building awareness and understanding of the complex motivating factors affecting park use; second, applying that knowledge towards activating communities to increase their use of redesigned local parks. The Center asked Tacit to develop toolkits that would support community engagement through co-creation and co-design, and to train Center staff in leading such workshops in the community.


CO-CREATION

Through an extensive collaborative process with the Center, Tacit decided to use familiar comic book elements to help participants describe their park use, focussing not simply on the activities they associate with parks, but the values and meaning they attribute to them. The use of drawing in design thinking allows for an open-ended, non-linear approach to expression. By providing pre-made drawn elements we helped participants overcome any discomfort with their own drawing abilities, and we encouraged them to add their own sketches without regard to quality.


The resulting workshops led groups through four activities, each building on the previous one. The first activity asked participants to choose any community they felt a part of and describe its importance to them. This “icebreaker” helped orient the participants to using the materials and encouraged them to explore the importance of their communities.

The second activity asked the group to work together to explore how they valued their local parks. They were asked to create single panels that answered “What values or qualities do your local parks have for you? Show us what they mean to you.”

Now the group was asked to take these panels and use them as a “base” upon which they were to build an idealized park. Here, facilitators guided participants to “…indicate some activities that you think embody these qualities. What kind of things might people be doing that reflect these qualities?” Participants were given a range of creative materials to imagine this space: play-doh, preprinted cartoon bubbles, paper cut-outs, pens, etc. This allowed us to understand not only why the community valued their parks but how they wanted to use them.

The final activity led the group through a guided brainstorming session. Here they were asked to imagine how we might encourage people to use their parks. “Would it be a traditional advertising campaign? A restructured and reconfigured park? Could we apply technology in some way to tie the park more firmly to its community?” This open-ended session gave us insights into participants’ potential motivations.

AFFINITY MAPPING

Making sense of co-creation activities is difficult. How exactly, can we build knowledge from open-ended activities that may result in abstract ideas? One method is affinity mapping. Here, each “bit” of information from the sessions was entered on a post-it note. For example, every value or quality or activity identified by the participants was recorded separately. These notes were then clustered based on their affinity, naturally grouping into themes. The team then began the process of interpreting notes and considering the underlying significance of each. Notes that shared a similar intent, problem, or issue were grouped together. Out of this work, patterns emerged about people within communities and how they connect to their parks.


BRAINSTORMING

From themes that emerged from affinity mapping, the team established a set of overarching design principles that would help guide the design process. These principles were derived directly from the knowledge gained from the workshops. They included statements such as “Parks should facilitate human interaction” and “Parks could be used as a civic engagement tool”. These principles formed the starting point for a brainstorming session around the original question: “How might we activate community residents to increase their use of redesigned parks?” The team generated a wide range of possible answers and solutions.


NEXT STEPS

From themes that emerged from affinity mapping, the team established a set of overarching design principles that would help guide the design process. These principles were derived directly from the knowledge gained from the workshops. They included statements such as “Parks should facilitate human interaction” and “Parks could be used as a civic engagement tool”. These principles formed the starting point for a brainstorming session around the original question: “How might we activate community residents to increase their use of redesigned parks?” The team generated a wide range of possible answers and solutions.


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