Illustrator Miranda Smith’s interpretation of Sarah’s future vision for using a ‘Smart Places’ approach combining digital and face to face. Scroll down to read about Miranda’s visual response to the article.

‘Digital and Face to Face’ by Sarah Frood, icecream architecture

Article 3 of 7 in the Smart Places illustrated blog article series featuring thought pieces from a diverse line up of thinkers, practitioners, experts and leaders in this field. View the other articles here, or find out about the full programme of events, including Sarah’s live Twitter Q&A on Friday 12 June 3–4pm.

In a world where digital tools are becoming the norm, from interacting with each other to paying bills and insuring your car, the ease of undertaking an action is more and more at your fingertips. We need to establish a balance where digital tools alleviate current social or business challenges, but do not overcome the need or desire for face to face communication.

Digital is synonymous with data, and the best application of data. This is where we see digital tools playing the largest role in placemaking. By placing information at the fingertips of the community and those working within it, we can create time, space and resources for people to interact more effectively face to face.

By placing the baseline in full and accessible view we can aid people to make more informed and grounded decisions and undertake actions in their place.

Having a live snapshot of the social connection and resources in the area can allow those working in the community to quickly grasp how best to implement their role. Be that in creating a new park or delivering a new service.

Some consistent challenges we have noticed in our ten years working as consultants within communities are:

1) People are unaware of the resources in their area and databases of this information are often out of date and inaccessible

2) People do not know how to find ways to work together on projects

3) The impact of community led work is often overlooked or undervalued.

To address these challenges and more we have developed SCOOP; a digital platform that is a bundle of tools to support digital placemaking. It is designed for any publicly-oriented organisation seeking innovative approaches to community development and environmental harm reduction, including local authorities, health boards, housing associations or development trusts. We see this as a blend of technology, process and approach ensuring that each digital solution is bespoke for the place and is closely met with a face to face engagement process. By implementing a tool like this the information gleaned by a consultant developing a project is not lost but becomes the property and foundation for future decisions of that community. It creates efficiency and knowledge that allow more action.

By displaying metrics publicly and tailoring the site to each community, SCOOP aims to generate a collective consciousness within communities about the cumulative power of small actions, the value of the assets they possess and their capacity to effect real change. Metadata generated by user interactions is automatically collected and analysed to produce robust, real-time metrics of environmental savings — carbon emissions, water and landfill waste — and social capital indicators for the community.

We would like to see a future where we can blend the best aspects of digital technology with the ability to apply more resources to face to face, and where the foundation and knowledge of the community is readily to hand. We have to make choices about the correct position for digital and it is not about making everyone’s job easier but it is about utilising time more effectively to make change in communities.

Interested in discussing this article? Leave a response below or join Sarah for a one hour Twitter discussion on Friday 12 June from 3pm–4pm. Take part in, or follow the Twitter discussion using #SmartPlaces.

You can find out more about the Smart Places series on the Edinburgh Living Lab webpage, including other upcoming authors and key dates for our online events.

Illustrator response to Sarah’s article and future vision, by Miranda Smith

The key message I identified in Sarah’s article was the potential that digital tools have to drive collaborative work. I was struck by the contrasts between physical placemaking and digital placemaking, and how each could potentially inform and interact with the other. In my illustration, I aimed to mirror the parallels of physical and virtual worlds, using the contrasting visual motifs of the inside and outside, warm and cold colours, windows and screens. To me, the theory of being connected while apart seems especially relevant today, as we’re forced to discover new ways to collaborate and make the best use of our digital spaces, while limited in access to physical spaces. I tried to create a sense of our new found confinement — whether it be the walls of rooms or the edges of screens — while also creating a hopeful scene of the beauty of places and the always present closeness of community, even while we’re physically distant.

I wanted to subtly reference some of the specific tools that Sarah wrote about, including community feedback, resource and data sharing and volunteering. I was also interested in the idea of the cumulative power of small actions — and the importance of adding your own voice to the conversation. Digital tools can make participation more accessible, so by putting the viewpoint in the active position of being in the room, behind the screen, I aimed to create a sense of involvement, rather than viewing the scene from afar as a passive bystander. I hope my response helps to communicate Sarah’s vision of the potential that individuals have to positively change the places they call home.

Sarah Frood

Sarah Frood — bio

Sarah Frood is one of the founding directors of icecream architecture and has been delivering place-based projects ranging from the development of the cultural economy to place-specific public art and digital placemaking tools for the past 10 years. People are at the heart of what Sarah and the icecream team deliver and this has in the past 3 years expanded into the creation of SCOOP a set of digital tools to aid community-based development. Their approaches are not discipline-specific but solely a response to the needs of the community they work with.

We bring people together to solve problems using data and design.