The starting point for the project is a challenge and opportunity related to participatory design of the built environment. In a recent report on architecture and planning in the UK, current design processes were criticised for not being participatory enough in representing the needs and aspirations of local residents, or respecting the history and cultural heritage of areas subject to re-development (Farrell Review 2013). Amongst the recommendations of this report were suggestions to take a more holistic view of places and their identities, to achieve a new level of proactive public engagement in planning, and to draw on knowledge of the past in planning for the future (op cit). A specific opportunity to implement some of these suggestions already exists in the form of the Localism Act of 2011, which empowers communities to create neighbourhood plans for the development of their areas (DCLG 2010). However, findings on the uptake of these powers indicate some reluctance of communities to engage with the initiative and a conservative approach to planning which fails to meet government targets for housing and economic growth (Gallent 2013). Essentially, new methods of pro-active community engagement are needed.
Community radio and TV have been used for many years, to empower communities around the world to take more initiative in their own development. In our own prior work we have used mobile digital storytelling to provide a narrative film library to a rural community in India (Frohlich et al 2007). In two further Digital Economy projects we scaled up this approach within South Africa and Preston UK, to support audio-visual community journalism for development. In South Africa we developed the Com-Me open source toolkit for community media sharing, and in Preston we developed an ‘insight journalism’ methodology for applying this to local innovation (Frohlich et al 2009 – EP/E006698/1, Blum-Ross et al 2012 – EP/H007296/1). Following other initiatives in Australia and Italy (Foth et al 2007, Galbiati et al 2010), we would now like to apply our storytelling technology and approach to local urban design. The approach also extends several other projects within the Communities and Culture Network+ and would benefit from their findings and input. These include Plugin narratives, New knowledge networks in communities, Cultural heritage and built environment, Hyperlocal government engagement online, Screen cultures, Trajectories to community engagement, Public engagement and cultures of expertise.