I recently joined my local Town Team, a collection of residents, business owners and others seeking to improve their neighbourhood in north London. At our inaugural meeting, we were presented data about how people use the high street – footfall, purchases, preferences etc. Whilst interesting, this data was limited – it didn’t tell us what these people really needed and wanted from the high street.
What to do?
I proposed to run a co-creation exercise with my fellow citizens to discover needs and create ideas to re-imagine the neighbourhood. After all, after air traffic control and Europe-wide food traceability systems, how hard can it be?
The Town Team agreed. We ran short creativity workshops with different groups of people who produced simple mood boards, removed constraints to open up spaces of new ideas, and generated concepts to increase the convenience of the town centre, and people’s connections with and participation in it. We also undertook table-top walkthroughs allowing people to describe how they used the high street, problems they’ve experienced and ideas that they have. We even set up a web-based tool to encourage asynchronous idea generation.
Fortunately for us, people engaged in the co-creation process, and exploited a chance for proper consultation.
But what took me so by surprise was the range and novelty of the ideas that all of these people generated using just a few simple creativity techniques. Ideas about the architecture and the street layout, about the amenities and their information needs, and about all forms of new service that they needed.
I was struck. Empowering citizens with even simple techniques and tools seemed to lead to a step increase in creative outcomes.
And whilst I’m under no illusions about some of the challenges ahead to innovate and implement these ideas, the potential to be creative during this innovation process is clear.
All of this got me thinking. What could the creative citizen achieve more widely if empowered with just a few, simple creativity techniques? Why should these techniques be the preserve of designers and consultants? And how could everyone learn and adopt a few techniques?
I wonder if what we need is Martini-creativity? Creativity that is anytime, anyplace, anywhere – made possible through simple to learn, quick to use techniques and tools, available to all?