Client: EIT Urban Mobility
Context Is King
A training module for civil servants on how to understand the citizen’s experience
Citizen engagement is a fundamental part of our work and a key technique we use to understand and evaluate city strategies and projects. While we have recently seen an increasing interest in the field from both cities and private organisations alike, in our work we often come across a lack of capacity and understanding about the value and key learnings that this type of qualitative research is able to bring forward.
To tackle this, in 2023 not only did we use citizen engagement as part of our research work, but we also developed a training module on it. Commissioned by EIT Urban Mobility, Humankind prepared part of the content of their newly created Citizens on the Move, a hybrid training programme focusing on building the capacities of city governments to engage with their citizens and other stakeholders on the sustainable mobility transition.
Our module, titled Context is King, focused on urban mobility pilots, that is – situations in which cities are testing new mobility concepts, techniques or products to tackle one or several challenges in their cities. Pilot testing is a widely used method to evaluate the efficacy of solutions that may have been developed in “a lab setting”, and is crucial to understand their responsiveness to the actual challenges that take place in real life cities.
While usually pilot testing of solutions and services is based on User Experience –focusing on the interactions between the solution and its users only–, our Citizen Engagement focus is concerned with the interactions beyond the user, with the impact of a specific solution or service on its users but also all the other inhabitants of the public space that the solution comes into. This is important because cities, public spaces, are complex environments where multiple perspectives coexist, and they are profoundly different from hypothetical scenarios or controlled environments where new products or services may have been tested before.
To dive into the above, we structured the module in two sessions: theory and practice. The theory session laid the foundation of what we understand as Citizen Engagement, presenting qualitative research methods to be used in a natural setting (the real world) to evaluate the implementation and use of a solution from a citizen perspective. Following this presentation, participants of the course gathered in Rotterdam for a three-hour practical workshop where they prepared and executed a hypothetical citizen engagement research, going out on the streets and interacting with inhabitants of the city. Showing the importance of using mixed methods and approaches was crucial, since “what people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things”, as Anthropologist Margaret Mead said.