Let's Talk Parks: creating collaborative spaces to envision and transform public parks services

Design Futures

Collaborators Newcastle City Council

Abstract

We engaged over 3,000 people working with Newcastle City Council to re-envision and re-shape Newcastle’s public parks service using multiple channels of engagement.

Method

A multi-channel socio-technical process to foster engagement and collaboration in public service transformation including: digitally mediated workshops, a digital platform and live discussion on Twitter.

Takeaways

Research generated through Let’s Talk Park informed the requirements for a new public park service in the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne. The research also demonstrates the value of participatory processes that are able to productively connect citizens and public institutions.

Let’s Talk Parks was a project between Open Lab and Newcastle City Council to design a public engagement and consultation programme to involve local people and multiple stakeholders contribute meaningfully to the decision-making processes on how the city’s parks should be managed in the future.

This was set in the context of austerity Britain where major cuts to public spending meant that public parks services in Newcastle lost 90% of their funds. In response to this, Newcastle City Council explored options to transfer the park services to a charitable entity in order to secure the future of the city’s parks.

The project took place between March and April 2017

Through a series of workshops and online discussions, the consultation fostered discussions around four broad themes, which were explored via future oriented scenarios:

  • how parks should be funded
  • the activities parks should support
  • how decisions should be made
  • what role volunteers should play

Let’s Talk Parks workshops invited residents, allotment holders, the business community, local volunteer groups, park managers and rangers, and other interested parties to work as a team using a bespoke board game-style process to share values and then consider different scenarios and bring their ideas together into a collective response.

The workshops used a bespoke board game style process so people could share ideas about the future of the parks
The workshops used a bespoke board game style process so people could share ideas about the future of the parks

In addition, weekly hour-long debates on Twitter provided opportunities to discuss options and engage with dynamic polls around alternative futures for Newcastle’s parks. The Let’s Talk Parks website acted as a repository for ideas and a platform for further discussion.

Twitter polls and discussions were held each week to talk about the parks
Twitter polls and discussions were held each week to talk about the parks

Our process and the resulting analysis expose the practical complexities of transformation and co-creation processes. The study points to the productive possibilities that civic participation brings to transformation projects.

Highlights

  • The project engaged with over 3000 people.
  • The insights generated informed the development of a new entity - The Newcastle Parks Trust tasked with running Newcastle’s city parks.
  • The Newcastle Parks Trust, developed in partnership with the National Trust and communities across the city, is seen as an example of a cooperative response to austerity.

Publications

Infrastructuring public service transformation: Creating collaborative spaces between communities and institutions through HCI research

  1. Crivellaro C
  2. Anderson R
  3. Lambton-Howard D
  4. Nappey T
  5. Olivier P
  6. Vlachokyriakos V
  7. Wilson A
  8. Wright P

2019ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction