Making Together: Case Study
Experiments in Co-Creation with Fieldnotes and Future Possibilities
We began with the fizzy energy of teenagers rocking up to a disco.
Positions reveal a lot. Towards and away from each other.
Known and unknown. Less scary when we connect.
We join forces and purpose.
We took a slow walk together. Feeling our feet take slow intentional steps.
We played in the afternoon, and sat, lay and rested together quietly
Immersed in the sounds of Knowle West.
Aware of the wider circle and context. The cars. The birds. The children leaving school. The grumbling, rumbling sky.
And us all, bent on this purpose. Together.
Poem by artist Raquel Meseguer Zafe, participant in Co-Creation Experiment One: Repair & Adapt
Co-creation is at the heart of the Making Together methodology, and chimes with the focus and remit of the Co-Creation Growth & Replication Commissions. Specifically:
The shifting of power, agency and decision-making towards people who traditionally have less control over these areas. Making Together focuses on putting new digital design and construction tools into the hands of people and communities. We believe that these tools represent a significant new opportunity for communities to expand their capacity to lead change at the neighbourhood level and hang onto more of the value of any development (in terms of jobs, skills and infrastructure), helping grow community wealth.
The creation of collaborative non-hierarchical spaces and processes that bring together diverse people and communities with different kinds of know-how to imagine and make together positive change in real-life settings. Making Together is itself an inter-sectoral collaboration between two organisations: We Can Make and Automated Architecture (AUAR). We Can Make is a community land trust and part of the Knowle West Media Centre family, a community-based digital arts centre in Bristol. AUAR is a technology and architecture company with a research lab at The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL that advocates for participatory practices in the production of our built environment.
The Making Together methodology was first developed through working with a crew of local people aged 17-76 from Knowle West, a council-built estate in Bristol. This work was funded by the ESRC Transforming Construction Network+. Taking place over 6 months during Covid 2020. The co-creation methodology included giving tech to people so they could still participate at home during lockdown, developing online workshops, delivering physical kits to people’s homes, setting up a buddy-system, and working with graphic artists to help visualise the process and dissolve the barriers of distance and screens.
The crew talked about what was important for their community, its assets, and what was missing. Using digital design and fabrication tools, the crew designed and made “Block West” a new community pavilion and shared social space for people to come together safely during Covid. BlockWest won the Architect’s Journal 2021 Small Projects Prize for Social Sustainability and was described by the judges as “an intersectional piece of architecture that goes beyond a building.”
To learn how to grow and replicate Making Together, we wanted to try the methodology:
- in different contexts, with different types of communities; and
- at different scales and sizes of project.
The aim was to develop a replicable and sustainable “service offer” for different types of communities, partners, and sectors involved in the place-making and development process. At the heart of this service offer we wanted a clear proposition about the value of redistributing power, agency and decision-making towards communities.
What We Did
We made three different “test and learn” co-creation experiments which tested different parts of the methodology with different kinds of co-creators.
Experiment 1: Repair & Adapt
A crew of local residents and KWMC staff focused on:
- adapting the original Block West structure to create a more flexible set of structures to support social practices of care and co-creation;
- developing the regime and know-how needed for on-going adaptation and maintenance of the physical infrastructure.
Both of these elements sought to evolve the Making Together methodology so it can better support development of social infrastructure (hard and soft) at neighbourhood level.
- A “pruned” BlockWest, and re-use of the cassettes transforming them into their “second-life” as a new more flexible infrastructure of seating, stages, and mini pods that can support a wider range of community and co-creation activities.
- Prototype designs for other uses in the wider neighbourhood – eg market stalls.
- Agency and ownership of the modular system transferred to crew of local residents and KWMC staff through the repair process, who became the experts in how to maintain and adapt it.
- Demonstration of co-creation as an on-going durational process, and the need for physical infrastructure to embody this, including capacity to adapt over time to changing needs whilst retaining its integral core.
- Co-creation is an on-going process – investment and resources need to be in place to support the whole journey. Co-creation can sometimes be very front-ended, and lack the necessary resources to sustain energy and intent over time.
- Block West and the re-use of its component parts into a second life, provided a powerful physical manifestation of the kind of flexible, adaptation social infrastructure needed to seed and support co-creation in a community over time.
- The process highlighted the importance and potential of a community “right to repair” and “right to adapt” as part of the built environment/place-making discourse.
- It was really valuable to practice our co-creation methodologies on our own team and organisation – a good reflective and learning experience to check, question, deepen and expand the practice.
Experiment 2: Maker City Make Their Studio
A crew of young people re-designed and re-made their studio space, aiming to create a space that is more welcoming and better supports their range of creative activities. They used the digital design and fabrication tools, including the app, the mini-blocks and full-scale cassettes.
- a redesign of the young people’s studio space
- All participants gained knowledge of creative design tools, problem solving and inquiry-based learning.
- Collective of young people had an experience of being creative agents of change in a space that mattered to them.
- Wider system change: generational redistribution of technology skills to young people, whom until their involvement with Jump Studios had limited access to digital tools and skills, aiding just transition in time of rapid technology change.
- Valuable to have “low floor / high ceiling” approach to co-creation tools, ie easy entry level, but no limit on how far or quick some co-creators can take it. Some of the young people – as digital natives- very rapidly mastered the tools, needing little training or coaching. Our methodology could have been more flexible to ‘unleash’ them faster and freer.
- The tight brief and fixed time schedule was helpful in driving the outcome, but had an impact on sense of ownership as the overall mission was pre-set. Co-creation needs to find the right balance between openness and matching the resources available.
- Within the project team there were different levels of comfort with the process of “letting go” and adapting the tools and processes. Clearer parameters and more upfront discussion about any parameters would be helpful for future experiments.
Experiment 3: Making Space for Girls
We collaborated with Street Space, a local charity that works with vulnerable young people in Knowle West. We recruited a new crew of young women, who together explored their neighbourhood asking: Where do we feel safe? Where do we feel welcome? What is missing from our neighbourhood?
The crew used digital design and construction tools to help imagine, design, and build a “wifi hanger” – a mini pavilion structure for the street outside their youth club. They wanted a space they felt safe, welcome, and a structure that provided shelter out of hours where they could access wifi (which they don’t have at home). The crew tested out the structure as a temporary pop-up. We are now working with the police and council to get it installed more permanently.
- A mobile mini-pavilion for the crew to hang out on and take ownership of.
- The co-creators gained confidence, sense of pride through positive recognition from their peers and the wider community, and developed new skills.
- The young women exercised their creativity and worked collaboratively to build a real-life structure that represented their idea giving them a sense of collective agency. Taking a “squad” approach, they made a positive change in their neighbourhood about an issue they cared about.
- The young women had not worked in this way before or with each other. A lot of time was invested in recruiting, on-boarding, and forming the crew. This experience highlighted the importance of investing in and establishing the necessary conditions for co-creation, including trust, confidence, sense of belonging, shared purpose, and willingness to experiment. It takes time to seed and establish these conditions.
- Tangible ways to illuminate the value of the co-creation work were really important– both in the perception of the work and self-perception of the participants. The young women chose their own job titles (for example: Community Creator), had formal contracts for their contributions, and were paid for their tim
- There was a fair amount of flux: participants, scope and focus changed during the project, including scaling down, and switching sites. The co-creation outcomes were all the better for this and highlighted the importance of co-creation to be flexible and led by the co-creators themselves, rather than driven by specific outputs. There is also a lesson here about scaling co-creation at the right pace and taking a stepped approach. The smaller scale experiment represents an important seed planted and the beginning of nurturing the wider conditions (buy-in of landowner, more resources (time and money), and support of key stakeholders, including the council).
- Ownership and agency can come at unpredictable moments – a powerful transfer of ownership and agency happened when the crew took spray-paints and coloured the blocks. This was the first time the blocks have been painted bright colours and was also an important moment of letting go for the system designers.
- Fertile conditions for co-creation requires the wider system and culture to be open and receptive. This experiment was constrained by regulatory rules and public perceptions about what is permissible for young people to do in public.
What did we learn?
One of the main outcomes of the project was illustrating the value of the Making Together methodology compared to standard community consultation methods used by the development industry and local government.
Conventional consultation by the built environment industry tends to be top-down, have asymmetries of information and power between community and other players, and operates within restricted and often pre-determined outcomes.
In contrast, through the experiments, Making Together began to generate a new narrative framework and value proposition for centring co-creation in a more open process of exploring ideas and making shared decisions about the future of places and the built environment.
Critical elements of this co-creation value proposition include:
- Valuing individual and collective wisdom and agency;
- Having practical and accessible design tools that can help generate, focus and demonstrate ideas and options in tangible ways;
- Application to real-world settings and places;
- Openness and flexibility about focus, how tools are used, and outcomes.
- Importance of a physical real-world outcome.
Translating this to the conventional development sector, the value proposition for the Making Together methodology is about:
- A safe space and tools for diverse communities and stakeholders to prototype and test new ideas and options;
- Generates better and more innovative development options because the creative process actively involves the needs and knowhow of people and places.
- De-risks planning because local people have been meaningfully involved in the co-design of development options and so are less likely to object;
- Generates higher quality development because it engages the needs and imagination of people and places and therefore a better financial investment.
- Reduces management and maintenance costs because the methodology builds in community stewardship and knowhow about how to maintain and adapt the infrastructure over time.
In the words of some of the co-creators themselves
“Making Together is a way to work together with the community so they feel heard and understood.”
“Hierarchy was flattened. Listening was respectful. we could explore ideas in ways that were playful and open.”
“The tools make tangible what is imagined, and demonstrates what is possible.”
“Making Together enables people of different abilities, experiences, and backgrounds to come together in an equitable space. It can be efficient and create more interesting results than top down solutions.”
“Making places becomes linked to real needs, and creates outcomes that are more meaningful, including pride of ownership.”
“There is strength in working together with the community. Designing with people creates better solutions for all.”
“Your designs will be stronger and you will experience less opposition as a result.”
“Invest in the time it takes to co-create because it will save time and money in the long run. You will have more robust and long-lasting designs and developments.”
Through the experiments and the reflective learning journey integrated into the Co-Creating Change commissions led by the Young Foundation, we have identified four hotspots for further development. These hotspots help build the value proposition and service offer for scaling and replicating the Making Together methodology.
We envision developing work around these hotspots through open collaboration with others. We’d love to connect with fellow co-creators in the form of communities, local authorities, and developers to explore how we can work together.
Making Together Taster Experience
We have a robust and efficient methodology for small-scale instant Making Together experiments. This can work as a two-hour workshop where we can train participants to use the tools and then design and make a structure, with a mix of the app, mini-blocks and full-size blocks. This Taster Experience provides a clear structured experience that could be used with schools, universities, community groups, councils, developers, giving an immersive taster of what is possible. We have trialled this format with Wessex Community Assets and a school in Bridport, and it worked really well.
100 Blocks into the Wild
We are keen to expand and deepen the open co-creation methodology as part of the Making Together offer. As such, we are prepping to release 100 blocks “into the wild” in early Spring 2022 for open and adaptable use by communities. We’ll be providing a “how to” guide with design ideas using combinations of 3/5/10 blocks, tips for installing, and tips for making them last in indoor and outdoor settings. We’ll then be tracking how they are used and what they seed in the wild. We want to use this to open up and invite others to join a conversation about adaptable social infrastructure for neighbourhoods and community-led approaches to adaptation, care and repair.
Live Development Site(s)
Co-creation methodologies like Making Together need to come in from the fringe and stop being just seen as only relevant as “arts” or “community” projects. As such, we are seeking R&D funding to work with a council and/or developer to apply the Making Together methodology to either a proposed development site and/or a network of existing sites within a community. This would include:
- Developing a common public realm vision
- Mapping of site(s) and community needs and assets
- Co-design of series of physical interventions using the Making Together kit
- Resource and plan for animation, stewardship, care & repair, and adaptation for a test period of 3-5 years.
Next Tech Co-Creation Tools for Communities
We are keen to explore the potential for expanding the Making Together tool-kit, and in particular around automation and manufacturing. Is there a sweet spot for automation in construction that can help build local value, ownership, and jobs? How can these emerging tech and tools interact with local supply-chains, capabilities, and community participation? We hope to explore this through an IUK grant.
Overall, we want to grow the Making Together methodology as a tangible real-world proto-typing process to create a non-extractive model for place-making.
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Acknowledgement: Photos by Ibolya Feher