Strong new communities and initiatives have emerged in Dublin as a response to the last economic crisis. Old challenges such as vacant spaces re-emerged. Creative people began to use these spaces in new and innovative ways. There are already many active community groups doing local projects and so many spaces with potential ideas. New initiatives often start from scratch rather than learning from groups that have already had that experience. This is because connectivity among communities is weak. Many communities told us that they experienced difficulties in navigating through administrative procedures. Information about public services was not easy to find. Public websites were text-heavy and compartmentalised. Hence all these public services needed to be accessed through one portal.
The challenge that we engaged with is how to make the abundance of community capital (*) visible and networked. How to audit vacant spaces through crowd-sourced information, how to find communities to collaborate with, how to help communities to find ways to navigate projects and how to create informal spaces for different organisations and communities to meet and network.
Dynamic communities, resources, and knowledge are in abundance in the city. However, there is no way of knowing about them unless someone tells you about it (High Context Society) and there seems to be a lingering perception that there are "not enough resources". The effects of a boom and bust economy created an interest for new uses in vacant spaces. Since the economic crash, there has been an explosion of groups and vacant spaces in the city with certain groups using its resources in innovative ways showing us the "adjacent possible". Over 600 sites were recorded on a preliminary map by Dublin City Council in 2013. There were many views on the number and type of vacant spaces in Dublin. What constitutes a vacant space? Was it possible to engage citizens through crowd-sourcing to find out more and share local knowledge about vacant sites?
While a large number of community groups is a good thing, it seems that new groups have a tendency to replicate existing ones. For instance, if a group sets out to address a particular challenge –such as lack of attractive green spaces– it often tends to start from scratch rather than connecting to existing communities that have already developed solutions and projects for that challenge. Despite their strong digital presence, communities tend to be isolated from each other and have so far not developed a "community of communities". In addition, many services in the local authority are not known to citizens. There is much knowledge among people within the local authority and between citizen groups that are not passed on.
The last period of economic expansion was spurred by immigration, at times in the form of returning Irish expats. Interestingly, many of these communities are not defined by geographical neighbourhoods like more traditional community groups. They reflect social or cultural bonds in a diverse population that span different areas of the city. Thanks to the work of these strong communities, there are lots of activities happening in all corners of the city. The groups tend to have a strong digital presence through websites and social media. These communities didn't require more expert help or more ideas on what to do. What they needed was connectivity among communities to share resources and knowledge.
- Who are these groups?
- Where are the vacant spaces located? How many are there? What are their characteristics?
- How can these resources be connected?
- What kind of communities are there? What activities do they do? How are they supported?
- How can communities activate spaces for local community use?
- If you have a community project, what would you need to know if you wanted to engage an artist?
(*) Community capital refers to the natural, built,social and human resources available to a community
To strengthen connectivity between resources in terms of people, space, knowledge, and expertise. To make clear the "What" that exists, to represent the "Who" and reveal the "How" of connecting to resources -creating a more resilient city in which resources flow to communities that require them most.
The vision for Dublin is that it is a city where communities (*) are represented and visible to one another. The citizens have a space to find each other. They know how to find out about resources (for e.g. information on vacant spaces) and they are aware how to create their own community projects in the city. Decision-making processes are not hidden and consequently, service delivery is improved. With communities being more connected, resources can be directed to the right places, helping save energy and time. Assets such as space, knowledge, and expertise are used more efficiently. Improved connectivity would also facilitate communities to understand administrative and planning procedures to design their space to suit their needs.
(*) Communities - is not limited to grass-roots community groups and includes communities with institutional capacity, academics, social entrepreneurs and communities of practice.
The strategy taps into existing resources, diverse communities and their knowledge and interlinks them.
The strategy builds on the existing energy and resources from a diverse range of groups. Tools are created from information sourced from community groups and other communities (*). Volunteers and academic communities are involved in the creation of the tools. In this way, Dublin City Council is seen as a facilitator of community connectivity and not as a top-down coordinator. While the development of communication channels –including websites or simple apps– tend to be cheap or even free, maintaining and upgrading them are strategic challenges that the "community of communities" needs to address together. Also for social media, the forums would need to be moderated.
(*) Communities - includes community groups, communities of interest, communities of practice, institutions like Dublin City Council or the EU, universities and social entrepreneurs.
A series of new tools has already been piloted. These include the on-line community directory "Collaborations" and a crowdsourced web-mapping for vacant sites called "Reusing Dublin". The "ComPass" tool, currently in progress, is a road map that guides communities along the implementation process. The guide "So you're going to commission an Artist" shows communities how to engage an artist in collaborating with them and the observational project "Connect the dots" brought diverse communities together to network.
The tool Collaborations is an on-line communities directory that supports the first stage of collaboration by creating a virtual space where different communities can find each other. The directory acknowledges all types of communities such as grass-roots community groups, communities of practice, social entrepreneur groups, and institutional communities. It facilitates networking between groups. Click here to visit website
Reusing Dublin is a tool that uses crowd-sourced knowledge to audit underused spaces in order to identify opportunities for using the city more efficiently. Underused spaces include sites and buildings that are not used at all (vacant) or that are only partly in use. It also includes spaces that may have additional use, like a roof or a grassed area. Crucially, through its interactive format Reusing Dublin taps into the knowledge and preferences of local communities rather than trying to identify underused assets through a centralised procedure. Click here to visit website
Another tool that is in process is Compass, a "how to" guide for doing a wide range of community projects centred around using place. It organises and documents community experiences on previous projects that provide guidance to other communities. It acts as a "social memory" that facilitates communities to build on existing knowledge and experience rather than start projects from scratch. The information compiled in Compass is presented in the form of 9 steps with case studies presented in the form of "theory of change". Click here to visit website
The guide "So you want to work with an artist?" is a guide for community groups who would like to engage an artist to work collaboratively on their community project.
Connect the dots was an observation project that TURAS supported and evaluated. It attempted to bring together different communities into a network. Click here to visit website