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Urban Collective Design Environment: A new tool for enabling expert planners to co-create and communicate with citizens in urban design

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - U_CODE (Urban Collective Design Environment: A new tool for enabling expert planners to co-create and communicate with citizens in urban design)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2019-07-31

Whereas many tools for e-participation have been developed to involve citizens and large stakeholder groups in urban design and development projects, there have been no digital instruments which enable creative participation of citizens on a broad scale. From now, the new co-design environment U_CODE enables the harvesting of design contributions plus relevant knowledge from large numbers of citizens, and facilitates an interactive creative process with professional planning experts and all other stakeholders. With U_CODE it becomes possible to assess urban projects already in a very early stage with regard to their semantic and emotional connotations. Engaging effectively all stakeholder groups, it also provides technical means for an early detection of potential public resistance against planned projects, and helps to prevent the escalation of negative public sentiment. U_CODE gives professional designers and planners a new means to employ the public´s creativity, to acknowledge public opinions, and to gather new design intelligence from them. With its new set of digital design and analysis tools plus a novel co-design methodology, U_CODE informs and transforms the design and decision making process, and makes the creative input of citizen experts a driving force for urban projects.
Within the 1st Reporting Period, basic research, first technical development work as well as initial communication and dissemination activities have been carried out. Research activities covered the analysis of sample cases in Germany, France and the Netherlands, the assessment of state-of-the-art tools and processes, and literature summaries. On that basis, a new co-creative workflow was sketched as a fundament for a generic process model for U_CODE. This process model comprises functional modules such as co-briefing (collaborative information-collection), co-design (citizen-experts participatory design), and discourse and sentiment analysis (monitoring moods and emotions of the crowd). Specific use-cases and technical functionalities were then derived. An animated video clip was created, articles and papers were published and several expert and user workshops were carried out.

Within the 2nd Reporting Period, efforts focused on the technical development of the toolset, and the consolidation of the overall U_CODE process methodology. On tool-level, the functional specifications have been refined and detailed, and software development work commenced. Also, technical specifications regarding the data exchange between the tools and the U_CODE platform have been outlined. Specific tools for co-designing in focus groups (VR application and touch table tool) were created on first prototype level and tested with professionals and citizens. The development of analytic tools for discourse and sentiment analysis proceeded. Key concepts for an online co-design ‘playground’ were consolidated that enable design participation on a massive scale. A comprehensive technical workflow scheme was established that determines the data exchange across the component tools and processes. The entire process was lab-tested with real-world participants and project data, employing the available prototypes and dummy tools. As a case project, the planning of a new city quarter in Hamburg was simulated. Covering all phases of the new U_CODE methodology, the so-called Dummy Testbed run through project initiation, collection of massive information, co-designing, ranking/ voting of contributions, towards professional design work and final decision/ approval processes. Further theoretical research was carried out on methodological principles of co-design and participation, resulting in a catalogue of over 40 criteria on good facilitation for co-design, plus a database on participation tools and methods.

In the 3rd Reporting Period, the technical development and testing of individual tools continued, but with strong focus on their integration into a coherent toolset and platform framework that would accommodate the envisioned U_CODE methodology. In software development, the online co-design game was advanced and all digitals tools were further developed regarding usability, stability of function, data exchange and management. The co-design tools were tested and validated, with results documented in a comprehensive testing and evaluation report. A method was established for deriving so-called User Engagement Protocols, i.e. the detailed choreography and communication plan for the specific activities of all involved participants and stakeholders. All tools, process methodology, and user engagement protocols of U_CODE were tested in the concrete design-to-construction project of a school complex in Central Germany (Sangerhausen city). A broad knowledge and design harvesting campaign with U_CODE digital online tools led to local co-design workshops where focus groups were properly equipped and enabled by the new VR and touch table tools. This pilot application was carried out so successfully, that commissions and requests for further application were issued already (Dresden city). Several exploitation schemes were investigated. Business sketches were drawn up for the entire U_CODE service as well as for individual tools with commercialization paths. The establishment of ‘U_CODE as a Service’ is underway at TU Dresden. Also, startup and spin-off activities (Hybr Games, CrowdListener, Serious Creativity) have commenced. For communication and dissemination, a video trailer with results of the pilot applications as well as manuals and guidebooks for U_CODE users were issued. A final book publication is underway.
Going beyond established e-participation tools for opinion-harvesting, online discussion and voting, the U_CODE partnership has created and validated a methodology and toolset that enables the creative (design) participation of large stakeholder groups within urban projects, and their effective interaction with professional planners: With U_CODE citizens become co-designers and creators of their city. On the basis of a solid collection of pre-design information and knowledge, citizens (and other stakeholders) can engage directly and quickly in the creative process, and understand the complexity of urban development through the eyes of planners and architects. With its well-defined methodology, U_CODE enables a productive and effective communication and co-design process between experts and non-experts, with all sides gaining substantial benefits (knowledge, productivity, security, costs). Featuring a flexible, component-based toolset and workflow design, U_CODE can be easily adapted to a variety of use-cases, stakeholders, and project types.
There exist no participation tools yet that integrate knowledge harvesting, co-design activities and analysis of public contributions, and manage to conclude valuable design intelligence from that for experts. U_CODE, in turn, makes the collection and analysis of such information easy and understandable both for professional and non-professionals. In the medium term, U_CODE may change the way how urban designs are evolved and debated, as it provides powerful technical and methodological support to any city or institution that intends to carry out design and development projects in a constructive dialogue with its citizens and end-users.