Real impact is engaging communities in urban development

Through their InstaBooth project, Dr Mirko Guaralda and colleagues from Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, have given communities around the world an interactive platform to shape the development of their cities.

The Problem

Urban development affects our lives, from our ability to access essential facilities such as schools, healthcare and public transport to our sense of identity and community. Involving communities in the development of their environments can be a challenge, but as more and more countries look to support the UN-Habitat New Urban Agenda, the hunt is on to find new ways to foster engagement.     

The Research

The InstaBooth was created by Queensland University of Technology researchers to help communities inform decisions about their city by sharing their thoughts and ideas with the public, stakeholders and government. It combines digital technologies with physical materials to give visitors a variety of unstructured and playful ways to share comments, photos and memories. Inside the InstaBooth, visitors can interact in different ways with different components: they can use a multi-touch screen to browse media, leave feedback on handwritten notes, or draw a picture. Outside the InstaBooth, urban design proposals can be projected onto building façades and pavements.

The Impact

The project has been running since 2012 and the approach has been successfully applied at 14 different sites around South-East Queensland, with spin-offs in the US, Indonesia, China, Ireland and South America. Some of the consultations and commercial research projects carried out in Queensland include those for the Heart of Pomona community group, Queensland Department of Public Works, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, RSL Care (now Bolton Clark), Kelvin Grove Urban Village Principal Body Corporate, and Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability – Office of Women. Outcomes from these different consultations have resulted in new policies and guidelines to positively impact residents in South-East Queensland.

The collaboration with the community group, Heart of Pomona, resulted in an AUD $300,000 makeover of the Pomona Memorial Hall. Other outcomes include the proposed realignment and reconstruction of a shared pedestrian and cycling pathway over the North Coast Railway Line and the Framework and Character Concept guidelines for the town centre within the new Noosa Plan.

As an example of the impact of this methodology on communities, in 2017 the project, ‘Hands Up for Hand Hygiene’, at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital resulted in “[…] a reduction in infection and improvement in hand hygiene. [The] Hospital moved to the top 10 in Australian hospitals. Cancer Care achieved 100% compliance in the hand hygiene audits during April, May and June 2018. This compliance had not been seen consistently across the service previously”.

The team now plans to expand its methodology to include gamification, virtual reality and drama methods to further community involvement.

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This project was published in full in Journal of Place Management and Development: