Community Slate

University of WashingtonUS

Connecting

Concept / Student

Team

Asmi Joshi, Bradley Trinnamen, Jonathan Cook, Kim Lewis, Erin Murphy, Dana Lee

Overview

This project was created for the Advanced Interaction Design class at the University of Washington. The theme the project responded to was “making data meaningful.”

Our initial inspiration for the project were the imposing, and often graffitied white development signs in much of Seattle. We asked, “what if someone could give their opinion regarding a development right from the street?” Our own experience viewing the hundreds of comments on community blogs regarding the closure of a much-loved coffee shop inspired us to consider how a social media system could improve the way city planners inform and receive planning feedback. After researching public participation in development processes, we were optimistic that a multifaceted platform allowing people to quickly be informed and give their opinion, when and where they had time, would improve both the quantity and the quality of feedback — ultimately improving transparency and involving more of the public in government decision making.

The Community Slate concept is made up of an engaging, NFC-enabled development sign, and a desktop and mobile website that would allow the public to quickly learn about and respond to questions about development projects.

Audience

After conducting secondary research on urban planning and after speaking with representatives from the city of Seattle, we identified our audience to be city planners and members of the public who currently aren’t engaged in the planning process. Our initial understanding of the development process was of a conversation between investors, the city, and the public. Thinking practically about which group would host and fund such a system led us to work from the city’s point of view and conceive of Community Slate as a needed addition to civic infrastructure.

Because of conflicting interests, both planners and the public often try to ‘game’ the system to work in their favor. Based on this finding from our research, we adjusted our goals to take into account the concerns of city planners as well as residents. Instead of positioning our idea to only benefit the public, we shifted to focus on improving the overall communication and transparency of the planning process. Our goal with Community Slate then became to provide planners with more comprehensive, structured public opinion data at key points in the process, while informing citizens about developments and providing them more opportunities to participate and voice their concerns.

Impact

Our research showed us that projects with public opposition can sometimes go drastically over budget because of planning delays. By allowing planners to easily engage people early in planning processes, public concerns can be heard and responded to before accruing high costs. More inclusive, efficient, and structured communication with the public through a system like ours would minimize these delays and provide a civic value greater than its monetary cost.

The Seattle design commissioner, design board member, and urban development consultant we spoke to during our research were all optimistic that technology could improve the ways governments connect with citizens in the planning process. Specifically, the design commissioner who reviewed our final design was convinced that our concept would be worth testing with the right development and city partnership.

Craft

Our design process included phases of primary and secondary research, ideation, UI iteration, storyboarding, and final asset and video production.

Some key decisions we made in the process were to:

  • Find a local development project with some public opposition to act as a case study and ground our information architecture and design scenarios.
  • Design multiple entry points to bring people into the system by using NFC technology on the sign and by allowing text message feedback to include those without smartphones. The map view of the mobile site also allows users to explore all of the developments near a place of interest.
  • Include an (intentionally lo-fi) sheet of paper on the development sign that could be easily and cheaply updated to include news and new questions from the city.
  • Constrain the dialogue on the website using multiple choice questions and by limiting comments from users to encourage constructive and more democratic participation. Giving structure to the public’s feedback also makes it possible to better quantify and summarize the opinion data to provide feedback to both parties. Allowing people to quickly press a button to ‘agree’ with other comments helps to gauge a community’s sentiment as.
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