• Blog
  • September 05, 2023

Measuring Playful Placemaking Outcomes and Planning for Success

When measuring the outcomes generated through playful placemaking, capturing data is key to success.

  • Collect, organize, and record results of each activity and game, community tour, conversation, survey, and collage. Ask a few community members or members of your team to be scribes for each event, ensuring there are several listeners for the wide range of conversations. Encourage scribes to verify with the group if the sentiment of the conversation was captured correctly.
  • Video and photography are very important. There should be photographic documentation of all visioning activities, meetings, and tactical interventions. Take the opportunity to make short interview videos with participants as well.
  • Summarize and organize your results. Through the use of frequency matrices, you’ll be able to identify where the participants are or are not in alignment. Results will identify consistencies from the most macro data to the most micro, as well as “outlier” ideas that were valuable but not widely shared across groups. Data will reveal disconnects and how they will impact the project’s mission as well as possible design outcomes.
  • As project findings are produced and design solutions become clear, reach out to the community again to gauge support and request feedback.

Prioritizing — Deciding what areas to prioritize and timing is one of the final outcomes of the process. A strictly linear process may not be as implementable as one that reaches towards what will empower a community at the onset. For example, looking at what is most easily attainable can be one of the easiest ways to launch a project, or to determine appropriate phasing. Generating alignment on what the community sees as implementable in the next six to twelve months and what resources would be needed to advance those ideas is crucial to this phase.

Identifying the “bigger version” projects that take more time and funding sets the larger planning efforts in motion. These are the projects that could be realized in the next five to ten years. These larger, more impactful projects are built directly from the engagement outcomes, but take greater coordination and planning. It is important to note that these projects may have a greater chance of success when they can leverage earlier successes rather than being the first projects out of the gate. Projects not yet implemented in a seven to ten year period should review the engagement process.

Project ideas that remain likely fall into the “bite sized & easy to handle” category and can be achievable when timing aligns to leverage funding or community will. These projects can also share resources across agencies to increase impact when available. These can be taken on when community enthusiasm is high and when they have realized a positive return on previous project efforts.

Funding — When using the playful placemaking process, a story of community support and participation emerges as participants align around a common cause and goal. Utilizing this story, in partnership with evidence-based data to support the need and potential outcomes, can help make a compelling case to funders about the positive benefits the project can have on the community.

In August of 2020, via the Great American Outdoors Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was permanently funded at $900 million annually, offering funding opportunities for eligible projects to support land acquisition, recreational facility improvements, and park planning projects. Every project starts with a great idea, and members of the community play a critical role in addressing needs, challenges, and even providing new ideas that play a valuable role in the overall outcome of these projects. Applicants are required to demonstrate ways community impact was collected and used to inform the planning and development of proposed projects. A detailed outline of public meetings, surveys, and the public engagement process is part of successful applications for funding sources such as the LWCF State Assistance Program.

Often clients ask how to facilitate these more participatory community engagement meetings with a limited budget. In the typical construction contract or project outline, there are generally opportunities to conduct a site analysis. As a component of the site analysis, invite the public and play games to ensure the site analysis is as meaningful and worthwhile as it can possibly be. There may also be opportunities to assist in conducting the public meetings that are already in the project budget or scope. This is a great way to utilize budgets that are already allocated
for public meetings to ensure playful placemaking can be part of the process to gather feedback and generate creative ideas.

For internal project managers such as city planners or parks and recreation professionals, when considering or interviewing landscape architects or design teams, be sure to discuss how they are seeking public feedback or input. You can also request a specific level of engagement in the request for proposal (RFP) process for architects and designers to include different engagement activities and make them part of your contract requirements.
For landscape architects, design the engagement processes to support the project you are working on. Outline the process you will use, using this document as a guide. Include language in your proposal on the benefits to the client, project, and community in your proposal and contract.

It’s also worth noting that the successes of Try It On experiences often lead to more advocates and an even greater drive to pursue additional funding for project ideas generated from the activity. This leads to an organization continuing the process to obtain more funding and additional community support through championing, volunteerism, and funding.

This resource serves as an opportunity to link what we know anecdotally about the role of play and playful placemaking methods to the real and documented science of play. Its purpose is to empower collaboration among communities, their agents, and designers to create meaningful built
environments for everyone. Play may be the key to transforming the conversations currently prevalent in the world of design, community development, and investment in placemaking because PLAY works.

Play allows access beyond limitations such as language, culture, cognitive ability, age and mobility while encouraging inclusivity and support for the equitable expression of diverse voices and viewpoints. As an engagement tool, playful placemaking is a generative process that meets communities where they are, and offers a deeper way of participating and influencing the creation of their built environment.

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