Prototyping stage

The prototyping stage was carried out through research residencies with the local practitioners. It involved site visits to get acquainted with the specificities of the projects and users for which the tools were intended, and co-design workshops to prototype relevant tools.

Paris residency

The prototyping process at Agrocité involved co-design workshops held over the course of six weeks in June/July 2016 with Agrocité participants and architects from AAA.

The co-design process led to the AgrocitéHub toolkit. The toolkit is a website that includes: a recipe book, a shared calendar, a resource map, a planting and gardening guide, an instructions wiki around the use and maintenance of specific facilities, such as the compost unit and the chicken coop, and a community page.

Additional workshops were held as knowledge-transfer sessions and hands-on training for each tool. During these sessions, the Agrocité participants learnt how to use the tools and developed their own user guides.

What we learnt

While developed in the case of, and with, the group running Agrocité, similar micro-tools brought together into one coherent ‘portal’ (for example, using Hotglue as framework) can be imagined for other local hubs and their own specific needs. Thus, the co-design process resulted not only in a digital output (the toolkit) but also in an open ‘template’ for other hubs to develop their own tools.

During the Paris residency we had the pleasure to collaborate with Phil Langley, who contributed to the technological development of the AgrocitéHub prototype, and Harriet Francis, a student in her last MArch year at Sheffield School of Architecture.

Harriet explains: “My experience in Paris was highly informative; it has shown me the importance of working collaboratively, to be adaptable, and open to improvement through failing; skills which are highly significant especially in the face of increasing global tensions and environmental degradation […] It also gave me the opportunity to work in an environment based on the Commons values that I am analysing, experiencing how an alternative society structure could work.”

Read Harriet's full assessment of the residency.

London residency

The prototyping process in London took place between September–November 2016, and was focused on tools for knowledge sharing across local experiments as a way of resourcing resilience practices through networking.

We started by exploring a number of tools in collaboration with a group of students from Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA), as part of a six-week live project.

The outcome of the live project is the ‘Masterclass Userguide’ toolkit – a website that includes a number of user guides on how to organise, capture and record a masterclass. In addition, the students researched alternative accreditation models for informal learning, such as learning how to compost through volunteering in a community garden.

Following the live project, the residency focused on taking forward some of the observations made during the students’ engagement with the various Public Works sites and the eco-civic practices emerging in these contexts. It included a mapping workshop with architects from Public Works to identify and discuss the resilience challenges faced by these practices and opportunities for strengthening them through knowledge-exchanges.

An additional toolkit was subsequently prototyped: ‘Resourcing Commons’. The toolkit, designed using the AgrocitéHub template, contains tools for reflection involving mapping projects using timelines, and tools for mapping existing and desired resources using interactive crowdsourced maps.

What we learnt

The London residency highlighted the need for (digital and non-digital) tools that can make visible the value of community resilience practices in order to enable them to resist external pressures and grow. Such practices usually involve alternative forms of producing and using resources, such as urban land, which do not conform to the prevalent modes of economic production focused on commodification and monetary exchange.

Tools that could make visible the value of resilience projects, as identifying during the residency, include:

  • defining appropriate accreditation frameworks that recognise informal training and skill-sharing

  • making visible the process behind a practice, (eg, by tracing the evolution of the project over time, in terms of access to land, human and financial resources)

  • combining stories of personal experiences of those involved in a project with the technical details behind specific elements (eg, prototype bio-digester)

Bucharest residency

The prototyping process in Bucharest took place between February–March 2017, and was focused on defining potential digital tools for the Bucharest Metropolitan Library (BMB), which is a network of public libraries. The residency coincided with the beginning of BiblioLAB, a pilot project initiated by studioBasar in collaboration with BMB, aimed at encouraging librarians to propose ways of activating their libraries, particularity in relation to opening them up towards local communities.

The residency included co-design workshops with librarians and other BMB staff members, organised together with studioBasar. The workshops focused on identifying key needs in relation to amplifying the interaction between local libraries and the public, while strengthening the BMB network; and on discussing potential digital tools, which could address some of these needs.

Based on the workshops, the BiblioLab toolkit was created, which is based on the AgrocitéHub template and contains tools for which the participants produced scenarios and briefs:

  • interactive map (visibility of the libraries’ resources; possibility to create connections with community projects, resources or needs)

  • user consultation / interaction (community profile / competencies, needs, interests; feedback / reviews; suggestions for collaboration / partnerships)

  • training courses within the network (courses / manuals developed by the network members; methodologies / ‘how to’ guides; ways or producing, recording and sharing courses via the network)

What we learnt

The workshops highlighted an important aspect: technology is only a tool and cannot, alone, solve the various dimensions of a specific need, such as opening up local libraries towards the community.

It is also important to strategically plan what exactly the tools would help to produce: what to use them for, the purpose, what would be created by using them, who would use them and why, what other tools / methods would be necessary (eg, promoting the maps via social media and existing local civic networks so that communities find out about them and use them).

The workshops also suggested the importance of peer-to-peer learning, for example through the formation of working groups (or ‘communities of practice’) interested in specific tools, who could become ‘experts’ in those tools and diffuse them within the network.