first plenary co-design meeting in York (3rd July, 2016)

Central co-design session at Council for British Archaeology offices 3rd July 2016 with representatives from Pontefract Civic Society, Bridlington Civic Society and Friends of the Chalk Tower (Flamborough). Meghan Dennis joined us as a consultant at the end of the day.

Things we hoped to get out of the day and from working together:

  • Engaging younger people
  • Learn from experienced groups
  • How digital tools can help struggling towns interested in heritage
  • Find ways to let people interact with their towns – not everyone has time to attend meetings
  • To help ensure that Civic Societies speak for people
  • To build up around local decision making
  • To break out of insular groups and committee meetings – to talk to other people, not just ourselves as first step to attracting new members
  • Embrace social media in an effort to reach new audiences
  • Link with other groups

Then a moment of bonding over hatred of litter ++: it was becoming clear that this exercise of sharing hopes and expectations was helping connect individuals from different groups

  • To create a tool that shares information and connections to people – a place that points people in direction of where (or to whom) to go for more information
  • Again, to build consensus, or at least the sense of speaking on behalf of more people


Early expectations for what we are co-designing:

  • Must accommodate culture/nature, sea/land, practices/relationships/people/etc. not just monuments
  • Must accept images and video, not just text
  • Noted concern about sharing/pooling ignorance
  • It must be simple to register
  • Easy to navigate and use
  • Give near instant gratification
  • Intuitive search function that gives desired results
  • No initial requirement to agree to conditions – puts people off
  • Pictures to draw you in
  • Remember that some people have slow computers and internet connections
  • Let you use it before registering etc. and have functionality to draft and then share/publish as distinct phases.

The full list of requirements, intended users, etc. have been compiled and organised in a design brief draft document which is attached. It was clear that having a range of people present who were drawing on their own personal experiences and frustrations with websites was highlighting a range of different issues – making a case for co-design with regard to useful products.

We talked specifically about our users and did an exercise creating personas. While this got us thinking, I think the exercise should have been introduced and explained better to be more useful. Despite this, it got us thinking about who we are designing for and the implications of this. By the end of the day, it was very clear to me that we were designing for two different types of people, broadly speaking: those who want to share and contribute views, and those who want to use these views. In the room, we represented a range of different people who wanted to use views, but we need to be creative about how to attract people to the platform and make them want to share, contribute and interact with personal identifications and interpretations about heritage. While my focus coming in had been on the analytical back-end, or how we could use contributed data (and designing a system that made access and analysis simple), by the end it was clear to me that where we really need to focus is in making it appealing and intuitive to use on a casual basis.

Bringing Meghan in was very useful, initially because it forced us to pull all the ideas we had brought up together so we had something to present. There seemed to be a general consensus that what I (assisted by the group) presented to Meghan was a fair reflection of our discussions. Gratifyingly, it seemed our presentation was clear – when Meghan delivered a summary of what she understood our wants to be, the response was overwhelmingly positive; it felt as though Meghan had described what we wanted better than we had been able to ourselves. Especially the expression “emotional response” struck a chord – this is what we want people to express: their emotional responses to places and use this as a way to identify “heritage”. This led to the idea that what our platform will do is “add colour to black and white” descriptions of heritage, and about moving forward, about how we want something to be and how we want to use something. A number of other points were sparked:

  • We need a clear design to ensure that people can do what they want – useful from first visit
  • Instant gratification looks different to different people
  • We need to understand how people use social media, not just that they do
  • Information should be open – access should not be restricted
  • Let people set filters rather than have filters be imposed

This is only a very partial account of the meeting, which lasted four hours. Some of my initial reflections on the meeting are below:


I think the meeting achieved introducing participants to other groups and creating ties – at times it was a challenge to keep us on track due to so many other connections and useful conversations being initiated, but this was part of the point of the meeting. There was not enough time to work through the design process together – there was definitely not enough time to work through the process together and make room for creating connections between people and groups. For me, this has re-emphasised the importance of building in more time throughout the process, as these connections that are formed and the ideas, skills and knowledge that are shared during the process are a central part of the reason for choosing collaborative design.

I was reminded again how much expertise there is within this group, which makes me reflect on my own role. I was very grateful to the response at the end, when I re-iterated that the work this summer is partly about learning how to work together, about developing a way of working that builds capacity and sustainability in participating groups. It is clear that those participating are as interested in facilitating sustainability and connections between groups as I am – again, this leads me to reflect on my role in this process.

As we concluded the meeting, it was perfectly clear to everyone (I hope) that we had only just begun the co-design process. We had really just started formulating what we wanted to create together. Again, this emphasises the need to resist the temptation to rush the process: if we want to reap the benefits of everyone’s input, we must make time for ideas to be formulated, shared, captured and integrated.

While I think the participating groups already had many characteristics that underpin capacity and resilience (or if you like, sustainability), I like to think that our work together has been productive in facilitating sustainability already. We have linked groups and people, linked to a supporting organisation (the CBA), secured grants to make our collaborative work possible, shared ideas and knowledge – and we are working toward a common goal. I hope that the digital design work we do together will just be one part of the many activities we are inspired to initiate by working together toward fostering resilience, diversity, vibrancy and relevance in groups of people who want to take care of their local heritage.


3 thoughts on “first plenary co-design meeting in York (3rd July, 2016)

  1. Thanks for the blog Harald.
    You have done a great job providing an overview of the meeting.
    I do not think the dichotomy of volunteers and professionals is very important. Nearly everyone at the meeting was a professional incsome field and a volunteer in others.
    The main challenge I think is to enable all those living in/near heritage sites/assets to engage in a manner that suits them. Professional heritage managers are constrained by their experience and training. They can provide important legal advice, access to funding and other help (health and safety etc).
    Volunteers inhabit a much more interesting and creative territory.
    Here are a couple of examples of things people would like to find inside the Chalk Tower at Flamborough:
    Little Mix (girl aged about 9);
    A mermaid singing (wpman aged about 35)
    The future (children and adults, male and female).

    We also had a very strobg negative response from a local man who still thinks the restorationvwork completed following English Heritage instruction was ‘inappropriate, I do not want to have anything to do with the Chalk Tower as a result’.

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