C3Places: Using ICT for co-creation of inclusive public spaces

The Project structure and partnerships of C3Places made it possible to research and experiment different phases of the co-creation process undertaken in the different case studies (Ghent, Belgium; Milan, Italy; Lisbon, Portugal; Vilnius, Lithuania), each one covering different issues and opportunities. Different local communities worked together to co-research, co-create knowledge, and co-experiment solutions addressing inclusive and responsive public open spaces. Below, Prof. Dr. Carlos Smaniotto Costa answers questions about the project outcomes.

What are you most proud of, and why?

The project got an insight into different aspects, problems and possibilities of co-creation of public open space with support of ICT and to generate a practice-oriented knowledge on co-creation of public open spaces, use of ICT and engaging people in placemaking, especially those who are usually excluded from participatory processes in urban planning, like older people and teenagers.

This knowledge is already disseminated in scientific journals and are further being prepared to be disseminated through the different Project outcomes. The “products” of C3Places are all available in the website at c3places.eu/outcomes.

To have 4 different approaches of living labs addressing quite different aspects of co-creation of public open space but have anyway succeeded to find a common ground, a spatial development process, to put together lessons learned from each of them and thus proved that co-creation is not only an activity but a development process with many different steps, phases and aspects that could be supported by different types of ICT.

Another issue that makes the Project proud are the accomplishments achieved by the Italian partner which is in the best way to fulfill the planned tasks, despite the administrative problems resulting from the lack of the funding contract, it was delivered only 6 months before the ending of the Project.

Who benefits from the outcome of this project?

The experiences within C3Places create benefits for planning practice, policymaking and academia as well as for involved local communities. The experiences with participatory and innovative methodologies, as co-creation, to engage people in planning and designing their environment are unique, as the activities involved decision-makers (governments, regional and local authorities), private sector, civil society and academia. Findings, reflections and lessons learned from the experiences in co-creation and participation in the different cities also point to the (i) potential of mediating between the different groups, (ii) to raise awareness on public open spaces benefits for all users, and (iii) build capacity of people to a better understand, reason and participate in placemaking. An example is the development of the social campus, the Italian case study, which opened a way for students, University personnel and people living around the campus to gather and get new information about the Campus and about life in it.

Concerning the use of ICT, the outcomes are mostly relevant to the researchers and ICT developers as the project offers new, comprehensive way of structuring ICT tools in relation to their use for different types (possibilities) of co-creation activities within spatial development process but also for practitioners to better understand different problems, obstacles and potentials of the ICT use for their work.

The experiences and empirical evidences of C3Places suggest that co-creation is more than a buzzword is an innovative, flexible, playful and effective way to create more inclusive and responsive urban environments.

Were there any unexpected outcomes?

The case study in Lisbon focused on teenagers, revealed the need to foster territorial capacity, since teenagers’ knowledge, use and understanding of the city and urban public open spaces are not well developed. This also posed the challenge to researchers to understand the city though the lens of teenagers. Such unexpected outcome demonstrated knowledge gaps in inclusive design besides posing challenges to meet in future placemaking efforts.

Moreover, covid-19 outbreak and the close down have impact on the Project, several face-to-face activities could not be implemented as planned. On the flip side, to cope with social distancing rules, the implemented social campus (Italian case study) is being adapted to support students in communicating peers and the university with the uncertainties and complexities to be faced in the next a- academic year – as the protective measures are going to affect the students’ gathering and participation in the campus life.

What didn’t work out and what could be improved in future projects?

People are smitten with digital technology, they navigate constantly through the social media networks, but they are not particularly keen to participate in another interactive activity. To reach a higher participation, more action and resources must be put in place.  From the living labs it also became evident that use of ICT is very demanding from different aspects and should be well adjusted to the specific context, which is usually not known in advance, before starting a Project. People are less motivated and prepared to use their own mobile devices for co-creation as expected, even if they can experience the immediate results. Attracting, motivating people to actively participate in co-creation process is another demanding issue. One example can be taken from the case of soundscape co-creation living lab in Ghent, as it proved that the “invisibility” of ICT tools did not support attracting people to participate in the on-site co-creation living labs. For the future more efforts should be put on visibility of ICT interventions.

The initial goal of the implementing living labs was to better understand of different stages of the co-creation process of public open spaces. Each living lab responded to a specific context and addressed only a selected part of the process, since the needed time and organisational efforts would greatly exceed the project frame. During the project development, it became clear that there are still too many practical obstacles on various levels and sides of involved parties to develop and implement a comprehensive public open space co-creation living lab. Nevertheless, four cases were implemented under such circumstances, providing valuable insights that are at moment being scrutinized.

From the administrative point of view, the constraints with the late engagement of Project partners responsible for fundamental tasks as development of digital tools affected the application and evaluation of digital co-creation in the four cases. This will affect the results and the reflection on the findings and outcomes.

C3Places provides an analysis of initiatives that create environmental and social value.

Another issue is the disparities in the management imposed by the national funding agencies. While on the one side are such agencies that focus in the successful accomplishment of tasks, are on the other side those that impose very inflexible monitoring. The latest imposes a burden for partners, as they are not able to prompt react to new challenges.

What could others in your field learn from your project?

Stakeholder engagement processes and co-creation activities in placemaking have major advantages: they produce results that reflect the reality and meet the needs of concerned people, allowing thus more sustainable changes while ensuring transferable results.

The exchange between researchers, planers and practitioners on the one side, and the public space users on the other side is the core of the C3Places Project. The Project provides a sound analysis and a reflection of the outcomes and findings as well as of the pitfalls that are relevant for policymakers and practitioners as they can benefit from experiences gained in engaging initiatives that are adequate to the local conditions. Engaging people in co-creating their environment, seems to be obvious, but to achieve this demands effort. C3Places provides an analysis of initiatives that create environmental and social value. However, the constraints as time, resources, motivation of participants, necessary skills and knowledge, have to be identified and addressed from the very beginning.

In terms of use of technology, general social media are used for virtual interaction among people who are distant. In the Italian case, people live in the same area and the idea is to find a new way to stimulate interactions not only virtual but also in the real world.

In a nutshell, from the C3Places others can learn how to approach digital co-creation in a more effective and comprehensive way, and better understand the suitability and usability of ICT tools for different co-creation activities as well as how to better use a co-creation approach for public open space development.

What are the long-term implications of your results?

Long-term implications of C3Places Project are interlinked with the call to foster people’s engagement in urban planning and design, through participatory strategies and methodologies, along with providing them a voice in decisions that influence their day to day lives, as well as engage decision-makers for a prompt implementation of the co-created ideas. For ICT developers C3Places also offers wide experiences for future development of digital tools that are closer to needs and characteristics of different placemaking and co-creation activities. The heterogeneity of the living labs implemented and analysed provides different insights into the opportunities and limitations of ICT methods and tools used for interaction among stakeholders, and between stakeholders and public spaces.

In times of pandemic, responsive, inclusive and accessible public spaces are more essential than ever, as they play a crucial role in the quality of the environment and in active lifestyles. Therefore, it is crucial to develop strategies to continue involving people in the decisions about their future.

Could you sum up the outcomes of your project in a few short lines?

The lessons learned in the Project C3Places highlight the crucial role of public open spaces for quality of life. They also call for further research the potential of digital co-creation for generating more attractive, responsive and inclusive urban environment. In different cities data was gathered on needs, practices and uses of public spaces, from different users’ groups, and from different sources – interviews, questionnaires, space observations. Each case developed different ways to engage stakeholders in co-creation. This provides experiences of different applications and formats for co-creation of public spaces – as direct co-creation in public space (Ghent), co-creation of a digital community around a public space (Milan) or empowerment of specific excluded groups as teenagers (Lisbon) and older people (Vilnius).

Based on review of literature and further examples different ICT methods and tool were systemised to facilitate activities and tasks in the co-creation process, and identified their contribution to the different stages of co-creation of public spaces process. This task also evidenced that ICT pervasiveness can be the starting point to help citizens to improve the urban life, find new ways to gather in their communities, to challenge creativity and social initiatives. They can also help the vulnerable groups and minorities in promoting their values and interacting with other citizen groups. Also regarding the use ICT in the spatial development processes, it is important to understand ICT usability from three main spatial aspects – as remote via websites and social media, in-place, fixed as an element and part of the space design, and as wearable tool, that is adjusted to user, moving together with her/him through the place.

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