Sunday, February 22, 2009

Community Engagement: It's all fun and games, if done right!

It may be the graphics that remind me of happy youthful hours spent watching the Electric Company, and School House Rock, or the interface that mimics that of Sim City (reminding me of many other hours spent playing Sim City in University, the first and only video game for Planners). But I’m sure it is far more than the nostalgia trip that makes me recommend, as amongst the best executed community engagement approaches I have seen, off or on-line. Let me explain, as I do not make this statement lightly.

Having used numerous participation/engagement approaches in my practice, such as charrettes, visual preference surveys, open space, and all forms of meetings; I am always interested in methods that can engage people, empower them by building upon their assets, and are fun and inspiring.
Your Playground is an excellent online tool to develop the design of a new community park developed, in support of the Allstate and the U.S. Olympic Committee's joint effort to create an Olympic bid for the city of Chicago (where this year's National Main Street Conference is being held - check out the Conference Live Blog). Take a close look at what is being accomplished here, this site is more than just catchy web design.

In addition to all the benefits inherent in on-line tools such as few time restrictions and freedom from location, the reason this site stands alone are multiple, including:
  • the presentation of the requested information and directions are clear and to the point (excellent information design);
  • given the stakeholder audience who may be particularly interested in the project, kids, and parents, the playful game-like format is ideal (empowering, awareness of stakeholders);
  • the approach to sharing ideas, a contest, is perfect, adding the kind of energy you often get with team workshops, open space, or design charettes (engaging); 
  • the scope of the project is well defined by the features that may be included (practicality); and, 
  • it sure is fun (the key to community engagement success most often missed).

What can YOU learn from this site?
First, that building parks on-line is more fun than YOU likely thought.
Secondly, with a well defined strategy coupled with creativity
YOU can develop highly specialized on-line engagement tools for YOUR organization to boost YOUR assets and success.

Conducting this kind of work on-line does not relieve
YOU of the need to carefully design YOUR stakeholder engagement process. Don't let YOUR inner magpie get caught up with the shiny newness of web 2.0 and lose sight of YOUR purpose, scarfing effectiveness for flashiness (careful with using Flash). Remember that engagement strategies need to be well thought out, managed with an eye to detail, and creatively framed within the scope of the entire project.

Now go build YOURSELF a park!


Anonymous said...

What a great site. Thanks for telling us about it!

DavidJWest said...

This site sounds amazing, I have been looking for a readymade app similar to this to embed in a facebook page and let teens design a new skate park in a park redevelopment I am working on. Unfortunately it looks like the page was taken down after the failed olympic bid.