I’ve been working recently with Bradford Libraries (West Yorkshire, England) on a few small community engagement projects. They have received funding under the Community Libraries Programme to extend and refurbish the library at Manningham. In June 2008 I was asked to run a public event in the library to engage people with the process and open up a period of consultation.
The intention was to have a two hour early evening slot, with the architect and plans available, plus members of staff of course, but no set programme. So the first condition was to design a consultation event where people are constantly coming and going, but you want to attract their attention, inform them, provoke thinking and capture their views.
The idea of a treasure hunt as a fun way to generate interest quickly became the key component of the event. Working with library staff I developed a set of clues which would require users to go to specific locations in and around the building. The planned extension will be built over part of an existing car park and a community garden will be designed alongside, so we had the chance with the treasure hunt to help people visualise it. I was pretty sure that the Diffusion eBooks would be the ideal mechanism for linking clues to further suggestions and comments.
Here’s how it worked. Visitors were given an eBook, with the first clue printed on the first page. Each clue required the hunter to go to a specific location, inside or outside the library building, where they would find the next clue printed on a set of peel-off labels. They took one of these labels and stuck it onto a space on a new page in the eBook.
We provided space on each page for hunters to write an answer to each clue. Additionally there was a supplementary consultative question, designed to solicit ideas and suggestions for the new building.
So for example, the second clue asked “Where will the disabled parking spaces be?” This required checking the site plans, with the architect on hand to help work out the answer. The hunter then had to pop outside to the specific location, where friendly staff held a folder of labels for clue 3. If necessary, users were shown where the label should be placed in their eBook. The supplementary question asked: “What else is needed to make sure that disabled people have good access to the new library?”
At the location of the answer to the final clue, users found a note saying “Well done! You’ve finished the treasure hunt – please go back to the start and collect your prize.”
We anticipated that some users would rather get on with the hunt, and then perhaps settle down afterwards to write comments in answer to the questions. In practice, we found that most took this course and staff were on hand to encourage and support comment. Nonetheless, it was obvious that a number of hunters lacked confidence writing in the English language and were reluctant to offer any comments. Aware of this, staff engaged most of them in conversation and anyway it didn’t matter – they were in the library, taking part, willingly engaged and ready to contribute in other ways.
What worked well
The treasure hunt clues and the eBooks were developed remotely, with staff locally printing out the eBooks and, never having encountered them before, making them up a day or two in advance. As always, one or two showed greater dexterity than others, but it was done. I travelled to Bradford on the day of the event knowing that the documentation was ready.
In terms of helping to guide people through the treasure hunt process, the eBooks worked flawlessly. No-one got lost or did the clues in the wrong order. And no-one got into any difficulty with the sticking of labels: every one was placed in the right place on the right page.
We printed some eBooks on A3, giving a page format of around 21 x 15cm. These proved more popular and suited being carried around for 15-30 minutes, allowing plenty of space for notes.
What I’d do differently
We had the smaller eBooks printed on yellow paper, but ideally I’d like to introduce some colour in other ways and the obvious place to do this is with the sticky labels.
A key point
It’s important not to see this as an engagement technique in a vacuum. If we did, we wouldn’t get results. We ran this exercise while the library was open, with staff having conversations with users, an SMS option for comments, and other opportunities for people to get involved in the decision-making process. The eBooks fit perfectly in the treasure hunt and the treasure hunt is just one component in an ongoing mix of engagement activities and processes.
Read Kevin’s post on his Neighbourhoods blog.