by Andrew Kelloe, ParkLife project coordinator
On 22 January 2019 we held our first ParkLife community meeting. Park stakeholders and park users are very much at the heart of this project. ParkLife is part of Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme, which aims to involve park users and managers in “prototyping” digital innovation and data-driven approaches to help support parks leverage alternative funding.
The idea of ‘prototyping’ is one part of a larger process of co-design, where a product, service, policy, etc. is developed in partnership with the people who will implement it, use it or in another way be affected by it. We will use co-design methods to help make sure that the data we collect and communicate about uses and users of parks, and the ways that we collect it, are acceptable, accessible and valuable to park managers, stakeholders and users.
At the meeting, representatives from Friends of Parks and community groups from each of our four pilot parks (Inverleith Park, Leith Links, The Meadows and Bruntsfield Links and Saughton Park) joined us to discuss the project and share their thoughts and opinions. To start out, we introduced the overall project and then raised two issues. The first was people’s interests and concerns about the data we will collect and the implications of it. The second was how we might make sure the project engages and involves as many park stakeholders and users as possible.
In order to address concerns about privacy, Simon Chapple presented detailed information about how we can manage ‘sensing’ in public places (through sensing devices such as people counters or sensing methods such as Wifi tracking) to make sure that people consent to being monitored or remain entirely anonymous. One option is to have an installation such as Alfred.
Alfred hosts a local network hotspot that anyone can connect to with their mobile phone. Once they have connected, they can access a website on the local network (without being connected to the wider internet). Through this website, we can present information about the park and the project, conduct surveys, and ask for people’s permission for us to track their mobile phone for a limited period of time to know how they move through the park.
Our primary interest in collecting data is to learn more about park usage, and this resonated with community members. Often community groups are the drivers behind new facilities and initiatives in parks, such as the exercise equipment in Inverleith Park, the community garden in the Meadows, the winter garden in Saughton Park and the soon-to-open playpark in Leith Links. These groups are keen to know how many people are benefiting from and appreciating these investments. Usage information could help to create evidence of the value of such installations and to identify what areas or equipment are the most popular.
In addition to understanding usage, many people reiterated the value of parks as a place to support healthy activity. They encouraged the project to look at ways of supporting health and fitness activities in parks. They also suggested the possibility to link with Health and Social Care partnerships around social prescribing and healthy activity agendas.
One idea we have had around this is the Meadows Mile. We are currently exploring a concept where people who run the mile loop in the Meadows could time themselves anonymously through a device installed in the park. We may test a prototype of the concept during the summer, if community groups are interested.
The next step for the project is to engage with community groups and park users around the four pilot parks to gather their ideas and input for the project. More news on that soon!