How

Stages of a Beta Project

BETA_general

Beta Projects follow an A-F process (and tend to be grouped into twos as below).

  • Step A: Awareness
    What’s the issue or opportunity that needs looking at?
    Awareness of an issue can come in three different ways…

      1. ‘Bottom-up’ – based on citizens’s suggestions.
      2. ‘Middle-out’ – based on everyday awareness of an issue or opportunity by Dublin City Council’s staff.
      3. ‘Top-down’ – based on issues raised by Dublin City Council’s management or Central Government policy changes, or EU policy changes, etc.
  • Step B: Baseline
    What’s the situation around it as of today? How much do we spend on the current solution? Are there other issues that directly or indirectly result out of the issue? What’s the ‘dark matter‘ around the topic? And so on.
  • Step C: Create
    Knowing A+B above, what are all of the various ways this could be solved?
  • Step D: Decide
    Let’s prioritise those various solutions.
  • Step E: Effect, Evaluate, Evolve
    Let’s prototype solutions in that order of priority to test all of the assumptions around it. As necessary, let’s evolve the idea over multiple iterations.
  • Step F: Formalise
    Once we’ve found a solution that would seem to work well (for everyone/most people in the city), we can move to ‘formalise’ it as necessary.

    • For Beta Projects macro: Let’s formalise the idea in an open report (which should be both easy to find, and easy to read and understand). 
      As necessary, let’s adopt whatever policy arrangements are required to formalise the idea…this could include resolving any planning issues, financial/staffing/departmental issues (eg how the business model might work), legal issues, procurement, Council policies, and so on.
    • For Beta Projects micro: The trial might now be formalised…this could simply be ‘the official OK’ for a project, or it might be planning permission, or perhaps building ‘hard’ infrastructure.

The above general steps are further broken into a series of specific mini-steps and you can follow a Beta Project’s path as it progresses through the various stages.

Kanban Thumbnail

There is a Beta Report Card at the end of each iteration, and each blog post is updated from time-to-time once there’s some news on this particular Beta Project, or with comments or relevant pieces of information from other sources – such as your comments on Beta’s Facebook page or Twitter account.

Beta Projects macro / micro

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).

You might hear “that idea didn’t work”. The reality is often more nuanced…

  • Perhaps it was a good idea, but just carried out in the wrong way.
  • Perhaps it was a good idea, but just carried out in the wrong place.

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.

We therefore split Beta Projects into two types to enable people to solely focus on one aspect at a time, and to allow the debate to take place over two separate steps as required.

We call these Beta Projects macro and Beta Projects micro.

Beta Projects macro

BETA_macro

  • It looks at citywide concepts.
  • They’re about (citywide) policy, (citywide) procedures, and (citywide) products.
  • They’re trialled in close proximity to most Dublin City Council staff.

Project Area - macro

Beta Projects micro

BETA_micro

  • It looks at local specifics.
  • They’re about (local) people, (local) place, and (local) politics.
  • They are trialled at the location in question.

Project Area - micro

Are the macro and micro types connected?

If, or when, a good solution is found as a result of a Beta Project macro, it will be formalised as necessary into Council policy. It’ll then be available for local neighbourhoods and communities to trial locally as Beta Projects micro. Ie…

A Beta Project macro is about expanding the tools available to us.
A Beta Project micro  is about deciding which tool to use and how.

Beta Process - macro and micro

This double-step process allows for people to debate one aspect at a time (the concept first, and then only later where/whether to implement that idea). It also enables communities the opportunity to tweak generic ideas to better suit their locality and preferences.

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.

Examples

Example 1:

The traffic light box artworks Beta Project was a Beta Project macro. 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

IF such an idea was to be expanded, 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 micro – 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.

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 macro 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 micro 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 macro micro

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

All Beta Projects to date have been of the macro type. We’ve had the micro type in mind for over a year, and it arose from three sources:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

2 Responses to How

  1. Pingback: Bike Hangar | Dublin Beta Projects

  2. Pingback: Love Actually? | Dublin Beta Projects

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