Posts tagged ‘Public Consultation’
I feel like a bit of a loser.
I’ve just been to a public exhibition about the Nine Elms regeneration project, a huge chunk of London between Battersea and Vauxhall that will have ‘an anticipated 16000 new homes and 25000 new jobs’, including the redeveloped Battersea Power Station.
So me turning up to ask developers who are between them essentially building a new town if they’ve thought much about the public toilets feels a bit like asking where the postboxes are going to be. Although that also sounds quite interesting…
So why did I go?
It would have been easier not to go. I’m not even working today. I think “a mix of professional and personal interests’ might be my official response, but really my motivation came down to two things: guilt and nosiness.
(Actually that can be applied to almost every event I go to..)
Today I’ve been working my way through the supporting documents for the new public toilets for Oxford Street. (My previous blog post about them is here and the planning documents are here, at the time of writing.)
My response to the planning proposal is here (pdf). I made 4 points, about Gender Ratios, Signs, ‘Changing Places’ and Benches.
It wasn’t easy to comment on a planning application. Here’s why…
1 – I had to know about it.
- As part of my research I met a man at Westminster Council in 2009 who told me they were hoping to build a public toilet pavillion on this site (between John Lewis and House of Fraser).
- In 2010 I heard that there was something in a London paper about the department stores objecting because it would draw people away from their stores!
- Finally, the developers of the toilets contacted my Supervisor as they were looking for some researchers to count nearby toilets (tempting, but not what we do).
So I kept an eye out.
more London-centric blogging, sorry…
The Greater London Authority have been reinvestigating the state of London’s loos.
Before they write their report they would like to hear your thoughts on Toilet Data.
The GLA will be asking the London borough councils, nicely, to provide clear, complete, consistent information on their public toilet facilities, and in a common format, so that it can be re-used by absolutely anyone to make London-wide maps and toilet-finding applications and websites.
This would be a big improvement compared to now where the info is fractured across 33 council websites.
When it exists.
Which it frequently doesn’t.
Consequently they have been working on what this common format should be. They need to know what data the councils should include (e.g. location, opening times, type of facilities, access restrictions…) and how the data should be formatted.
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.
Everyone knows you can’t change a man, but if you’re trying to win arguments then the ones you have with your partner are the easiest. There are only two views to consider and everyone has their say.
Anything larger, like a group of friends deciding where to go, and yours becomes one voice amongst many. Your powers have diminished! Better form some alliances if you want to have final say.
As the size of the group grows, the ability to consult everyone goes down. Levels of government are introduced so that a few can represent the whole. Schools have PTAs, Housing developments have a Resident’s Association. Everyone knows who those representatives are and how to contact them, so wider consultation is possible.