In a recent project in Eindhoven called “Experience the Vestdijk” we developed a new way to manage participation in infrastructure projects using innovative participatory principles and Virtual Reality in collaboration with Witteveen+Bos. This approach resulted in high engagement, satisfaction and buy-in from stakeholders in a short period of time. In this article we will share some of our insights and learning from the perspective of Koen Terra and Jeroen Grit, GriDD consultants in this project.
Short introduction of the project ‘Experience the Vestdijk’
The municipality of Eindhoven needed to help all kinds of stakeholders on a large scale in expressing their say in the design of the physical world they use daily, the redesign of the Vestdijk, the city center’s ring road.
The result? Over 3500 stakeholders got involved in four weeks and from these, over 1250 responses were received on how the Vestdijk should be designed in the future according to them.
Respondents indicated they wanted to stay involved during the process and how satisfied they were with being involved. Stakeholder satisfaction scored a seven out of ten, which is a lot higher than it normally would be, but there is still room for improvement.
1. Adopt an inclusivity mindset
One of the key concepts for the success of this projectis the inclusivity of design and its importance when carrying out development projects in the urban landscape According to Jeroen, inclusivity of design is:
“The process of designing and developing a new environment while taking into account all possible stakeholders; asking their opinions and allowing them to design along with you by lowering all possible thresholds, instead of providing a solution based on assumptions designed for them.”
When carrying out urban development projects, it is important to consider the input of major stakeholders and end users. Developments in the urban landscape are often carried out for a large group of people, reshaping their working, living and leisure environment and thus they become the most important stakeholders. However, these environments are often being designed based on the input of a very small set of people without the input of many who have a true stake in it.
2. Make stakeholders participate in both the digital and physical world
According to Koen, the main reason for this exclusion lies in the process. Most municipalities or governmental bodies have a process to follow when carrying out urban development projects. There’s always a tight time schedule, low budget and a lot of expectations so it is no surprise that the process is sometimes inefficient.
Also, the process is almost always captured on paper which can be quite inefficient in our increasingly digital world.
3. No shine without friction
Our believe was to invite different target groups at the same time and facilitate the discussion: No shine without friction. Take for instance the Experience the Vestdijk project, where initially two different symposia were organized where stakeholders could show up to give their input on the project. The first was planned to be specifically targeting entrepeneurs, the second symposium was planned to targeting citizens only, avoiding a dreaded discussion between the two target groups.
However this friction proved to be very benificial to the process as the different stakeholders realized they had different interests and concerns. Allowing the discussion to take place revealed these different perspectives and allowed the stakeholders to step into the shoes of others, understanding their needs.
4. Know your target audience
Another reason for the exclusion of a large percentage of stakeholders is that developers do not specifically know who their target audience is or what groups really use these environments. Sure they may have a target demographic but it isn’t always complete, often they are focused on offices located in that space and the people living over there. However, public urban spaces have a broader range of users and a broader demographic set than the obvious; an example are the commuters who use the roads to go from A to B, only passing through the center.
5. Take a human centered approach
In the course of the Experience the Vestdijk project, GriDD decided from the onset that it was going to be human-centered. According to Koen:
“We started the project with looking at the way we could put all these stakeholders first, following a human-centered design approach. We started with indicating what the core values for the project would be and from that, we created themes on a meta-level that would help us to create a concept from which we could design all experiences and content needed for this project.”
By making sure that everything within the project was focused on taking stakeholders input seriously, we were able to design touch points based on stakeholder requirements and expectations. Based on clear meta-themes, we started designing content for different stakeholders, making sure the information was understandable and accessible at every step of the way.
6. Show, don’t tell
We did this by creating visual information and making it accessible, using this for example to express the impact of the changes in the traffic situation. We illustrated the current amount of air pollution, compared to future projections, so stakeholders could really see the impact on air quality over-time. With the data from Witteveen+Bos, we did the same thing for traffic density – showing the amount of traffic on the different roads and streets in the center; measuring and comparing current levels to future projections based on the computer model calculations. This way they were able to compare how many cars would actually pass through the city center and show the decrease in the number of cars based on the new design for the traffic situation.
As it was very important to make it personally relevant and impactful for the individuals, we also showed the differences between the current travel routes and the ones in the new designs. This way stakeholders could actually see how much time it would cost to travel from South to North, for example, comparing the current one to new design and the differences in the routes. The projections also provided advice on other alternative means of transport. For example, if it would take longer to get to their destination by car, we would advise users to go by bicycle.
7. Use the power of virtual reality
This visual information was successfully presented using the power of Virtual Reality. In Koen’s own words:
“Together with Witteveen+Bos a 3D model of the scope of the project was presented, the Vestdijk with a little addition of the buildings surrounding it. The model allowed us to make it into a virtual reality tour, so that users were able to use Virtual Reality goggles and really step into the future. Walking around in this virtual future would show the amount of traffic based on calculations. So, you would really experience the traffic density during rush hours, for example, so you can really experience the differences with the current reality. Having this information represented in a virtual reality environment was an effective innovation. Based on an interactive representation of the future we could gather user input instead of just presenting information. This model was also adapted into a Google Street View-like environment and made available online, so that anybody with a laptop, smartphone or tablet could browse through the streets in the same way they could in Google Street View.”
What we really liked about this project that it allowed us to utilize our knowledge and expertise in involving different stakeholders in a complex setting in the physical domain. Instead of optimizing a digital environment, the physical daily living or working environment is redesigned based on the needs and wishes of the end user.
By involving over 3500 stakeholders who entered over 1250 responses, we could add over 200 requirements for the design, helping the engineers to design a better Vestdijk for the future.
We are now applying a similar approach in other projects such as in the redesign of a square in the city of Haarlem
Would you like to know more about this project and the approach? Or do you want to share your vision on this matter? Especially during the upcoming summer holidays, we would really like to talk to you during (iced) coffee.