Almost 60 years ago, Jane Jacobs (1961) presented a view that the construction of cities occurred through diverse and self-organising communities, one that jarred with the techno-rational systems world of professional and governmental bodies.
Today, citizens and planners are still trying to reconcile the role of digital technology in aiding citizen-planner communication since citizens were given increased weight in decision making.
To understand how technology might support engaging people in placeshaping, researchers at Open Lab developed a technology named JigsAudio.
JigsAudio is an open-source device that encourages people to express themselves creatively through drawing and talking, exploring how the technology might create new and novel methods of participating with the formal planning process.
After deploying the device with over 1,500 people, we consider the potential of JigsAudio, both conceptually and practically, within urban and regional change, and considers the balance that needs to be struck between utilising smart technology whilst creating accessible and meaningful opportunities that inspire citizens.
JigsAudio was deployed to encourage participation across projects such as the future of the Tyne and Wear Metro, citizens’ views on the use and management of green spaces in the city, and events held by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
How it works
Participants are encouraged to draw on a large card or wooden jigsaw piece with an electronic tag on the back. The JigsAudio device reads a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag (similar to those used in contactless bank cards).
The participant then records an audio clip (by pressing the record button) that is associated with their jigsaw piece and the piece is then placed within the jigsaw. The device contains a Raspberry Pi (a bank card-sized computer), an RFID scanner and a microphone.
JigsAudio was designed for relative ease of use and had one button. Following the deployment, the jigsaw pieces were digitised and displayed alongside audio content on the website. The jigsaws were displayed online in the same arrangement as they were laid-out physically.
A decision was taken to make the design and code for JigsAudio open source, with instructions for people to make their own JigsAudio device and generate their own webpages.
It was found that drawing and talking was effective at getting people to communicate elaborate visions that might not be easily expressed through a single medium. There was an opportunity for creativity and expressiveness in people drawing and discussing their feelings and, by combining drawing and audio, a rich story behind each image was formed.
The initial low-tech appearance of the activity encouraged engagement with JigsAudio. Upon first viewing, participants would see other participants’ drawings, draw their own image and use JigsAudio later in the process. By introducing people to something that appears to be low-tech, the barriers to using technology were reduced. Technology was introduced after participants had completed their drawing, rather than them being immediately confronted with it.
Physicality of the Device
The physicality of the technology generated interest in the activity, and encouraged participation. These images formed a makeshift exhibition that further encouraged people to view, comment on and create their own pieces.
Combining Digital & Non-Digital
Through the combination of digital and non-digital, JigsAudio aided understanding of how the two might be used to encourage and enhance participation in planning. It created a way for people to use familiar methods in putting their thoughts across whilst not being required to use something that they would generally consider a computer.
Future directions for this work
Looking ahead at the possibility of further research and conceptualisation, increased attention should be placed on how digital technology can facilitate different and changing types of responses from people.
JigsAudio demonstrated that alternative forms of technologies, that are not screen-based, can help elicit view from people that current technologies struggle with.
Future work will involve understanding how the view put forward through the technology can be analysed and used within planning, and how community groups might make their own devices.
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Gabber is a digital platform designed by Open Lab to make capturing and analysis of audio recordings lightweight and accessible for everyday people and organisations.