Beta Projects – Policy and Place

People discussing new ideas often find themselves doing two things at the same time – discussing general and wide-ranging policy, and discussing the detail of implementation at a specific location or within a specific community.

Beta Projects therefore can be split into two types – Beta Project policy and Beta Project place – and we would like to discuss these a bit more below.

BETA_policy         BETA_place

If commenting on social media, please add #DCCbeta to help everyone follow the conversation.

Some examples of ‘new ideas’ encountering problems…

York Street Housing
(Dublin City Council’s York Street housing. Issues with the thermal solar panels here raised questions around the use of thermal solar panels in social housing. The reality was a management issue connected to unauthorised rooftop access. It’s an example of a new-concept and local-specific issues being conflated.)

Also, if you’re trying to do something very new, you have to work your case on two levels.

Here’s an example from twitter:

If Laura chose to push for this project to happen, she would have to do TWO things – look into policy, permissions and products – 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.

5 reasons why trials are split between 2 stages/debates:

  1. When new ideas are being implemented (anywhere) and something goes wrong, the new idea will usually get the blame, whereas often it’s the case that it was simply the wrong place to use such an idea, or perhaps there was another cause for why things went awry.
  2. If you’re trying to implement a new idea, you will often have two battles. The battle around establishing a new concept, and then also all of the usual work of actually implementing it (funding, people, permissions, and so forth). That’s a lot of work. Each one also often requires quite different skillsets. Therefore many people run out of either energy or passion before they manage to implement their new idea.
  3. By splitting the debate it allows a generic concept to be first established, and then allows for a second stage for local communities to tweak generic ideas to better suit their locality and preferences  (ie getting away from a ‘one solutions fits all’ approach).
  4. Just because an idea worked at small scale, it may not scale so well, or may not suit all locations. (And a trial carried out at a city-centre location might have very different results when does in a suburb, and vice-versa.)
  5. Just because a lot of people will have been aware of the initial trial(s), the majority of people still may not have heard of it, so to them it’ll be appearing out of the blue.

So a brand-new idea will follow two stages – general policy trials (somewhere in the city), and specific location trials (at the relevant location). This enabless people to solely focus on one aspect at a time, and to allow the debate to take place over two separate steps as required. Ie they follow a ‘double-lock’ mechanism.

We call these Beta Projects policy and Beta Projects place. 

Beta Project policy


  1. Looks at citywide problems/opportunities.
  2. The final outcome is aiming for a generic, citywide-transferable, policy.
  3. Trialled in a reversible way as the default end result is full removal. (Here’s why!)
  4. Trialled in close proximity to DCC staff (at a ‘Goldilocks’ location – not too hot, not too cold – an ‘average’ location) and highlighted with blue Beta Project policy signage.Project Area - macro
  5. Looks only at the wider-policy picture and therefore tends to be assessed against a wide range of metrics.
  6. DCC staff lead these projects (they’re looking at new policies and so have more unknowns and uncertainty and require more learning on the part of DCC) with citizen participants.
  7. Final outcome of successful trials is queuing for corporate policy adoption. (Eg formalise planning, funding, any legal issues, internal staff allocation, etc.)

Beta Project place


  1. Aims for a specific, local, solution.
  2. Local problem/opportunity, so local-tailored solutions.
  3. Trialled in a flexible way as the default end result is implementation.
  4. Trialled at the relevant location anywhere in the city (highlighted with orange Beta Project place signage).Project Area - micro
  5. Looks only at the local picture and therefore tends to be assessed against a narrower range of metrics than a Beta Project policy.
  6. Local citizens or DCC staff lead on these projects (as the people who know their neighbourhood best), but with some DCC requirement to be involved (in a ‘Switzerland’ role to ensure all citizens are considered).
  7. Final outcome of successful trials is queuing for local implementation (if further DCC involvement is required). (Eg including in DCC budgets, works programmes for the area, local plans, etc.)

Some examples of how these two steps might work…

Example 1:

The traffic light box artworks Beta Project was a Beta Project policy. It was looking to see whether such an idea make sense at all, and if so how best to do it

Beta - Traffic Light Box 8 - AnnaDoran

Now that this idea has been adopted as policy, it would make sense to allow local neighbourhoods and communities to decide on whether they want it in their neighbourhood (there’s a good chance they may not have seen the macro trial, and so it’s the first time they’re seeing or hearing about it!), and also to give people the chance to perhaps tweak the idea to better reflect their area. For example one area of the city might decide that they prefer the grey boxes, others might decide that they want them to reflect the culture of their area, another neighbourhood might decide that they’d like them to touch on the history of their neighbourhood…and so on.

Providing a second trial stage – Beta Projects place – allows for that. It wouldn’t be debating the general idea (if it’s got to that stage, it’s already been established as a good idea), it would be debating the specifics of implementation of that idea.

There’s no need to keep debating it following this local phase – it just becomes ‘standard’ for the area.

Example 2:

The below example is of Essex Street West next to Dublin City Council’s Civic Offices. Between 11.00-06.00 it’s closed to traffic (via the use of the signage) and also was physically closed off (via the use of temporary bollards).

A Beta Project policy would debate the concept of whether to allow roads to be closed to vehicular traffic within certain times, and if so what’s the best way to do so? (Ie what policies would need to be put in place, what should such procedures look like, what products might be acceptable and best solution…and so on.)

A trial would be implemented somewhere (in the blue zone above). It would be only discussing the general concept and observing how it worked in the real world.

IF such a concept was found to work well (it might take several trials to find a solution that worked well, that a majority were happy with), the next questions that arose would be about using it.

A Beta Project place would allow the above general concept to be trialled on specific streets to see how it actually works at that particular spot, and to allow locals to input and tweak the idea.

So the general concept might be trialled on 500 different streets across Dublin, as per requests from citizens, businesses and so on.

Beta Projects - policy and place

So trials begin as very small, general, trials, then perhaps lots of local trials, then perhaps become ‘business as usual’ and perhaps spread beyond Dublin City and Council.

Beta - Acceleration through Council and Dublin


  • Do you think it’s useful to have the two stages?
  • Do you have any questions about the two types?
  • We used to call these two stages “macro” and “micro and we’re now proposing the names “policy” and “place”, (we found macro/micro didn’t work well). We’ll now trial using them to see how they work, and if you’d like to suggest other names, please just let us know in the comments below!
  • Any other thoughts or suggestions?

About Dublin City Council beta

Dublin City Council are trying a new method called DCC Beta Projects...your input, then quick trials 'on the street', then your feedback! We'd LOVE your help!
This entry was posted in 1. Identity, Communication & Ownership, Beta Project macro, Beta Project micro, Beta Projects, General Thoughts & Future Betas, Shane, Strategy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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