Let’s Make Piccadilly: Notes on the event format

In the Let’s Make Piccadilly events we’re experimenting with a new-ish format. We say new-ish as we’ve tried it once before as part of My York Central. The format is a 3-8pm drop in at Spark but, in the case of the Let’s Make Piccadilly events, a drop in with specific advertised times for walks.

This is why we’d decided to try this approach.

  • Professional and Public: Linking up professional (daytime) and community (evening and weekend) conversations

The idea for a timeframe that runs 3-8pm is we’d noticed that York (probably most cities) is characterised by at least two conversations. One happened during the day between professionals and the community members who are free 9-5pm. The other happens during the evenings and at weekend between community members. There are really good reasons why many officers are not available in the evening, usually caring responsibilities and Councillors are often the main people who breach this boundary. But we thought that even if we can’t get everyone into the same room at the same time we can have different people in the same space over time through documenting and linking conversations.

  • Embodied thinking: Getting into and moving through spaces

We’re holding the events in Spark because Spark is a live experiment in the activities noted for Piccadilly. Simply being in Spark helps us think through the future of Piccadilly. Walks also offer a whole body and mind engagement with the issues, so that the ideas are not abstract. By assuming different views, literally looking back at Piccadilly from Parliament Street as we did last week, creates the potential for different views, perspectives and opinions to form. Moving around together while talking also creates a very visceral sense of ideas being movable, fluid and collaborative.

  • Varied level of input

We wanted to design events that can respond to a very wide range of different levels of interest and time. You can drop in and spend 10mins, come on a 30 min walk or stay for the full 5 hours…

  • Combining different ways of knowing

We’ve very deliberately made sure we have lots of different people at the events. We did this by specifically inviting people and fixing dates that worked for as many of those people as possible and then doing open public invitations. The people we invited either had been very involved in the first phase of My Castle Gateway, have a particular relevant role or have a particular knowledge base or expertise. You’ll see in our first write up the sense of a dialogue between people with specific expertise (landscape architects in this case) and different people’s ideas for what trees and plants do for them.

Walks come in very handy here too. Walks also break down differences between people, by walking together everyone mixes in and lots of different informal one-to-one conversations happen that then create new possibilities when we all come back together to discuss.

  • Building a conversation over time – and refining key questions and deepening the conversation

The drop in, five hour format, also allows for deepening conversation over time. A key difference offered by the My Future York approach is that, unlike traditional consultation modes, it’s not based on extracting opinions (‘have your say’!) and then aggregating them. It’s based on building a brief and creating opportunities for a richer, informed engagement with complex ideas.  In this drop in format we get to map out visually the conversations (in this case on the walls of a Spark container). One criticism of large scale engagement is that with every new interaction things just balloon and become more unwieldy. But they really don’t if managed as a conversation. Each conversation takes us closer to where we need to be. Every conversation is a refinement and moves towards either an emerging consensus position or, where there is no consensus to emerge, a greater crystallisation of the issues.

So that’s why we’re doing 5 hour drop ins, at Spark, with walks… come and join us for however long and at whatever time!

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