Archive for February, 2011
Age UK have launched a campaign called Change One Thing where they support local older people’s groups to improve their neighbourhood.
Their campaign manager Mary Milne got in touch since naturally the subject of public toilets is coming up quite a lot! Over lunch with my Supervisor Jo-Anne Bichard we got onto the subject of Community Toilet Schemes: Do they work?
- Some people do not feel comfortable using pubs
- A Community Toilet Scheme cannot replace 24Hr provision
- Participants must cover a range of opening hours
- It should include disabled access toilets, baby-changing, family toilets, and if possible, a Changing Places facility
- A scheme by itself will not work in places with high tourism or events, where many people will arrive at once.
- The schemes won’t work in places without enough businesses, e.g. parks!
- You need to assess whether people are using the scheme and each of the different participants, else it’s a waste of money!
This last one bothers me quite a lot; enough to have written a post about it back in October.
How do you get the right participants?
Idea #9 is in line with some of my ramblings yesterday on taking a people-centred design approach to public services (and eventually building the Big Society).
“Rather than focusing on how participation can work (or be made to work) for people, [the Big Society debate] has instead focused on how participation can work for government.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about how the public can run local services as part of the Big Society. Libraries are the main focus, but public toilets are creeping into the mix.
It’s presented as an opportunity!
“*cough* we’re going to close your public toilets *cough* but HERE’S THIS GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO RUN A TOILET FOR YOURSELVES!!!!“
It won’t come as a shock that people are not signing up in their droves to such an idea.
It will also not come as a shock that this is seen as a cover for making cuts: “We can’t afford to run the toilets, and if you really wanted them you’d be offering to run them for us”
Indeed this message is already confused since it’s not the man-on-the-street that the council are asking to take over facilities; it’s the smaller parish council or other legal entities. Whether the parish councils can afford to run public toilets when the district council cannot is a whole other story, though these guys are pretty chipper.
The problem that I have with this whole approach to the Big Society is exactly what the opening quote from the Involve blog hits on – it’s all about how the public can help the government out of a fix, not about how the government can help the public to create the society that they want (and that they want to get involved in).
I like the Big Society.
I like it because of how I’ve chosen to interpret it: as an opportunity to involve the public in the design of public services. Ideas around co-design (or co-participation) or Transformation Design (or service design, there’s a lot of overlapping terminology) have been bubbling away for years and through the Big Society there’s an opportunity to mainstream this approach in order to create people-centred public services.
What does this mean?
I’m making this up a bit so feel free to disagree with me, but here are some thoughts on how to go about it, using public toilets as the obvious example!
Too often in the public sector a policy or strategy is thought up, drawn up, then put out to public consultation in order to
tick a box get public approval. The designer’s approach would be to do… the exact opposite.
So you’ve decided to close your public toilets (approximate saving £18000).
But it’s OK because along with the public library, you’ve found 2 pubs and a café who don’t mind the general public using their loos instead, in exchange for hard cash (approximate expense 3 x £600 = £1800).
What’s not to love?
One problem is communication. Everyone who’s visited the town knows that the big ugly block in the main square is the public toilet, not least from the smell.
How will they know that they can use these businesses instead? And where they are?
As mentioned in Idea#7: What Community Toilet Scheme? there are 3 solutions: signs, maps and open data (the open data is so that others can make their own maps).
Idea#7 looked at signs.
Idea #8 looks at maps.
It’s a bit… flawed.
Another day, and another council announces it might close some public toilets and pay businesses to let the public use theirs instead (Tendring Council, in case you’re keeping score).
Not necessarily a bad thing. 10 public toilets can become 100 community toilets for the same price. But whilst public toilets are visible in the street, recognisable, and permanent; community toilets are hidden within businesses, not well understood by the public, and the participants frequently change.
So how do you communicate a Community Toilet Scheme?
There’s the slightly inadequate sticker in the window, which you have to know to look for and which some shops are reluctant to display.
What is a public toilet?
I keep talking about local authorities as the providers of public toilets. In reality I’m not quite that naive.
For there are many ‘publicly-accessible toilets’ that do not (or may not) fall under council control, e.g.
- Shopping Centres
- Transport Hubs (Train / Underground / Bus / Port)
Here’s a sliding scale of publicly-accessible toilets that I made.
Green is public sector, blue is private sector.
By ‘accessible’ I mean mentally, or legally, more than physically (accessible is often used to describe wheelchair-accessible facilities – that’s a whole other issue). Accessible is clearly not a great word to use – suggestions are welcome… Some of the ordering is a little dubious too…
Further down the scale most of the toilets are not ‘intended’ for the general public. Including these in maps and apps rather disadvantages those people who don’t wish to ask favours or blag it. Not really inclusive design…
My earlier map of the London Borough of Wandsworth toilets showed the council’s Superloos (marked in yellow) and Community Toilet Scheme (blue), but now it has all of the other publicly-accessible toilets too. This has added nearly 20 extra loos, more than some councils have in the first place!
Where did these extra toilets come from?