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 will test ideas which apply city-wide.
- As a corollory, if too site-specific, they will have limited growth potential and so wouldn’t be considered a ‘Beta’.
- Beta Projects test concepts.
- They’re aiming to test a concept rather than the local specifics.
- The best way to explain this is with an example. See this parklet Beta Project. It was asking the question “What does Dublin think about the idea of Parklets? Great? Terrible?” It wasn’t asking “Would you like to see a Parklet that looks like X and located here at Y?” (Of course if location is a critical part of the concept, then that’s likely a very different situation.)
- The reason to separate the concept question from the local-specifics question is that is helps an idea move forward. First we’ll debate the concept at city-wide level…later it’ll then allow us to specifically debate local specifics. “I think the Rathmines Road Parklet would work better on the other side of the road because of XXX.” (That local-specific debate would be by one of the multitude of other local mechanisms that Dublin City Council uses – such as Local Area Plans, local masterplans, specific projects in an area…and so on.)
- Ideas will be tested directly ‘on the street‘.
- When an idea is made real very early on, it allows for immediate feedback and observation of whether (and often more importantly) how it’s used. This will often take the idea in unexpected directions and guides the idea towards what people want from it, and towards what it could/should be.
- Also, to quote Steve Jobs – “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (This article also discusses something similar.)
- We’re looking 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).
- They’re 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 bright yellow 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.)
- Beta Projects will be 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.
- Beta Projects will be 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.)
- Beta Projects 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.)
- Beta Projects 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!)
- All of the Beta Projects are carried out in a specific test area.
- We call this the ‘Beta Area‘. (Another phrase would be a geographical sandbox.)
- It helps focus on the fact that only the concept is being tested, nothing to do with the specifics of location.
- It also helps prevent IMBY behaviour (ie In My BackYard). Usually NIMBY-thinking (Not In My BackYard) can be an issue – but we’ve tended to find with Beta Projects that people WANT new ideas that they’d love to see in Dublin near them. (Of course, later on that’s exactly the intention…if an idea makes sense, Dublin will likely want to roll it out everywhere!)