To assist with community engagement in CityVerve, we’ve recruited Contact Theatre’s Creative Experts to help us reach out to the citizens of Manchester; we introduced them as Community Champions at the end 2016. Today, in the in the third and final guest blog in this series, we hear from Lauren Banks about her experience on the project so far.

For the past few months I have been learning about CityVerve – a Smart City partnership project involving an array of public and private sector bodies which aims to find out how the Internet of Things may improve the way our cities work and run.
My role within is this project was to firstly understand (I had to google ‘Internet of Things’ before my first meeting!), then unpick and question one of the 16 CityVerve ‘use cases’ in order to design and lead an intervention workshop with members of Manchester’s community. It was my job as Community Champion to communicate elements of this complex venture in order to gather thoughts, opinions and input from the general public to feed into further developments, thus enabling community members to have a voice in the project.

This was all part of the Human Centred Design process led by FutureEverything – a creative approach to working that aims to give a diverse range of community voices a say in a large scale technological development in the city. Although slightly daunted by this mammoth multi-partnership project, I was excited by the prospect of being a part of a democratic approach to business development – actively giving a voice to the general public and feeding this back to the design teams.

The use case I was employed on was centred around Air Quality – something that I hadn’t really thought too much about before, but I became fascinated in reading up on the subject. I was shocked to discover the severe health implications around Air Pollution and wondered how many people were aware of it.

The ideas being developed by CityVerve were based on implementing connected devices in the city to monitor and measure air quality.

The idea for my intervention came after looking through the Air Quality business scenarios and prompted by FutureEverything to try to identify ‘assumptions’ that had been made by the team developing these. Upon doing this, I found there was an overarching suggestion within the plans that an increased knowledge and understanding of Air Quality could result in a behavioural change from the public (in order to improve it). This is what formed the basis of my intervention.

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My key objective was to conduct some guerrilla-style research with the public, through facilitate conversations and engaging people in playful interactions and creative tasks to try to gauge people’s knowledge or interest in the subject of Air Quality. With the help of the fantastic Creative Experts – Andy and Sharma – I took to Oxford Road, talking to people and asking them to create their own ‘Pollution Print’!

Thankfully – there were lots of people willing to stop and talk to us about this when we approached the conversation in an accessible way and it was interesting to hear such a range of thoughts and opinions on the topic. Key takeaways from my intervention can be read about here.

A 'pollution print' created during the air quality intervention

A ‘pollution print’ created during the air quality intervention

All of my findings were presented back to the design team which led to some interesting thoughts and discussions around the key priorities for the future of the project.

This is the start of a 2 year pilot project, with many organisations working together in new and unfamiliar ways – something that is bound to have stumbling blocks but also new and exciting discoveries along the way. In Future Everything’s words:

“In a consortium with 20+ organisations, and given the natural intricacies and complexity of such a project, we must be aware that such journey is not going to be easy. We are not expecting to be successful in every stage of the process. We are ready to draw lessons from failed experiences and also from the successful ones.”

For updates on the project, visit cityverve.org.uk.