Tuesday 9 July 2013

Desire Lines

The start of the Spen Valley Greenway & the Calder & Hebble Navigation Canal
The start of the Spen Valley Greenway & the Calder & Hebble Navigation Canal for SE2320
 © Copyright Nigel Homer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
We have been conducting a 'communications audit' in Education Technology Team at University of Birmingham, Med School.  I've also been a part of space exploration in Kings Heath, and last week I went to the first meeting of an exciting Sustrans project to transform Kings Heath -  This is a national programme that will focus on engaging local communities in the redesign of areas around schools & elsewhere with a view to making them safer and more attractive for walking & cycling.  Sustrans presented some fabulous means of engaging local residents in re-designing roads around them in a range of different settings, from rural to city centre.

At first it may not seem so obvious what similarities a 'communications audit' might have with a street re-design, but the first, and most important one is desire lines.  Put simply, design using 'desire line principles' is about following routes that people take, and incorporating it into a plan or design. For a 'communication audit', it's about finding out how people, individuals within an organisation and outside it, communicate, and designing a 'communications strategy' around those desires.

The temptation with street/path designs and communication strategies is to look for the most efficient, quickest routes.  Where this falls apart is failure to consider the people using them.  It may be that 'people' have found a more efficient route, or that a route has other advantages to people using them.

At Spen Valley Greenway, Richard Harris talks about 'desire lines' to shortening routes, and 'lines of desire', lengthening routes to develop a 'relationship' between the people using the route and the route itself:

"Lines of desire, curve and gently tilted paths rise above...concerned with the way people move through a space.  I hope the relationship is parked and then develops as people continue on their journey - at whatever speed - and that this relationship continues to develop in subsequent journeys and pauses along the way."
His commments echo Gaston Bachelard in 'The Poetics of Space'.

In communications, I think this means looking at the most efficient communications media, the communications that most people use, as well as communications that might inspire people, take ownership of that communal 'space' to reflect and continue to develop in subsequent 'communications'.

For instance, blogging or twitter may be effective communication channels, but as a team we may decide to rely more on storify partly for qualities of efficient communication of the information we want to communicate, but also to recognise the patterns of communications we already use, and to reflect and inspire learning and develop confidence in communicating our ideas in our own space.

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