As an Organizer, your first task is to define your Project. Residents will need to understand the constraints of your Project: what resources you have to implement ideas, what’s the timeframe for your Project, and how can they collaborate with you to help make the great, feasible ideas happen?
Before your event, sign up to Neighborland with your organizations’s admin-friendly email, and send us your profile URL. We will set you up as an Organizer on Neighborland which will give you access to all of our input and moderation tools. Describe your Project goals, timeline, and outcome in detail in the “description” field of your question. If you are interested in SMS and/or Twitter input, let us know.
Swim with the Current
Now you’re ready for the fun part–engaging with residents in public space or at your event. First, choose a great site to engage with residents. For most place-based Projects, you will engage with residents in public space or at community events. For events in public space, we can not overstate the importance of foot traffic. Don’t expect people to come to you. You’ll get much better engagement from a bustling sidewalk, park, city plaza, or farmers market. One of the easiest ways to do this is to partner with existing cultural or civic events that residents love like block parties, arts festivals, and placemaking events.
There are three simple ways to collect input in public space with our tools – stickers, posters, or whiteboards. Our stickers work on any surface like glass, plastic, concrete, or wood. They are non-destructive in that they peel off any surface without leaving residue or damaging it. You can order the original “I Wish This Was” stickers, “I want ____ in my neighborhood” stickers, or custom printed stickers on our Handbook. Often organizations will print key information on the backs of the stickers, like their campaign URL and SMS/Twitter input instructions. Stickers are the most lightweight and mobile of all of the tactics.
Organizers can print their own posters or stickers using our DIY design toolkit. Remember to keep stickers within reach for all residents. For example, stickers should not be placed higher than 30” from the street level for residents in wheelchairs and children.
If you don’t have a wall or surface to set up a grid of stickers or printed poster, you can create a surface. Mobile whiteboards work well in plazas, markets, block parties, and street fairs. We recommend that you work with a local sign fabricator to create a mobile, re-usable whiteboard. We can send you a 3D design file with suggested fabrication materials. For a design services and materials fee, we can have a mobile whiteboard fabricated and shipped to you.
Start by Listening
So you’ve figured out where, when, and how you’re going to spark a conversation in public space. It’s time to make it happen! Bring 5-10 markers (non-permanent if you’re using a whiteboard, sharpies if you’re using stickers on a wall) and a few folks to help facilitate the engagement. Your team is ready to help residents share their ideas. Here are some tips on better brainstorming from the team at IDEO: encourage residents to think outside of the box, defer your judgement, and build on ideas. Have fun! Narrowing down ideas to those that are feasible and actionable comes a little later in the process.
If you are passing out stickers as a takeaway, encourage participants to write their ideas on a sticker and paste on their clothes. Don’t worry, the stickers won’t damage even delicate fabrics. It’s ideal to have one or more facilitators by the stickers or board, and one person photographing the input. Take as many good pictures of people wearing or holding stickers as possible.
Most residents will take a look at the ideas on the sticker walls or boards for a few minutes. Ask them what they think, and encourage them to checkmark ideas they agree with. Some residents will share their own ideas. Often, people will have a discussion about an idea posted with others engaging with your installation. They will share information, news, and resources with each other. That’s what Neighborland is – a way to empower residents to share ideas, insights, and resources around a place-based question. And make sure to thank residents for their participation.
If participants become interested in your Project, encourage them to share their idea with their smartphone. Neighborland works great on all mobile devices. If a resident doesn’t have a smartphone, they can text their idea, or let them know that ideas from the stickers or whiteboard will be uploaded to the Project page. Residents can share their email with you so that you can keep them updated on your Project. Keep a simple clipboard with name, email, and idea fields handy. Encouraging people to sign up on their smartphone, or noting their email, will help you connect with participants during the entire length of your Project.
Some people will simply check out the discussion on the stickers or boards, and keep moving. Having a stack of stickers to hand out is a great way to engage these folks. It’s important that you share the link to your Project online on the stickers. It’s easy for a busy resident to slip a sticker in their pocket or handbag, and check out your Project at a time convenient for them.
At the end of the event, you can use our simple “Idea Uploader” tools that enable you to upload a spreadsheet of ideas, votes (“me toos”), and participant emails to your Project page. Once you have all of the ideas uploaded, we have clustering and de-duplication capabilities to help you generate a meaningful set of data. You can select ones that are feasible, impactful, and actionable based on your Project’s goals, timeframe, and intended outcomes. These ideas will be highlighted on your Project page, and you can notify your participants as your Project evolves.
Human-Centered Urban Design
You’ve engaged the public and captured their desires for their community. You’ve collected their most popular, feasible, and impactful ideas and facilitated a constructive dialogue both online, and more importantly, in person. Now you can encourage your participants to help you make their great ideas happen.
Some organizations we’ve worked with, like San Francisco Beautiful, have taken selected ideas back into public space and had residents vote on these ideas. At the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, SF Beautiful had over 850 people vote on programming ideas for one of San Francisco’s most popular public plazas. Other organizations take the next step of prototyping the community’s ideas like the Safer 6th Street Coalition’s traffic calming project with the SFMTA in SF. Some organizations, like the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition, have used Neighborland as a petitioning and network-building tool in their successful campaign to change the mobile vending laws in New Orleans. To see other outcomes of our partners’ work, visit Neighborland.
We highly recommend studying the work of tactical urbanists across the U.S. who are accelerating real change in their communities. We call this approach of ideation, co-creation, and experimentation “human centered urban design.”
Note that Neighborland is an extension of traditional advocacy forums like community meetings. If there have been great ideas collected in past forums or planning initiatives, you should include them as “seeds” as a way to inspire dialogue.
Contact us if you have any questions or are interested in learning more.