Volume 24 Numbers 1 & 2, 2014
on the Use of Digital Tools
|Figure 4 . “Tales of _______” project: simulation of Locast as a repository of stories about Soundview Park (top), pilot storytelling pilot workshop at Soundview public library (bottom)|
The project brief was to engage the Soundview community with the waterfront at their nearby park, where the Bronx River meets the Long Island Sound. We partnered with a local public high school, Bronx Compass, and created “Thematic Trail Maps,” using a playful analog map-making toolkit deployed in Soundview Park, entering the acquired data via a Locast interface accessed in their classroom.
The Bronx Compass high school students were highly engaged with the analog toolkit and equally enthusiastic to translate their experience digitally. The phases of the activity were seamless, from classroom discussion of waterways and ecological consciousness, to a class trip to experience the park in all its potential, to bringing their experiences back to the realm of information technology, an aspect of the school’s curriculum.
Even if during the development phase, the team did not distribute the digital maps generated by Locast to a larger audience, the hypothesis is that this step would integrate well and enhance the high school students’ overall learning experience. Communicating and sharing their new perspective on the park and its waterfront with a larger community of friends and family through Locast has realistic potential to bring a greater sense of engagement, and stewardship, to the residents of Soundview.
|Figure 5. “Thematic Trail Maps for Bronx Compass school” (top) pilot map use at the Soundview Park with students of Compass school (bottom)|
Partnerships for Parks is a joint program of the City Parks Foundation and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation which helps New Yorkers work together to make neighborhood parks thrive. Partnerships for Parks works to start, strengthen, and support neighborhood park groups; to link them together, so they can learn from each other and be stronger collectively; and to promote parks in general, so people will join in efforts to restore and preserve them. The Catalyst program is a multi-year initiative that works in historically under-served neighborhoods to galvanize support for and commitments for community building and improved parks. The current focus of the program is on “Reclaiming Waterfront Parks” with communities near East River Park in Manhattan, Kaiser and Calvert Vaux Parks in Brooklyn, and Soundview Park in the Bronx.
Although this was their first time working with an outside consultant, the Soundview community partners were receptive to the public participation activities and the design services proposed as part of the Amplify Soundview project. The goals of Amplify Soundview were to design activities and services which could be easily used by the local partners and which could further the groups’ goals of fostering increased engagement and stewardship in the development and care of Soundview Park. In the case of the project “Taste Sound View”, a set of web-based tools and activities were developed which allowed long-term partners and potential new partners to share resources and make connections through a series of user-friendly charettes which took the form of community potlucks. The groups are following-up on the success of the potlucks and the ensuing conversation and as a result the Friends of Soundview Park and other collaborators are pursuing funding for community projects, such as the butterfly and memorial garden.
Additionally, the Catalyst Program has selected the project “Make Your Mark Campaign” (MYMC) to be piloted. The intent is to refine the existing curricula — designed for Soundview Park — and create a program that can be replicated in any New York City park or any youth user group.
Critical to the development of the course, was the coordination between Parsons and the Catalyst Program, and the role the later played in bringing students and community partners together. The service design approach was essential to structure the teams’ project development. In particular, it was essential to consider community interactions as experiences that evolved over time, resulting in ever-evolving projects, in other words, the projects are considered processes rather than final static outcomes (Kimbell, 2011; Meroni & Sangiorgi, 2011). To enable these processes, the use of tangible artifacts and evocative engagement tools are critical (Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010; Turkle, S., 2011).
The success of the action research approach could be largely attributed to the nature of the interactions between students and project partners including community leaders, based on designed situations such as the, “Its’ My Park Day” event, that proved conducive to achieving collaborative participation. (Smith and MacGregor, 1992; Innes & Booher, 2004).
|Figure 6. “It’s My Park Day” event|
|Figure 7. At the “It’s My Park Day” event, the Accessibility and Mobility team used probes such as badges with roles and costumes (champion belts, star glasses, knight swords, etc.) to test out the idea of young people getting involved in the park by playing specific roles|
Collaborative participation proved essential to evolving subsequent analogue/non-digital collaborative interactions such as the potluck of “Taste of Soundview” project and the writing workshop of “Tales of _______” project, where the teams developed and ran additional community engaged activities.
Locast was introduced as the digital platform within later interactions (in the second phase), and therefore its use by the community has been only envisioned and simulated rather than tested. There is evidence of the potentialities of some specific users of Locast in some projects, such as the project “Thematic Trail Maps for Bronx Compass school” where Compass students manifested excitement in getting engaged with an online mapping tool.
Exploring how Locast could be embedded both technically - as demonstrated by an embedded map within the project website within the “Make Your Mark Campaign” as well as programmatically — as demonstrated in the “Thematic Trail Maps for Bronx Compass School” project — proved pivotal in understanding how Locast could be used as a tool rather than a destination or site.
Furthermore, by situating Locast within an existing site and/or curriculum, implementers could leverage Locast’s key strengths and remedy the more complex aspects of interfacing with a broad community in offline spaces.
Finally, we identified that Locast can be leveraged as a tool for project leaders (including Parsons faculty and project partners) prior to the community engagement activity taking place. It offers a useful set of features including functioning as a repository of local content as well as capturing process narratives & development. In the case of this specific project, this approach has the potential to reduce hurdles and build better understanding of how Locast could later be implemented for use with the community.
As evidenced by the student-authored project testimonies contained within this paper, the educators teaching & research strategy enabled students to set their own research and engagement agendas for their group projects. This pedagogic approach resulted in some valuable and even surprising findings:
Firstly, the educators’ emphasis upon the students adopting self-directed, peer-led, co-creation-focused processes empowered students to set their own research agendas. The students response to this was to often adapt and reinterpret established research methods and tools to suit their enquiries. One example of this is in the case of participant observation — where students joined the public when sharing food or interacting with the data gathering tools (at the My Park Day event between project phases one and two as well as at other public events promoted by each team individually). This helped to facilitate the public sharing more informal and intimate knowledge.
Secondly, the range of playful data collection tools (design probes designed and implemented by teams) used by the students meant that the public were able to share their thoughts and have them captured in a number of different ways. From a data analysis perspective, using triangulation allowed for greater comparative analysis, thereby ensuring higher levels of validity in their qualitative enquiries.
Thirdly, by asking students to provide auto-ethnography of their research strategies and outcomes, they succeeded in providing educators with pedagogically useful insights and feedback on their teaching and research approach.
Fourthly, the educators decision to support the development of the new generation of civically engaged researchers and their pioneering new data collection tools enabled the students to create a body of data that the educators could more objectively examine and critique.
Fifthly, Amplify Soundview revealed that the students were inclined to self-select a combination of both digital and non-digital tools to conduct their participatory enquiries. What this revealed is that Locast proved most useful in the context of these projects is in its ability to offer a digital presence for the non-digital, tactile elements of the students’ research — providing not only a useful early-researcher palimpsest for future research, but a form of “presencing” for the community participants, who can refer to the digital platform for evidence of (the recognized value of) their own engagement in the enquiry. An analogous outcome is also valid for the project partners Partnerships for Parks, who have gained insights of digital mapping to inform future decision making.
Finally, by pushing Locast beyond its original capability as a mapping tool towards an accessible data collation resource — a decision largely led by the students and not the educators — community members could access, use and event comment on content, thereby offering the students a vital feedback loop on the efficacy of their research and crucially — the representation of their data. Both educators and students were subsequently able to critically examine the efficacy of Locast in attracting site hits indicative of levels of community engagement in their online cultural asset.
Authors of Chapter Student Narratives, Theme 01: Accessibility and Mobility, written by Rashid Owoyele; Theme 02: Peer networks and resources, written by James Clotfelter; Theme 03: Friends of Soundview, written by Christopher Patten; Theme 04: The Waterfront , written by Emily Santoro.
Author of Chapter Partner Narratives (Partnerships for Parks): Carlos Martinez.
Contributor to Chapter Educator Narratives: Matthew Willse (project research assistant).
Students Transdisciplinary Design MF: Siri Betts, Marie Boegly, Danielle Christophe, Min Chung, James Clotfelter, Amanda Greenough, Sophie Hou, Jinghang Huang, Elsa Kaminsky, Helena Kjellgren, Nelson Lo, Cristobal Oltra, Rashid Owoyele, Christopher Patten, Emily Santoro, Jie Wang, Lauren Wong.
Faculty: Lara Penin, Eduardo Staszowski, Harriet Harriss.
Research assistants: Clarisa Diaz, Matthew Willse.
Partnerships for Parks: Carlos Martinez, Melissa Garcia, Carla Robinson, Beth Bingham, Anthony Feliciano, Deane Hare.
Friends of Soundview Park: Lucy Aponte, Laura Alvarez.
Community participants: Destiny, Tyler Sinks (teacher at Bronx Compass), participants of the event “It’s My Park Day,” participants in the pilot storytelling pilot workshop at Soundview public library (project “Tales of ____”), partcipants in the pilot potluck at the Boat House, Soundview Park (Taste Soundview project), Compass School students partcipants of the pilot Thematic Trail Maps activity.
MIT Mobile Experience Lab: Federico Casalegno, Katherine Chin.
The UK Higher Education Academy: Internationalisation Award 2012, and
Oxford Brookes University School of Architecture, Oxford, UK
 The 2009-2011 project Amplifying Creative Communities project by Parsons DESIS Lab involved the following kinds of activities: (1) identification of local assets and positive social innovation initiatives, data collection based on ethnographic research; (2) production of films, or other image-based media with the synthesis of research; (3) promotion of exhibitions, workshops and/or other public events as a community engagement strategy to debate and advance local social innovation; and (4) the development of toolkits through participatory methods, aiming at facilitating social innovation initiatives.
 Action-Research defines a broad range of academic and non-academic social science research practices, or rather a “family” of "forms of inquiry which are participative, experiential and action oriented" (Reason & Bradbury, 2007, pp xxiii).
 In the end, the project selected for the phase 3 pilot was tested in a different park (the East River Park, another waterfront park under the Catalyst Program) and in partnership with the Grand Street Settlement (GSS), a historic, Lower East Side-based social services provider.
 Friends of Soundview Park is a nascent voluntary community group that supports the programming of the park. Partnerships for Parks aimed at leveraging this existing initiative.
 This project was selected by Partnership for Parks for further development and piloting in Spring 2013. The pilot ended up being developed in a different park in Manhattan's Lower East Side and involved a community-based organization (Grand Street Settlement) with approximately 150 young people in summer programs. Results of this development are not included in this paper.
 These developments took place after the course was concluded in Spring 2013. The butterfly garden was an idea emerged during the prototype potluck promoted by the team “Taste of Soundview.” It has been implemented in 2014.
 Again, developments of this pilot are not described in this paper.
Ellis, C. S., & Bochner, A. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher as subject. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.), The Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 733-768). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gaver, B., Dunne, T., & Pacenti, E. (1999). Design: Cultural probes. Interactions, 6(1), 21-29. doi: 10.1145/291224.291235
Innes, J.E., &. Booher, D.E. (2004). Reframing public participation: strategies for the 21st century. Planning Theory & Practice,5(4), 419-436. Retrieved from http://escholarship.org/uc/item/4gr9b2v5
Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (2005). Participatory action research: Communicative action and the public sphere. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research, 3, 559-603.
Kimbell, L. (2011). Designing for Services as One way of Designing Services. International Journal of Design, 5(2), 41-52. Retrieved from http://www.ijdesign.org/ojs/index.php/IJDesign/article/view/938/345
Smith, B.L., &. MacGregor, J.T. (1992). What is collaborative learning? In A. Goodsell, M. Maher, V. Tinto, B.L. Smith and J. MacGregor, Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education. University Park, PA: National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment at Pennsylvania State University.
Copyright 2014 Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.
This file may not be publicly distributed or reproduced without written permission of
the Communication Institute for Online Scholarship,
P.O. Box 57, Rotterdam Jct., NY 12150 USA (phone: 518-887-2443).