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A Letter to Future Placemakers from Deborah Ajia: Experimentation in community engagement

Posted on 27 October 2021

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Deborah Ajia

For our new blog series ‘A Letter to Future Placemakers’, we’re showcasing letters that thoughtfully share learning points from your lived and/or professional experience with the placemakers of the future. Through this open call, we are asking you to define your audience and place to call your future placemakers to action. Who will shape the future of our towns and cities, and what do you want them to know? Deborah Ajia shares her thoughts below.

We’re all placemakers; we often forget this. Whether you decide to extend your drive or build a local planter, you’re changing the shared environment. This is what I want ‘professional’ placemakers to remember. 

Too often I hear the words “hard to reach” groups uttered in workshops and events. But are these groups truly hard to reach, or are the researchers in question not trying hard enough? General consultation events and knocking on doors is always a start, so are online options such as surveys and now online discussions. However, these are methods that will attract a select few and people from a certain demographic.

It’s time to think outside the box and get creative. There’s nothing wrong with injecting fun and joy into research methods (if anything, it actually enhances the experiment for everyone). For example, we recently spent some time with the residents of Redbridge crafting outside of Redbridge Library, while asking them what messages they’d like to share with their fellow locals. This was quite popular, and we attracted and spoke with people of varying ages and backgrounds. 

Getting people curious by providing an experience and or gift for their input can spark conversation and a genuine bond between people who started off as strangers. I had quite a long chat with a woman who was passionate about nature and growing, so the litter in her local parks made her rather sad. We ended up discussing what we were growing in our respective gardens.

My message to future placemakers is not to be afraid to experiment, to have a diverse spread of ideas, views and opinions you need to start off with a wide selection of people with distinct experiences.

RIBA and Integreat Plus created this handy document through their Future Place Programme that showcases a plethora of ways to get a diverse group of people involved in projects. Some of the ideas include using social media such as Instagram, taking over a shop on the high street and creating a youth council. 
You can also head to the Resources section of The Glass-House website for a range of practical resources produced by The Glass-House.