Talking the Walk

On Sunday 14th September 2014, our Liane will be hosting an event called Planning on the Roof which takes place at the fabulous Dalston Roof Park on top of Bootstrap.

Stickyworld and City University Centre for Creativity have asked us to help test a new digital method for engaging young people in discussions on planning, called “Neighbourhood Stickers”.

So we have organised Plannin on the Roof as the very first walkabout trials of Neighbourhood Stickers – starting and finishing at Dalston Roof Park, Bootstrap – to be followed by networking drinks and a BBQ to say thank you (and also celebrate Liane’s birthday!)

What is Neighbourhood Stickers? It’s a social tech project to design, build and test tools and processes that might enable more young people to engage in local planning issues in their area. Led by the folks at Stickyworld, the project aims to offer a digital platform for planning professionals and youth workers to engage more young people in the planning and design of the urban environment around them.

Why are we doing it? Because planning is clearly about future change and young people’s voices are not always heard in this process. Nominet Trust has funded this project to help us explore new ways of engaging these typically hard to reach groups and making the collected data and insights available to local authorities and decision makers to inform policy and regeneration projects. We also think it’s a great way for young people, especially those interested in a career in planning or the built environment to meet other professionals.

How does it work? A volunteer agrees to organise a walkabout for an hour around Dalston. The group meets at Bootstrap for a briefing to discuss the aims of the walkabout. The participants will be invited to tweet pictures or make instagram posts en route. The tweets and posts will be collected and published on the Planning in the Pub Stickyworld account and located in a map and on a public noticeboard. After the walkabout we then head back to Dalston Roof Park to feedback, view the results and discuss.

We have just got back from a brilliant dress rehearsal session where we took some lovely volunteers on a series of short walkabouts around Dalston. We wanted to see how the walkabouts went and how the technology stood up to vigorous tweeting, in preparation for the real thing this Sunday.

What struck a lot of us was that something as “simple” as taking a small group of people who don’t know each other, or the place they are in, for a walkabout; asking them to take photos of what they see, what they think and anything else they find interesting as they are going along; and then starting a discussion about it with an unknown twitter audience – is not as simple as it sounds!

As someone who is prone to random wanderings around this and other cities for fun and never tiring of the joy of randomly making the connection between one bit of town and the other – I appreciate there is an art to wandering about the place.

So in anticipation of our event next Sunday; and for all those of you leading or participating in the group walkabouts, I thought I would put together some useful tips and suggestions to help you enjoy them and get the most out of the experience.

We hope that our event and the social media engagement tool we are testing for StickyWorld and City University helps encourage more of you to go on walkabouts more regularly!

Establish a walk leader before you go – this is the person who helps keep an eye on time, makes sure the group stays together as much as possible, looks ahead at where you are going, gently steers you, points out interesting stuff, can suggest ideas or questions for you to ask or think about. Try and keep it to one person otherwise having two will get confusing and distracting for the rest of the group It’s easier if the walk leader sticks to this role than trying to tweet and photograph as well. This is probably taking multi-tasking a little too far!

Lead don’t herd – As a walkabout leader you are gently steering the walk and paying attention to what people are interested in and changing direction to suit. Don’t feel you have to stick to a strict route or not let people suggest a change. It’s ok to be spontaneous. Similarly if people want to linger in a particular spot and take their time look that’s great too. It doesn’t have to be a long walk – it’s the richness of feedback and observations that is important as opposed to distance covered.
Theme it – You might find it easier to pick a theme or focus for the walk. This helps people have a common starting point for discussion and taking pictures. For example in the practice session one walkabout focussed on street art and the other shops and markets. This helps get people’s imagination and enthusiasm going for the start.

• Impressions – Remember to ask how people feel or what their first impressions are of a place, especially if they have never been there before. This helps to tease out what their eye is drawn too and encourages others that perhaps do know the area better to give them background information. It’s also a good opportunity to ask them if they feel different or have a different opinion from what they have seen mid-way or at the end of the walk.

• Comfortable silences – Don’t be afraid if people go quite. Trying to walk/look/ observe/focus, and tweet meaningfully whilst following all the hash-tagging and twitterhandle instructions is a lot to do at once! People will need to spend time composing this and generally taking in what’s going on. So leave them to it. If it’s obvious that they are struggling or a bit out of the loop ask them where they live and what they like about it to get a conversation going.

• Respect your audience – Please be wary that the people you encounter around you on your walkabout may not take kindly to having their photo taken by a random group of people. If you are keen to take a photo of someone please be discreet and respectful. Best to ask first and explain what you are doing. It is only fair and can help avoid any unhappy encounters

• Look out for each other and your stuff – You will be walking around the open and probably distracted by your task of tweeting, taking photos and absorbing your surroundings. Please don’t forget to remain aware, make sure your valuables are safe and keep an eye on each other’s as a group. We do want you to be using your phones but obviously don’t want you to be a target for light-fingered opportunists!

• Pace yourself – Make sure you are not charging off leaving your group behind or similarly wandering off randomly on your own. There doesn’t have to be a strict route but stay in your group. The idea is to share thoughts, ideas and ask questions about what you see, not just on twitter but amongst yourselves too.

• Watch where you’re going – Sounds obvious but by encouraging you to absorb your surroundings, focus on the detail, let your eyes drift up and around; we don’t want you to forget to be aware of the traffic and other people around you too!

• Have fun! – This is a test and experiment so we want people to play around with it and test its potential. We are all for having a serious debate but we want you to have a positive and fun experience whilst doing it and we appreciate you giving up your time on a Sunday.

Image: Dalston Peace Mural copyright kpmarek

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