This blog post was written in two parts although published at the same time. The first part was written the day before I attended a Christchurch City Council Share an Idea workshop and then my thoughts after the workshop. This has been done in order to accurately capture my sentiments and expectations leading up to the workshop and compare them to how I felt after the workshop.
Or skip to the Linwood Park temporary housing accommodation village panorama.
Before the workshop
Tomorrow I’ll be attending a Share an Idea workshop in Linwood. It’s not my local workshop as I live in St Albans but I think I may have missed workshops run in my immediate community not that I think it particular matters. I have known about these workshops for a while and wasn’t going to participate in one as I have been contributing online plus I’m involved in a group who’s working on some ideas … but after seeing this latest series of workshops advertised and with no plans for this weekend I thought I should pop in and have a look.
I admit I’m more curious than looking to contribute although it’d suck for others in my working group if I rock up as a passive spectator without ideas to share so I’ll have to think up some ideas appropriate to the forum.
Being active in the Government 2.0 community back in Australia and having just come out of 7 years in the public service I’m keen to see what things are like on the receiving end of a government-hosted participatory design initiative out of professional interest.
What am I expecting out of the workshop tomorrow? For starters, I expect to not waste my time – I’d like to think that these workshops and the rest of the Share an Idea program and community consultation going on post-quake are not tokenism. I’d like to think that the Christchurch community is being listened to and their feedback is being given serious consideration rather than decisions being made by a small group of influential and wealthy people in secret in order to make those few wealthier and more influential. Call me foolishly optimistic but I’d like to believe that the Christchurch City Council, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and New Zealand government are serious about helping Christchurch recover from the earthquake and rebuild this city to make it a place we all want to live in.
That said, a co-design activity of this magnitude with a city of 390,000 is a daunting task for a council displaced from its offices in the Christchurch CBD and scattered throughout the city. I don’t know if they’ve engaged a third party to help facilitate these workshops and analyse the data but I wouldn’t be surprised and would in fact be impressed if they recognise they need expert help with this initiative. Hopefully not a market research company although that’d be better than nothing. I say that because a popular idea does not equate to the utility of that idea, plus minority community segments would be drowned out in a focus group style forum and their needs unfairly neglected.
I’m expecting a fairly formal agenda for the workshop; challenge context provided by the facilitator, whole group discussion and then breaking up into smaller working groups either randomly or by topic of interest (preferred). Hopefully the facilitator will walk workshop participants through some group creative thinking and gamestorming techniques to work on defining specific challenges, engage in divergent thinking, explore various ideas and then identify and rank possible solutions. Those solutions should then be recorded and collected … perhaps a few presentations to the “class” as that seems to be a popular but I’d probably prefer a post-workshop follow up once ideas have been properly written up and posted to the Share an Idea website.
I expect to leave the workshop tomorrow feeling like I’ve made a positive and constructive contribution to the future of Christchurch, more hopeful that this city will be one that I want to live in after we have rebuilt and risen from the rubble.
I hope to see evidence of how the ideas in this workshop will be incorporated into the planning process. I want to see some traceability in the Central City Plan that shows the community’s feedback through these various mechanisms. I don’t want to see the Plan come out and look like all our time and effort went down a black hole.
After the workshop
Well, to sum it up: Better than I expected, less than I hoped for.
We had fourteen people attend the workshop held at St John of God Waipuna in North Linwood, apparently the smallest group of the nine workshops held so far with the largest being attended by around 45 people in Cashmere. It was a good size group – I can imagine a larger group could get quite rowdy.
Attending from the Council were Ray as facilitator, Ann and Rod. Three of the 14 participants in the workshop were ‘special guests’ Lianne Dalziel Labour MP for Christchurch East and Brendon Burns Labour MP for Christchurch Central, as well as Garry Moore former mayor of Christchurch 1998-2007. Quite a character.
The team from the Council opened the workshop and introduced some of the themes emerging from the Share and Idea Expo and the workshops held so far. The workshop started with informal discussions about reasons why we would want to visit and enjoy our central city and what would make us proud of our central city.
After that the four tables were assigned a topic from Market, Life, Move and Space. There was time for everyone to participate in two of these topics, each of which had two questions. I started with Market with Brendon and Garry and we thrashed around some ideas about how businesses could move back into the central city and how investors and developers could be incentivised. Points were scribed onto butchers paper, one sheet per question … so we ended this part of the workshop with sixteen pieces of paper stuck up on the walls. The second part involved people going around and viewing others’ ideas and then adding comments with Post-It notes.
And that was pretty much our two hours done.
So, not as rigorous or exploratory as I hoped – it was fairly much a conventional brainstorm approach but fortunately everyone had good ideas although I’m sure most of the ideas have come up a thousand times before. It was great working with Brendon and Garry – they had a different perspective on the challenges.
To wrap up the workshop the Council team made some closing remarks about the next step in compiling all these ideas and developing a draft plan which would go on a roadshow and a formal consultation process in mid-August to September although they’re still working on a plan on how to run the consultation for the Plan.
Lianne made a few remarks about the consultation process, referring to TEDxEQChCh (of which she is clearly a big fan) and participatory democracy, advocating a more interactive approach to consultation than a Q&A with residents over a draft plan. Keep in mind that this community consultation is part of only one of seven streams of work going into the Plan with the other six streams not being open to the community.
I have to agree with Lianne; whilst the Council is doing a great job it’s still a very traditional approach and the gap between the community and the outcome is large. We put some ideas into the funnel and then a few months later a plan magically pops out the other end. It’ll be hard for the community to feel any ownership of the Plan with that sort of approach – however to be fair the Council is working within a tight timeframe of putting together a plan in 8 months what would normally take 3 years. But it won’t work if people feel like their the lower tier of a hierarchy and that the decisions are being made by experts, peak interest groups and developers with CERA at the top then it will lead to resentment, not to mention that failing to consult effectively with the community means the outcome is less likely to meet the needs and desires of the residents of Christchurch.
The last formal part of the workshop was for table groups to write down things that they’d like the decision-makers and authorities to hear, scribed on paper with the header “Words to the wise”. Interesting.
The group shared these ideas and then just had a casual conversation for a few minutes … one of the interesting things that came up was about how plans for the central city can be better communicated to people taking into account the range of abilities, access and preferences. Ideas came up such as setting up a community centres where notices and plans for development could be displayed. There were also ideas about visualising the plans for the central city through illustrations and models for those who like Garry “can’t read a map”.
It was a positive discussion and I feel the Council is genuine and earnest in its engagement but I fear that by still adhering to the ‘old’ way of community consultation we will be spectators to the future of our city and not active participants in making our city a place we want to live in; that unless your an architect or an urban planner, an investor or developer, or on the staff of the Council or CERA then all you can do is watch from the sidelines.
Temporary Housing Village, Linwood
On the way to the workshop I stopped in at Linwood Park to see the
temporary housing village being built:
Click and drag your mouse around the panorama
More photos: Wood frame, Over the fence