Making public engagement engaging | Megan Leckie | TEDxStHelier


Translator: Christopher Vidler
Reviewer: Denise RQ Public engagement isn’t very engaging. It’s a huge part of development,
and it’s broken. It isn’t run well, and it isn’t doing
what it’s supposed to be doing. A lot of the time, town planning meetings
and things like this are full of loud, angry people
screaming at each other and not listening to
anybody else’s opinions. They just want to say what they think, and they’re not really willing
to be open-minded about the situation. Or the way people are trying to engage
with the public isn’t done very well, so, they’ll send out
leaflets or flyers and say, “What do you think of this development
on a scale of 1 to10?” or they’ll ask people
once the development has been decided what it is that they’d like to have done,
and this just isn’t a good way to work. I think they also preach to the converted, so, a lot of the time, the people
that do get coming along to these things already have set opinions,
and they’re already engaged in it. I don’t have a solution to this, but there is a specific area within this
that we’re trying to tackle, and that’s kids. Kids aren’t included in these discussions
or they very rarely are, and they should be. They should be asked what they think,
and what they want, and sometimes developments will put in
a slide or a skate park, and say, “Well, that’s what kids want,
because they’re kids.” How do you know
if you’re not asking them? How do you know
if you’re not including them? I think kids are underestimated
a lot of the time, and it’s like,
“They’re not mature enough,” or “They don’t know enough
about the environment.” The adults do, but the kids don’t,
and they’ll like whatever’s there. But these are the people
that have to live with it the longest, they’re the people that have to live in this community
for the most amount of time. And I think that by not asking them, you’re ignoring a big part
of the community; how can you have community engagement
when you’re not including everybody in it? Another part of this is technology. Kids who were born in 2006 haven’t lived
in a world without an iPhone, and 3D printing is going
to be the norm for them. If you aren’t engaging well with kids, or if you think that it’s difficult
to “get through to the youth”, then maybe this is
how you should be doing it: with digital technology. This is being used quite a lot
in education now, and within the school syllabus, and there are a lot
of great teachers and schools that are trying to push
this kind of stuff forwards, and they’ve realised
if you engage kids in something using what they’re good at, they will actively learn
rather than passively sitting there and just taking in information
and not really retaining it. And it’s great that it’s being used
within education, but it shouldn’t stop there, and it shouldn’t just be used at home
for recreation either. There are other ways that it can be used. So this is what we do,
this is what Joe and I do. We run a thing called “BlockBuilders”,
and we use digital technology to engage kids in their community
and in their environment. We started in September. We graduated a year ago from university, and it was part
of Joe’s final year project. We really enjoyed doing it, and we realised that this is
what we wanted to do afterwards, and that this actually works quite well. And so we started it full-time,
we started running workshops, and the main tool
that we use is Minecraft. So Minecraft is like digital Lego, and you can build blocks
within the game, and make buildings, and all that kind of thing. We realized that this
was something that kids love. It’s like, if you haven’t heard of Minecraft,
I would be a little bit surprised; it’s everywhere,
it’s a hugely popular game. And so this is the best thing we thought we could use
for what we want to do. So, for our workshops, kids come along, and we’ll normally get an expert,
or if there isn’t one, Joe and I will speak about the development
and what’s going to happen, and the kids will listen
to what they have to say. And then the kids will sit down
and talk about it, and talk about the issues with it, and say what they like,
and what they dislike, because kids are much better
at deliberation than adults. Kids will sit and talk, and they are
brutally honest about stuff, which can be great,
but they’re also really open-minded. So where you’ll get adults
who won’t listen, or they don’t want to change their minds, when someone else gives them an opinion
they don’t want to hear it all the time, if kids like what someone else is saying, they’ll say, “Maybe you’re right,”
and they’ll listen. So this is what we have
at the beginning of our workshops, the kids will sit down and talk
about the issues and the ideas and what they like
and dislike about the area. And then, they go on to the game, and they sit down
and they build in Minecraft together. So we have kids collaboratively building
and recreating their communities. And a lot of adults say to us, “You must get a lot of roller coasters,”
and all this kind of stuff, and yeah, sometimes we do, but we get
some really amazing designs as well: solar energy, and green energy,
– solar panels on everything, they’re everywhere,
on everything that the kids build – and we do get
some fascinating designs from them. So they do this process,
they sit down and build together, and they talk about it, and it’s great
to watch them work together, because they’ll get a set space that Joe and I will build beforehand
for whichever redevelopment it is, and they have to build in this space, so they have to talk to each other
about where everything’s going to go, and how it will work,
and they have to do that as a group. Then, when they finished, we take their designs,
and we get them 3D printed, and we get little, architectural,
full-colour models that adults can understand and pick up,
because there is something that exists, and they can say, “So this is Minecraft,
this is what they’ve done, I understand this, this is cool!” And then… And then we hold exhibitions. We showcase what the kids have done, and we’ll invite along members
of the community, MPs, councillors, etc. Back in January we had an exhibition; we are from Brighton,
we do a lot of work in Brighton, we are the only place in the country
that has a green MP, Caroline Lucas. And she came and did a great speech,
everybody was listening to her, and then six-year old Stanley followed her
and he stood there and blew her away. He did this amazing speech
in front of all of these people, and did a little dance at the end,
and he was so confident. He just didn’t care that there were all these people
standing there, watching him talk. This gives kids the confidence
to stand there and do this kind of stuff, because they love it,
and they’re really good at it. They are experts in this digital world. So, if you say to them, “I want you to go and stand up
in front of all these people, and talk about a book,”
or something like that, something they’re not actively engaged in, they might be a bit nervous
and might not want to do it. We’ve never had that problem,
asking kids to speak in front of people about Minecraft,
and about what they’ve built in Minecraft, and in fact, it’s really difficult to get them to stop talking
about what they’ve built in Minecraft. I think that this is fascinating,
and this is the way it should be used. But I said at the beginning
that people don’t include kids, so it’s not really fair of us to say,
“We’re not going to include anyone else.” We’ve started to include adults
in this process as well. So, a few weeks ago, we did
a big project for the Brighton Council. We asked adults to come along
and older residents to join the kids, and it was really interesting, because the adults weren’t screaming,
they weren’t shouting, they weren’t swearing,
they weren’t getting angry at each other, and they started to listen to each other
because the kids were doing it. And I think it would be
an interesting thing to do in the middle of a town planning meeting, to have adults
who are disagreeing with each other, and then bring in a group of kids,
who are working perfectly well together. They’re loud, and they’re noisy, but it’s in a really positive way,
and it works really well. We had one woman
who said something really interesting. She said there needs to be more of this,
it shouldn’t be us versus them, it shouldn’t be all the stigmas
that surround different age groups, it shouldn’t be older people thinking kids are just going to make a mess
and that they’re going to be loud, and it shouldn’t be young people
thinking older people are boring. It shouldn’t be this way. It should be people working together,
that’s how you bring a community together. You get people to talk and listen,
and it works really well with kids there. And Minecraft is a tool
that everybody can use; and it’s simple, you can play it
regardless of your background, or your age, your gender, etc. There’s a lot of people
that can’t draw well, can’t write well, can’t speak well. This takes away all of that,
and gives everybody a level playing field where you have blocks,
a character, and a mouse, and you just have to press these buttons,
and you can build something really cool. We all have a certain amount of influence. If you’re just a person, an individual, you may be able to influence yourself,
your friends, your family, a little bit of your community. It’s harder to influence the town,
the city, the country, the world. If you start working together,
and start talking to each other, and have a cohesive community
that is collaborating on ideas, this can widen the influence;
you can influence more things. So this is what we do. It’s something quite small, and we get
to give kids a bit of confidence, and we get to try and involve them
in their community. We think this is really valuable, even if it’s just a couple of kids
that build something and love it, and then it gets built, it gets made, and that makes them
feel really happy and included, so as they grow up,
they want to be included, and they want to be a part
of the community; that’s great. But it’s just a small little project
that Joe and I do, that we love, and that’s our influence. So, what will yours be? Thank you. (Applause)

Michael Martin

2 Responses

  1. Wow, what an amazing talk Megan has hosted here. Her passion is obvious, and her goals are clear. This is a hugely interesting and inviting way for adults to engage the next generation in their future. As it is just that; their future. They will be the ones to benefit or not from the decisions made, so they therefore should have an influence, if appropriate. Well done, an eye opener!

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