ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH IN TRANSPORT
The importance of co-creating
Citizen-centric policymaking is a solution that helps to include every socio-economic, cultural or ethnic group in an urban environment, as Niklas Schmalholz and Pasquale Cancellara discover
Five children are walking to school in a residential neighbourhood in Jerusalem, while laughing and chatting about the upcoming weekend. In many cities across Europe and the world, this scene would raise an eyebrow. How come? Well, as road infrastructure, such as proper pavements, zebra crossings or other measures for pedestrians are sometimes insufficient, some cities can only dream of this.
Therefore, raising awareness about the wants and needs of different groups in local neighbourhoods is vital to foster the idea of clean, affordable and active mobility for all. This process, called ‘co-creation’, was particularly exemplified and placed at the core of four EU-funded research projects which gave cities back to their citizens – Cities-4-People, Looper, Metamorphosis and SUNRISE. In 21 locations across Europe and beyond, local residents, stakeholders and public authorities re-assessed and re-imagined their neighbourhoods while co-creating innovative mobility measures. Ideas and proposals were collected to improve the quality of life by acting on several urban challenges such as air quality, accessibility, safety, social cohesion, modal shift and more.
Co-creation brings together different actors including public administrators and citizens to discuss common challenges, such as urban mobility and transport. The purpose is to make governance truly inclusive by involving those that are directly affected by the decision-making process. The inspiring principle is that everyone is an expert and has knowledge and experience in the neighbourhood in which they live. As a geographical entity, the neighbourhood proves to be one of the best places where co-creation can be applied – indeed, inhabitants have a deep knowledge of their own neighbourhood and are all interested in improving the quality and safety of the spaces where they live and move in their everyday life.
A matter of co-creation - Jerusalem leading the way
A concrete example comes from the City of Jerusalem, a member of POLIS Network that has been involved in the SUNRISE project. Jerusalem is implementing the Jerusalem 2020 plan to improve public transport throughout the city, lower pollution levels and promote multi-modal transport. The co-creation approach in Jerusalem is tested in Baka, a 13,000-inhabitant neighbourhood located in the south of Jerusalem and home to a diverse group of residents. SUNRISE’s implemented neighbourhood measures are organised by Baka’s community council, which plays a key role in the organisation of social services and cultural activities. The aim is to foster sustainable mobility together with the residents. One of the key measures is the ‘Walk to School’ programme, which is encouraging students and pupils to walk to school – the aim is to create awareness about walkability in the neighbourhood and reduce the number of private vehicles used to bring students to school.
Local SUNRISE volunteers engaging with the community in the Baka, © SUNRISE Project
The measure intends to foster a shift towards a sustainable mode while helping to decrease congestion and improve the air quality for all residents. Students are learning about the benefits of walking to school and are giving ‘lectures’ on walkability to other classes and groups in the community. In this way they are becoming the real ambassadors of the initiative and the drivers for change.
Local SUNRISE volunteers are engaging with the community in the Baka neighbourhood of Jerusalem, © SUNRISE Project
To help better understand how the co-creation process works, Pasquale Cancellara spoke to Meia Wippoo (MW) from Waag, who has long been involved in participation processes.
Thinking Cities (TC): Meia, can you tell us a bit more about Waag?
MW: Waag is a middle-ground organization based in Amsterdam, that operates at the intersection of science, technology and the arts. The collective has a shared attitude of public concern and civic activism, which is manifested in the Public Research Agenda 2019. Within Waag thematic research groups, focusing on societal domains like education, health care, government and heritage, work both with grassroots initiatives and institutional partners across Europe. Waag conducts research in both imaginative and practical terms, working with emergent technologies, addressing its fellow citizens from a position of equality and collaboration. Waag focuses on emergent technologies as instruments of social change, and is guided by the values of fairness, openness and inclusivity. With a dedicated team of 60 thinkers, developers, creatives and makers Waag empowers people to become active citizens through technology and innovation.
Meia Wippoo, Lead of the Co-creation Lab of WAAG, Technology & Society, © Waag
TC: How is WAAG involved in co-creation at the neighbourhood level? Which expertise does it bring to this topic?
MW: Waag has several thematic research labs, like the Smart Citizens Lab and the Future Heritage Lab, that research the context of the city and its citizens. Additionally, Waag has one methodology lab that researches and develops methods for participation and design, and that supports the public research efforts in the other labs: the Co-Creation Lab. This is the lab that I am currently heading. Because of this methodological expertise that is combined with the broad knowledge represented in the thematic labs, Waag has a more holistic approach towards (local) societal problems. Both the issues and their context, as well as the people and their circumstances are important to consider. This approach underlines Waag’s core values of openness, fairness and inclusion. Over the last few years, we have been involved in several projects that have taken a bottom-up and participatory approach to intervention and innovation - not just in city planning, but also in heritage, education and sustainability. And we have trained other organizations to do so as well.
TC: You are an expert on co-creation and you have been involved in projects that have used co-creation as a method to find new ways to deal with mobility challenges at the neighbourhood level. Could you tell how co-creation is enabling a more inclusive and sustainable mobility?
MW: Co-creation in its core could achieve four shifts: co-creating helps you connect to the existing knowledge of people with experience and expertise, which makes what you will do relevant: not just to you and your organization, but also to the people involved. At the same time, including those people that are directly affected by interventions in the process of development, will give them ownership. When people ‘made’ something, they feel it is part of themselves. Then they are more likely to care for it. It is similar to the ‘IKEA effect’: having built something yourself you will understand the effort, skill and intentions, which results in pride and/or a sense of achievement. You will care more for its future. This involvement will also lead to agency: people will have a better sense of their options. Often people do not even know they have a say in something or do not know what the alternatives can be. If you know your options, it is easier to support or understand the decisions that are made because you know the alternatives and were part of the decision making. And finally, when you co-create, you experiment and iterate. Every time you have a part of the solution you test it on a local level - and see where tweaking is necessary- and you will continue to do that until you reach a satisfactory result. That is what makes it sustainable. It is important to realize though, that co-creation is not a method that only looks at one ‘problem area’ like mobility. It is a people-centred approach, and people do not just care about one issue. It is always part of a bigger ecosystem. In the case of mobility this could involve city planning, zoning, public accessibility, safety, etc. Co-creation encourages the involvement of these different stakes so that solutions can impact a bigger picture.
In BigPicnic, 18 European partners, including 15 botanical gardens from Europe and Uganda, came together to bring ‘food security’ to the attention of their local citizens. Their co-creation journey started with a three-day workshop during which employees of the gardens were introduced to co-creation methods and tools © Waag via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
TC: Could you give an example of a successful co-creation story from the projects you have been involved with?
MW: A recent successful effort has been made in the context of Cities-4-People project in Oxfordshire. This was one of the pilot cities that Waag has coached and trained throughout the project. The starting point was a mobility problem: specific areas in Oxford were poorly connected to each other by public transportation, affecting a very specific group of citizens. But that was still quite a broad problem description. By performing several co-creation sessions, the local partners were able to identify several underlying issues that were in some way affected by this lack of public transportation - and focused on solving those issues rather than the broader mobility issue. One of the most innovative, yet simple, solutions was the implementation of a shuttle bus service to the discount grocery stores, primarily for elderly people and low-income families. The service was run by volunteers of the local community centre. More about this intervention process can be found here.
TC: SUNRISE, Cities-4-People, Metamorphosis and Looper are four different EU-funded projects that worked with citizens to co-create mobility solutions at the neighbourhood level. They have recently held a final virtual conference and they have shared “10 big messages” as recommendations and essential findings to policy makers, cities, public authorities, and other organisations. If you had to summarise these messages in few words, what would they be?
MW: To me, these messages are all about the awareness of humanity and the power of open communication. A city or a town is only that because people make it so. A city or town is of the people - and should be shaped by the people. In policy we tend to generalize, and work towards an average that should fit most people - which often leads to not fitting any people. This creates detachment, as people feel that it is not for them. In co-creation we flip this on its head and ask: ‘What would work for these specific groups of people?’, ‘How would this affect their life?’. We listen, we are open, and we work together towards a collective, instead of towards an average. The Big Messages: Lessons for co-creative mobility initiatives in neighbourhoods from the four projects will be published by the end of this year. Their aim is to provide advice and inspiration to other cities and policy makers on how to make the best out of the co-creation methodology at the neighbourhood level.
Read next article