[Version 3.0 - Update 08/11/13]
What are Dublin City Beta Projects?
Dublin needs to be able to innovate – and to innovate you need to be able to experiment and to then learn from those experiments.
This is a new approach by Dublin City Council to encourage, support and facilitate experimentation and innovation in this great city. We’re suggesting that we call these projects ‘Dublin City Beta Projects’ (adopting the computer language of ‘beta testing’).
Beta Projects are a systematic approach for a city to discuss issues and opportunities, co-create solutions, and prototype them ‘on the street’ for measurement and debate.
Characteristics of Beta Projects:
- Look for your input, feedback and suggestions!
- As the idea will often feel like an ‘early draft’ idea, people feel like they’re able to input, and that their feedback or suggestions could be included.
- At the moment Dublin City Council doesn’t tend to directly ask for feedback (we assume we will source our own feedback internally within Dublin City Council). Beta Projects will always directly ask for feedback – so get in touch!
- Why something’s being trialled, why is this project (not that other project) being trialled, why in that location (in the case of a physical trial), how much the trial cost, etc – are all important aspects to help people understand the thinking behind a trial…and it’s not until they’re given that information can they properly give really good advice and input into a debate. Beta Projects try to be really transparent (almost always – there’s the odd time where being transparent about a trial might affect the results. In those cases, they’ll be slightly less transparent before the trial, but will be afterwards updated with full details).
- Are clearly highlighted as ‘trials’.
- At the moment Dublin City Council doesn’t tend to highlight trials very well. (Did you know that we trial things all the time?) Beta Projects will clearly mention that they’re a trial, will highlight that they’re a temporary project (very often with a review date, but that tends to depend on the trial), and of course will ask for your feedback and suggestions.
- Not everyone’s online or on social media. Equally you might spot something as you walk home, but not realise it’s a trial. Therefore all (physical) Beta Projects will have a distinct Beta Project sign on them. (If an idea is later ‘adopted’ by Dublin, the later non-Beta versions of the idea won’t have these signs as they won’t be trials any longer.)
- Are short trials.
- Trials are done in order to test assumptions that you’ve made. Beta Projects will aim to only be as long as is necessary to test whatever assumptions they’re trying to test. That way ideas will be iterated much faster – and therefore Dublin will more quickly get to its vision.
- The trials could last days, weeks or months, but generally wouldn’t be longer than a year or so.
- Are flexible to change.
- Beta Projects will trial ideas, away from the ‘realities’ or ‘pressures’ of a ‘real’ project. Dublin City Council ‘trials’ ideas all the time, but generally as part of a ‘real’ project (for example the LED lights in Smithfield). We guess the difference between a ‘trial’ and a ‘Beta Project’ might be the headache-factor. If something has to be changed in a Beta Project it generally wouldn’t cause any problems at all, and likely could be really easily done – whereas in a ‘real’ project, it’ll probably cause headaches and cost.
- In order to minimise any concerns or blockages that can get in the way of being as open as possible to trialling new ideas, Beta Projects will be done in a reversible way. (As an example the traffic light boxes in this Beta Project could have been repainted grey within a few hours notice if they were found to cause some unforeseen and major problem.)
- Are generally trialled for very low sums of money. This is done on purpose:
- It helps minimise any concerns or blockages that can get in the way of being as open as possible to trialling new ideas. If you’ve only spending €300 (as opposed to €300,000 for example) on a trial, it’s really not much risk at all to give it a shot.
- It helps prevent people (and Dublin City Council) from getting defensive about projects. In fact it’s almost a Beta Project motto to say “for all I know this is a terrible idea”.
(You obviously don’t think it is, otherwise you wouldn’t even try it, but you’re working off a whole set lot of assumptions – and for all you know you’re wrong. That’s fine…Dublin will only have invested a tiny amount of money, time and energy, but will likely have learned a lot!)
- Beta Projects don’t have any budget limits. The lowest cost one to date has been €0, the most expensive €1067 (as of 22/03/13). However they will tend to look to constrain costs, mainly because of the above two reasons.
(This purely applies to the trial, and not necessarily the expansion of an ‘adopted’ idea – in fact, it makes sense to spend larger budgets once something has proven itself to have the various Beta Criteria – as it will tend to imply good returns on investment for Dublin.)
- Are generally planned quickly. Again, this is done on purpose:
- It helps prevent people (and Dublin City Council) from getting defensive about projects. (For example, if you’ve only spent a day or two on a project, you’ll find it much easier to say “that’s fine – I only spent a tiny amount of time on it. I totally agree with your suggestions, let’s try that next time.”)
- It helps people (and Dublin City Council) focus on the actual issue that it’s hoping to solve/explore. It’s helps move their thinking away from issues such as planning permissions, legislation changes, top-down masterplans, etc. Generally for short-term trials, they aren’t an issue, and if an idea really proves itself to be a fantastic idea but needs some Big Solving (legislation, etc), then at that point we can focus on that knowing that it’s for something that’s definitely worth all the work and cost.
- There’s a great phrase which Eric Ries uses in The Lean Startup - “successfully achieving failure” - keeping a project ‘light’ helps ensure focus on the real issue, rather than getting hung up in delivering a ‘good’ project on time, on budget, and so on – which aren’t suitable metrics for experiments.
(“Learning” is the correct metric – and as much as possible, as fast as possible, for as little resource-input as possible, and of course making sure you’re learning about the ‘right’ things!)
What are Dublin City Beta Projects macro and micro?
We split the debate to enable people to solely focus on one aspect at a time. Not all concepts suit all locations. By trying a good concept in an unsuitable location or manner can often cause a perfectly good concept to be discarded. Especially when it appears as ‘unfamiliar’ or ‘new’ (and so tends to makes people wary, or can activate the ‘corporate immune system’ of the Council).
Therefore, we’ve created two types of Beta Project – macro and micro – to allow the debate to take place over two separate steps as required.
All Beta Projects to date – writing this November ’13 – have been of the macro type. We’ve had the micro type in mind for over a year, and it arose from three sources:
- Requests and suggestions for trials which weren’t about citywide concepts, but which wanted to be able to use the Beta Project approach on specific projects and/or at specific locations.
- Whilst looking for a simple mechanism that would enable concepts to scale across the city. (For example how to scale a concept from a trial on 11 traffic light boxes to potentially 800 boxes across the city.)
- Whilst thinking about the above item 2, we also wanted to find a way that local communities would be able to personalise and tweak a policy to best suit their community and neighbourhood and assets.
What is a Beta Project macro?
A Beta Project macro looks at CITYWIDE CONCEPTS.
They’re about POLICY, PERMISSIONS and PROCEDURES. They’re trialled within a designated “Beta Area” in Dublin.
This process explores the general ‘underlying system’ aspects of ideas such as: Would the concept be good for the city, and why? If the idea was to be adopted by Dublin; how should it be run, who should pay for it, who should insure it, who should be able to propose it for specific locations, who needs to ‘approve’ it, how much Council involvement (if at all) does it require…….and so on.
Use an abstract phrase when thinking about these. Example: “In Dublin, should one be allowed to XXX? If so, what general conditions should one have to follow to do XXX?”
What is a Beta Project micro?
A Beta Project micro is concerned with the LOCAL SPECIFICS.
They’re about PLACE, PEOPLE and (local) POLITICS. They are trialled at the relevant location, anywhere in Dublin.
This process explores the specifics that are required when looking at a solution for a particular place and community. What do we think of solution X, at location Y, being run by Z?
Use a specific phrase when thinking about these. Example: “We want to trial closing Joe Bloggs Lane on Sundays 2pm – 6pm to allow local children to play on the street. Street Ambassador Murphy will follow the pre-agreed ‘Play Street’ method for 4 weeks before re-consulting neighbours.”
Here’s an example from twitter:
I wonder would @DubCityCouncil consider putting allotments on the Granby Park site after the pop up is finished?
— Laura / Dublin Diary (@TheDublinDiary) September 12, 2013
If Laura chose to take on this project, she would have to do TWO things – look into policy, permissions and procedures – often quite technical areas – AND look into all the specifics of doing the actual project (finding people to help her, looking for funding, finding the time to do it, and so on).
Dave Smith from Mabos touches on this ‘technical’ aspect at his 2013 TEDxDublin talk. (Jump to 11 minutes.)
Having to look after two, very different aspects (requiring very different skillsets) is often a step too far for everyone but the most-driven, and even for those, it saps their energy…energy that would likely be otherwise used to benefit the city in other ways.
Is there any link between the macro and micro Beta Project types?
The macro type exists to support the micro type. When being carried out, they are independent of one another. Suggestions for a Beta Project macro might either be triggered by a micro one or might be a direct request for a Beta Project macro to explore City policy with regard to an idea.
Above, we first outline the macro type, and then the micro type, as it makes most sense that way…but we find that they generally will arise in the reverse order. People will want to look at something specific (for example, perhaps it’s something in their everyday life or local neighbourhood that they’d like to look at), and so will aim to run a Beta Project micro. That in turn may trigger the need for a Beta Project macro if their idea contains elements that Dublin (ie Council, residents, businesses, etc) hasn’t yet firmed up policy for.
Beta Projects macro only need to be used when city-wide policy matters need debating, tweaking and real-world measuring (to test the assumptions that people often hold about new, or little-known, concepts).
A Beta Project macro results in a decision purely ‘on paper’. It is aiming to clarify the situation around an idea.
Once that has been clarified, Beta Projects micro only have to concern themselves with tweaking that policy to suit their local conditions and the DETAIL (people, funding, owner permissions, etc) of their project – which is usually a lot of work in itself! It is also via Beta Projects micro, that actual changes in neighbourhoods will take place.
As this is a new approach (and there are a lot of policies in the city which people would like looked at), we expect that there will be a lot of Beta Projects macro initially, but that they will likely die back to a constant trickle later.
When that happens, that will likely mean that Dublin will have reached a point of equilibrium (between all of the various people and interests that make up the city – ie “stakeholders”) and likely will be at the forefront of cities anywhere in the world.
As part of developing up the Beta Projects mechanism, we’ve naturally encountered many civic-innovation mechanisms around the world, and this macro/micro stepped approach would appear to be unique, and may be a world first.
Please get in touch if you know of an example that you think we should be looking at!
Equally this is iteration 3 of this page…the Beta Projects mechanism is constantly evolving as it problem-solves as it goes, and also as people make suggestions…as always, any feedback and suggestions would be fantastic!