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Athabasca designers to pursue two solutions to communication issues

Community connector, campfire connection events selected as first ideas to implement as facilitated sessions wrap up
Athabasca locals Argentine Imarakinda and seven-month-old son Jean ByaMungu were among the residents of the community to attend the final session of the design lab and provide feedback on the solutions presented after the nine-month process.

ATHABASCA —Athabasca design lab participants are ready to hit the ground running with two unique solutions to communication gaps in Athabasca crafted over the last nine months, thanks to the feedback of locals from all walks of life during the last session of the Athabasca Design Lab June 6.

Residents of ’Athabasca Country,’ an amalgamation of the town, county, and wider Athabasca area, carved time out of their schedules to give their two cents — and enjoy free lunch — on the four different solutions proposed by lab participants to improve communication in the community.

Following the presentations, all attendees were given the chance to vote on which solution they would like to see realized in the near future. The role of a community coordinator was selected by the most people as the first solution to pursue. The community hub was chosen as the second idea to implement, followed by digital kiosks in third place, and the campfire connection events and event guidebook in fourth and fifth places, respectively.

“We had an amazing turnout of folks from the community and received some really good feedback,” said Kelsey Brown, project designer for The Social Impact Lab Alberta (SIL AB). “There was lots of excitement about what comes next and around the ideas.”

“We want other people to know their voice is welcomed and they can participate, and that all of these things were designed for them, and ideally with them,” she added.

More than 40 designers and testers listened to presentations on each of the four solutions crafted over the last eight months to address gaps in communication in Athabasca. Testers asked questions about how universal the issues identified in Athabasca are and the process behind the prototypes presented in May.

Related: Athabascans put design lab solutions to the test

“We are not choosing a favourite idea, or the best idea,” Brown told designers and testers. “Ideally, we will implement all of them over the course of several years, but we want to know which one do you think needs to come first?”

Next steps

While community feedback is a necessary step in the co-design process, a core group of dedicated designers — and any others interested — will take up the charge of seeing these solutions brought to reality.

In a session after the presentation to community members, designers voted by consensus decision making, a process used by the UN to ratify the language of the Paris Accords, to take the next steps in creating a draft job description for the community connector position.

The group also voiced a desire to identify the similarities and differences between the design lab solution and a position called a community coordinator, which was pitched to municipal councils in late 2023.

Related: Community coordinator hailed as ‘genius’ idea

Another vote to hit the ground running with multiple community campfire connection events received support from designers. With lower effort and costs required to pursue grassroots events in public spaces, Brown said getting in a quick win may help with stamina and motivation as the facilitators take a step back.

“We have momentum going as a whole group,” said designer Melanie Erickson. “We’re not at the end of this. We’re still going.”

Proposed projects

The first of the four projects to be presented was the double-barrelled idea of grassroots community campfire events with the goal of fostering in-person, face-to-face connection, and an accompanying guidebook with tips and tricks on how to plan such events.

“Our solution and prototypes for this topic (of communication) is the concept of community campfires both as a potential physical gathering, and as a metaphor of creating warm, inclusive spaces,” said Claire Meyer, designer and student at Edwin Parr Composite.

Next was a pitch for digital information kiosks that would keep both locals and visitors informed about recreation opportunities, food, businesses, and events in the area. The kiosks, like those seen in malls and busy urban areas, would be installed in high-traffic areas throughout the town and county.

“I like the idea of a kiosk that’s set up for Athabasca. it’s not the world wide web, it’s the Athabasca web,” voiced one tester. “We can actually showcase what we want in our community, so I really like the idea.”

Locals also heard about a potential new job position called a community connector. The connector, or connectors, would be responsible for curating information about events, resources, and everything Athabasca for both longtime locals and newcomers. Resources and information gathered and disseminated by the connector would be available in-person or digitally, and the connector would operate independently of the town and the county.

“I’m glad that you have the vision to do it as a private person,” another tester chimed in. He noted that while funding from both the county and the town would be helpful, the connector wouldn’t be as effective from behind a desk as out in the community.

The final solution posed to testers was a community hub, a physical location that would serve as a place to gather with community members, find information and resources on services, supports, shopping, events, opportunities and more in ‘Athabasca Country.’

The hub could host connection events and the event guidebook, act as the physical location for resources curated by the coordinator, and house a kiosk for easy browsing access.

 “All of these ideas fit together,” said Brown. “They build off each other, they require other pieces. That’s why we’re not just voting for one and the others are done — that’s what we did in Brooks.”

Lexi Freehill,

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