In this blog post Sue Brownill and Ben Spencer from Oxford Brookes University and Lorenzo Tripodi from Tesserae report on a workshop on Co-Creation methods workshop held in Oxford.
What is onion mapping?
Onion mapping may sound like a boring way to capture agricultural production but in reality it is an exciting and creative method of ‘layering’ maps of a locality produced by different people like the rings of an onion. This layering can both help make sense of the complexity of cities and reveal similarities, tensions, points of coming together and absences. It formed a central part of a one day workshop in Co-Creation methods held in Oxford on 20th June 2018 which brought together researchers and research students from Oxford Brookes University and was led by Lorenzo Tripodi from Tessarae, one of the NGO partners in the CoCreation network.
The aim of the workshop was to share the skills and knowledge about CoCreation methods Tessarae and Lorenzo have built up over 20 years of practice. We also wanted to trial some ideas we could use in the Santa Marta workshop in Rio in August and the case studies which form part of the next stage of the project and to reflect on how to apply the methods in our own research. The workshop was attended by 15 people including PhD students, early career researchers and other members of the CoCreation team at Brookes.
Lorenzo started by outlining the work of Tessarae and the Urban Reconnaissance methodology that has evolved out of it. Urban Reconnaissance is developed as a toolset for understanding and dis-entangling urban complexities. It is presented as an online device that displays a collection of sixty-four different definitions of the word “city”, each accompanied by a related exercise for a spatial / conceptual exploration. All together, the 64 definitions compose a matrix of constitutive elements of urbanity that can be employed to facilitate collective processes and discussions. The methodology can be used to explore a bounded context like a neighbourhood, an area affected by a plan or the surroundings of a specific project. It can be applied to an entire city or a single street. An UR workshop can be developed with a participatory and political approach to spatial development, for practical design purposes or as a tool for artistic practice or documentary projects. The Urban Reconnaissance methodology can be applied to the purpose of investigating the history of a territory, to analyse its existing conditions and current transformations, and as a preparatory step for project interventions or local policy making. Different types of workshops can be arranged starting from a basic structure adapted to different situations and purposes.
Doing onion mapping
Onion mapping links to UR as a way of visualising the different elements of the city and the varied responses of different interests and people to it. Very simply it involves having an A3 map of an area, a board, tracing paper and pens. People put the tracing paper over the map and mark on it sites, comments, emotions, observations. Completed maps are then layered over one another to reveal those points of intersection and divergence mentioned above.
We did the mapping around the Brookes campus. Each of us chose one spoke in the wheel of Urban Reconnaissance and spent 30 minutes analysing the campus from this perspective. Then we came back together to compare results. One of us walked the boundary to see if the University welcomed or excluded the public in general; another looked at mobility and how easy or not it was to travel around the campus and get to it on different modes of transport; another mapped her emotions about being in different spaces on the campus; another looked at the role of culture (given it was graduation week there was a lot going on). Coming together and discussing these maps enabled us to appreciate the many different ways you can see one place. But it also pointed to the key role played by some spaces, such as the central quad, which appeared to be significant in many maps.
Putting it into practice
The workshop was a tremendous success in familiarising people to the CoCreation project and methods; we even got more people to sign up as contributors as a result! But it also inspired others to use mapping in their teaching and research. One participant is going to build it into her undergraduate module and Sue and Ben were able to work with Lorenzo in two communities in Oxford, Rose Hill and Barton, involved in a related project on urban mobilities. The project is focused on how the way people move around their localities affects their health and what barriers there are to healthier mobility. We wanted to ask people to map their journeys by foot or bike and to comment on the map about what makes it easy of difficult to move around and how it impacts on their health.
The workshop got us thinking about the process of co-creation and also the role of these processes in research and universities at present. It made us realise how important it is, firstly, to think about what people and communities want out of the process. Secondly, it became clear how important it is to have the right materials; just getting maps printed, boards organised and tracing paper organised takes longer than you would think. All this needs planning. Then there are the tensions between the different timescales and objectives of university researchers needing outputs and data for their projects relatively quickly and a co-creation process that, to be meaningful, takes a long time and may result in different outcomes. Nevertheless the energy and ideas that were sparked from the workshop showed how positive the experience of CoCreation can be.