Changing lifestyles and working environments make it that children spend increasingly more time at school. Accordingly, the school building and the relevant open space are not only learning but also important living spaces...
Promoting participation and involving stakeholders
By Christian Loderer, plancontext gmbh
Collaboration with the Joan-Miró school
When planning playgrounds and schoolyards in particular, it is always advisable to extensively consult with the later 'users' ‒ the children themselves. Adults very quickly lose sight of what is really necessary for fun and games. However, it goes without saying that it is also essential to listen to those who can provide additional important input, such as nursery school carers, teachers, parents and the local residents.
But this does mean there is the ever-present problem of how to ensure that all these stakeholders can be successfully involved in the process. And this is an aspect that a model project in Berlin initiated in order to rebuild three schoolyards and an adjacent playground is attempting to address.
One of the most popular and expensive residential districts of Berlin is the Savignyplatz that is located to the north of the Kurfürstendamm. This neighbourhood has a very upmarket and cultured feel with its magnificent older architecture, restaurants, cafés and boutiques. Because the area is so heavily built-up, there is a distinct shortage of space available for use for sporting and play activities. As a result, the play equipment in the schoolyards of the Joan-Miró school and on a public playground opposite to them had begun to exhibit correspondingly extensive signs of wear and tear and the decision was taken to replace it. At one and the same time, the design and functional aspects of these two spaces were also to be upgraded.
A sum of €815,000 has been made available from Berlin's urban development fund 'Aktive Zentren' for the reconstruction and renovation work. The borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is responsible for the project that is being additionally supervised by the 'Aktive Zentren City West' coordination bureau. A core requirement in connection with the project for which the financing is being provided is that there must be extensive dialogue with all stakeholders.
Beginning in September 2015, a participation programme was initiated that to date has attracted numerous ideas and suggestions from children, specialist bodies, the local residents and diverse experts. In late January 2016, the members of the school were asked to vote on the various submitted designs and the elements that they selected were used to prepare a preliminary draft plan based on a design that is reminiscent of the style employed by the artist whose name the school bears ‒ Joan Miró. It is hoped that several of the construction phases will be completed by summer 2017.
It is the view of Marc Schulte, the city councillor in charge of the project, that one of its main aims must be to provide for restructuring of the playgrounds and yards to ensure that these are both gender-neutral and provide for free access. The resultant 'inclusive play areas' should offer all children, irrespective of their origin, skin colour, religion, aptitude or gender, the opportunity to enjoy the play facilities as far as their capabilities allow them, to use them in full and make them their own. The information and participation events were used to put this view across and to obtain basic insights into needs.
Our participation strategy
We drew up a detailed strategy that would ensure participation of the various shareholder groups in the planning processes for the reconstruction of the playground and the schoolyards of the Joan-Miró school based on a range of tried-and-tested methods, creative techniques and approaches that are complementary and can be suitably used in combination.
Some of our selected methods and procedures were derived from the recommendations in the participation handbook produced by the Berlin Senate in 2011 and, specifically with regard to providing for the involvement of children and young people, from the 1999 guidelines of the Berlin Senate relating to the creation of a 'child- and young-person-friendly' city. We also already have considerable experience ourselves in this field.
The first phase: identification of target groups
For the purposes of participation, the various related interests were to be taken into account so that as many different target groups as possible could be motivated and involved.
The main user of the schoolyards will be the Joan-Miró primary school that actually houses two schools that use differing educational concepts; one is a standard primary school, the other is a Germano-Hispanic European School that provides whole-day schooling. The catchment area for the standard school is the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district. The children attending the Germano-Hispanic European School come from throughout Berlin. In the 2013/14 school year, the school had 735 pupils; the first language of 495 of the families of these was a language other than German. There are 62 teaching personnel and 30 carers. [Source: http://www.joan-miro-grundschule.de/]
The playground opposite is used by the local children and groups from child daycare facilities. In future, the schoolyards are also to be made more available to children and young people living in the vicinity; hence, children and young people are at the focus of activities to promote participation. But also of relevance are the parents, the teachers, carers and, of course, the local residents.
Regular round table meetings with stakeholders
To prepare for and accompany the participation activities relating to the redesign, regular round table meetings were held with the main stakeholders and decision-makers. Representatives of the local authority, of the coordination bureau, the school and our team met at roughly four-week intervals at the school. Where appropriate, various expert consultants were also invited to attend; these included the gender- and disability-equality officers, members of the police force, educational experts and a playground equipment manufacturer.
The pupils' council, the parents' association, the carers and teachers were informed separately of the status of planning and asked to provide their views on what was happening.
Kickoff event at the school open day
An information stand was provided at the annual school open day in September 2015 through which pupils, parents and visitors could obtain initial information on the project and could be invited to participate. Representatives of the local authority and our team were on hand to answer questions and accept spontaneous suggestions from those present. The information stand was designed with a construction site in mind and even a symbolic construction site sign was put in place.
Those visiting the stand were encouraged to give their opinions on the site plan using adhesive stickers ‒ red stood for 'Don't like', green stood for 'Like'. The result provided a general overview of how people felt about the concept, making it possible to set priorities for the subsequent process.
There was also a criticism box for use by those who wished to provide more detailed written comments on what they felt was inappropriate; this was supplemented by a wishing grove that could be used to post ideas and wants with regard to the project. The criticism box was used mainly by the adults while the wishing grove was the preferred domain of the children, who often had quite concrete ideas about what they would like to see.
With the help of enthusiastic teachers and carers, class projects relating to the project were initiated.
For example, there were excursions to other playgrounds and schoolyards in the neighbourhood and the results were documented in the form of a 'photo safari'. The children were thus able to compare and evaluate various local alternatives and obtain new ideas.
In addition, models and drawings were prepared with great care and the pupils themselves decided to interview their peers to find out what activities they preferred to undertake during the breaks.
The feedback was documented by us, assessed and the associated concepts were included in the plans as far as possible. The results of all class projects were exhibited during the planning workshop.
All stakeholders, involved and interested parties were invited to attend a large scale planning workshop in November 2015. Children and young people, teachers and carers, residents and 'experts' were to be brought together to exchange ideas and interact.
The pupils of the school prepared posters announcing the event and distributed 1000 invitation flyers throughout the local district. Personal invitations were also sent to stakeholders and disseminators. Participants not familiar with the area were given the opportunity to take part in a guided site tour.
Following short introductory talks on the motivation and the ideas behind the project by the hosts, participants were shown a beamer presentation on the initial status, the framework conditions and the objectives in order to provide for a shared basis of information. The second part of the presentation was designed to provide inspiration for participants in the form of best-practice examples and promote a receptive and creative atmosphere.
After a short break, participants were divided into six work groups; these were formed from the various target groups: parents and residents, teachers and carers together with three groups made up of children whose task was to focus on one of the three school areas. Each team was led by a planner from our team and a member of the round table. Here, it was important to encourage active participation by using play-based, age-appropriate strategies. First came a 'criticism' phase during which participants were asked to write down what they considered to be problems, concerns, deficiencies etc. on red cards. Then came an 'inspiration' phase in which wishes, ideas and hopes were noted and concepts were sketched out. The 'experts' present were available to provide advice to the groups. Finally, the representatives of each group came together and presented the results of their team to the plenum. There was then a joint discussion and the ideas that were felt to be most important were selected for further development.
Voting by pupils
The various suggestions and wishes were assessed and plan variants were prepared and presented to the pupils. There were two draft proposals each for the playground and the three schoolyards that differed mainly in terms of the equipment and play options they offered. Sadly, the limited space and the restricted budget meant that it was not possible to take into account all wishes and suggestions.
The classes of the Joan-Miró school were then invited to come to the school hall with their teachers to vote on the proposals. There were a total of six voting sessions in order to accommodate all the classes.
After they had seen a short beamer presentation, each of the girls was issued with four green adhesive stickers and each of the boys with four red adhesive stickers. The children could then use these to vote for their favourite design version.
Clear winners emerged as a result of voting whereby there were no marked differences with regard to voting behaviour between the girls and the boys.
The results of the vote were revealed to all involved parties in early March during a public information event. Posters were again prepared and flyers distributed and all teachers, carers, residents and children were invited to attend.
Outlook: Participation in the implementation phase
However, the participation programme is by no means at an end. There will be regular updates on the progress of construction work on the school homepage, further information events and construction site visits that will continue during the implementation phase and beyond; in addition, all the children are to be actively involved in design projects.
A parent group has already managed to collect donations to pay for a climbing wall ‒ other such initiatives and practical contributions by parents and teachers would be most welcome.
In our experience, by encouraging extensive participation it is possible to create exceptional and innovative play amenities that are tailored to the actual requirements of children and young people so that these are genuinely appreciative of what has been provided.
It is important to ensure that enough time is devoted to these measures and that sessions are carefully prepared and subsequently evaluated. This is of course not possible unless adequate financial means are made available.
There is no one single easy solution that will ensure that a concept for promoting participation will be successful. The more complex strategies designed to get people involved will need to be appropriately adapted to the needs of each individual project. Use of a combination of suitable elements that are compatible with the schedule and financial options should result in the best possible outcome in terms of participation.
It is advisable to employ methods that include motivating and play-based approaches based on the insights of creativity research through to the more complex recent techniques for encouraging participation.
We should like to take this opportunity to thank all stakeholders and supporters without whose help this large-scale participation project would not have been possible. Those interested will be able to monitor the further progress of the project on the website of the Joan-Miró school at http://www.joan-miro-grundschule.de/
Image: plancontext gmbh