Sandpit: VoiceYourView -- Making Public Spaces Safer

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Computing & Communications


Individuals experience significantly more stress from the fear of crime than from any direct experience of it. Sources such as Health Canada maintain that the physical environment (e.g. unused and empty spaces, poorly lit areas, areas obscured with trees and shrubs) contributes to these experiences. As an example, on university campuses, opportunities for attackers to hide can increase student fears. It is extremely challenging, however, to design public spaces that fully alleviate the public's concerns over their safety. This is due to a number of reasons: (i) even the best design processes cannot fully anticipate a user group's needs; (ii) usage patterns by the public are not fully known until the public space has been in use for some time; (iii) usage patterns naturally change over time as the role of the space in the community evolves. As a consequence, despite notable attempts at considering safety in the design of public environments - e.g., Vivacity 2020 - a priori design will never be able to fully satisfy the public's needs.This proposal argues that users of a public space know the space best. It further contends that, at present, only a small proportion of users' views are taken into account during design. Design processes typically include public consultations before construction and post-occupancy evaluation surveys. However, relatively speaking, very few users provide input into these processes. On the other hand, all users have opinions about the spaces in which they live and work. As an example, a worker may mentally note that a pedestrian crossing is required at a busy intersection, but the pressures of modern life mean that s/he is unlikely ever to feed back this comment to the local council. This kind of knowledge - which people possess but may not realize its importance to others - is termed tacit knowledge. The VoiceYourView project aims to mobilise the tacit knowledge of a community to transform public spaces to be safer and more inclusive. The VoiceYourView concept is best illustrated by example. Imagine a park in central England. Mary is 72 years old and walks her dog every day. On her route, at dusk, she hesitates as she walks past a large shrub, fearing what is behind. Judy is 26. Her jogging route takes her into areas of the park that are poorly lit and she is afraid. Paul is 43 and takes his children to the park but is concerned that the bandstand is becoming a magnet for teenage drinking parties. Today, Mary, Judy and Paul each have limited ways of communicating their tacit knowledge to the appropriate people. They would need to compose a letter - which is unlikely given the time stresses on their daily lives. The goal of VoiceYourView is to provide Mary, Judy and Paul with a way to record their feedback in real-time at the moment it occurs to them in the park rather than having to wait until it is forgotten about. In this way, VoiceYourView will collect real-time information that can then be structured, stored in an online repository, and exchanged with appropriate stakeholders: other users, local community groups, local authorities, etc. The hypothesis is that, by so doing, VoiceYourView will lead to public space designs that are more attuned to the needs of their users and, in particular, do a better job at alleviating their safety concerns.We will design inclusive input devices for the collection of tacit knowledge in public spaces and will implement a repository that will use techniques from artificial intelligence (AI) to filter, structure and classify this knowledge. We will conduct a series of trials in key public areas - including Derry city walls and Coventry underpass - to drive and evaluate VoiceYourView research. We will undertake basic research to understand how VoiceYourView requirements are impacted by existing crime trends and how VoiceYourView fits into and influences existing design processes. VoiceYourView is a partnership between five universities and associated partners and wil


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Description The main achievements of the research were:
1. 'In the wild' deployments in real consultation projects: VoiceYourView (vyv) prototypes have been deployed as part of
real design consultations in major cities across the UK. These include: Lancaster (vyv consultation for a major
refurbishment of a metropolitan library); Derry, NI (vyv analysis of household survey data on police satisfaction/confidence);
Coventry (vyv consultation for future visioning of Coventry University campus); and (in progress) Lancaster (vyv
consultation for University visit/open days). In these projects, Vyv prototypes have been used by hundreds of members of
the general public. The prototypes have provided valuable data from local people to key decision-makers concerned with
public space design.
2. Educational Benefits in Schools. Vyv prototypes have been used multiple times within schools and have been integrated
with school lesson plans both to help realize educational objectives on the use of digital technologies and to provide a
digital platform for schoolchildren to reflect on issues related to their local area. At Manchester Communications Academy,
vyv was used in lessons and on city tours to help students reflect on the design of the city of Manchester. At schools in
Sheffield, vyv prototypes were used as a way for students to reflect on anti-social behaviour in their area. [We cannot
reveal the names of these schools but note that schools in both deprived and affluent areas were involved.] Vyv prototypes
have been used by hundreds of school children in this way.
3. Public Engagement and Dissemination. Vyv prototypes have been showcased at various public festivals and (nonacademic)
events, including: 2011 Dundee Science Festival, 2011 FutureEverything Festival, 2010 Manchester Science
Festival, Science in the New Parliament at the House of Commons (2010), The Guardian Activate Summit 2010, the How?
Research Showcase at RCUK HQ (2010), and the Design in the Digital World event at Delfina, London, 2010. These
showcases have demonstrated the technology to hundreds of members of the general public. Vyv has also been widely
covered by the popular press, including: BBC World Service (Digital Planet), BBC Technology News, Times Higher
Education and the Coventry Telegraph.
4. Influence on Public Services. In two cases, vyv researchers had influence over public service provision. Data collected
from a vyv design consultation of Lancaster Library was fedback to library staff and administrators and helped to inform
ongoing efforts to make sure that the library met its users' needs. In Derry, NI, vyv was used to analyse data from a DDPP
(Derry District Policing Partnership) household survey. The vyv study discovered useful comments in free-text boxes in the
survey and showed that such content did not always match how respondents had ticked check-boxes; this was evidence of
the importance of the free-text boxes, which were at the time slated for removal in subsequent surveys.
Exploitation Route Discussions for possible commercialisation of vyv technologies are
ongoing. However, the vyv team did already secure £6900 in funding from the University of Sheffield's Knowledge
Transfer Fund to explore opportunities with commercial partners. The University of Sheffield has signed a joint
mutual confidentiality agreement with the world's largest information solutions provider, Experian plc, to open up
discussions on how best to take our product into the market. In addition, there has been interest from around a
dozen companies or organizations, which cannot be named at this point due to confidentiality restrictions.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description Used in 3 major live trials across the UK
First Year Of Impact 2010
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description AHRC
Amount £32,371 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/I507647/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2010 
End 01/2011
Description AHRC
Amount £32,371 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/I507647/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2009 
End 06/2012