Can a small cart revolutionize or at least facilitate public consultations? Apparently yes, since Warsaw is being joined by more cities ordering the "Echo" consultation cart created by Urban Matters studios.
One of the cart's designers, Kacper Kunicki of Urban Matters, talks about how the "Echo" was created, what might change in the design itself in the future and how it works in public consultations.
Wiktor Bochenek: How was the idea for "Echo" born?
Kacper Kunicki (Urban Matters): The idea came from the Center for Social Communication of the City of Warsaw, which published an announcement on its Facebook page about the search for a designer and contractor for a mobile point for public consultations. Together with Agnieszka Renes and Krzysztof Renes, we decided to prepare a portfolio, an offer and enter the competition. At the time, Aga and I were still studying design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Krzysztof was already a graduate of the Faculty of Sculpture, moreover, Aga and Krzyśek are sociology graduates.
Our offer won in the competition and we proceeded to work. We received a great deal of information from the CKS team - a brief describing in detail the needs and requirements of the cart, photo material to analyze, examples of similar points from other European countries. Throughout the design process, we worked closely and consulted our ideas with the CKS team, whose enormous knowledge and experience in conducting public consultations was (and still is) an invaluable support.
Wiktor: How did the "Echo" evolve?
Kacper: We can divide the evolution of "Echo" into three stages:
Prototype - this was our first response in the form of a tangible object to the research and studies we conducted. It was on it that we tested all our ideas, functions, mechanisms. We tested the strength of the structure and manufacturing technology. We had a series of field meetings with it with consultants, this was an extremely important stage that allowed us to revise our ideas in practice, check what works and what needs to be changed.
© Urban Matters
Plywood cart - this was already a full-fledged product, created on the basis of the first prototype. The construction of the cart was based on aluminum profiles, plywood and custom connectors from 3D printing. Consultation materials could be stored in integrated containers, there was a board for consultants to hang posters on, as well as a small top, for presenting mockups, flyers or for filling out surveys. The design was modular and, when unfolded, fit into a small car, so that the point can be operated by one person and does not need special transportation to do so. The cart is still on the CKS equipment today and participates in consultations.
The second version of the "Echo"
© Urban Matters
"Echo " - that is, the prototype of the current wheelchair, which we introduced to our offer. Work on this copy once again began with interviews with users of the previous version, based on which we made changes. And there are quite a few of them: the stroller is almost entirely made of metal - aluminum, which is characterized by high strength, while maintaining low weight. We significantly expanded the functionality of the "Echo"- the board with dimensions of 100 × 70 cm is now magnetic, the upper module was equipped with large drawers armed with durable slides, we added two folding tops, thanks to which the working surface incompared to the previous version has more than tripled and is now 123 × 70 cm, we added a pocket for small items that are worth keeping on hand. We reinforced the handle, equipped the lower module with large and soft wheels, so driving the cart is secure and comfortable. Despite so many changes, the external dimensions of the stroller have remained virtually unchanged and will still carry Echo in a small car when folded.
The aesthetics of the stroller have also benefited, we are very keen on the clean form of the object, we pay great attention to the details and quality of workmanship, which translates into reliability. We have introduced a very wide range of colors to choose from, as well as the possibility of branding, so that any institution, company or organization can customize the "Echo".
The cart is used not only by Warsaw, but by other localities, such as Jastrzębie-Zdrój
© Urban Matters
The first "Echo" was created for CKS, and then we implemented it under our own brand Urban Matters and offer it for purchase and rental. All the time, however, the project is being developed, in the latest model we have improved the ergonomics of the cart, reduced its weight, added a brake to the wheels, magnetic locking tops, as well as the number of mounting holes for accessories, so that we can mount two magnetic boards to one cart, and in the future we plan more accessories with which to retrofit the "Echo".
Wiktor: What kind offeedback doyou getfrompeople and institutions using this solution?
Kacper: "Echo" has already found its way to Warsaw, Wroclaw, Poznan, Cracow, Jastrzębie Zdrój or Legionowo, and is mostly used for public consultations, but not only. In Legionowo, for example, "Echo" operates as a Mobile Library. The feedback we get from users is very positive, a big advantage of the "Echo" is its mobility, which allows it to move around the city and seek contact with residents. The form of the cart stands out against the urban fabric and attracts the attention of passers-by, the colors in which we offer "Echo" evoke positive associations and encourage participation in the initiative carried out.
In 2021, Adam Kadenaci - a social researcher and practitioner of public participation, as well as a repeated user of our "Echo" reviewed them with these words:
"Consultation Trolley - The Center for Social Communication has its own mobile research station. It is the best tool for outdoor activities that I have used. The cart is lightweight and copes well with architectural barriers. It is equipped with drawers in which to store materials and a large board on which to attach a board presenting the topic of the consultation. You can use the cart if you implement public consultations in accordance with the guidelines of the Center for Social Communication" (source: Local Diagnosis. How to effectively involve male and female residents in decision-making?)
The cart can be individualized, choosing technical solutions, as well as colors
© Urban Matters
Wiktor: Why can "Echo" be a useful tool used by city offices and public institutions?
Kacper: For the last few years we have been facing a very difficult situation, first the pandemic, severe restrictions, isolation significantly limiting social contacts, now the war. In the context of local governments, city halls, this has often involved the complete suspension of public consultations, many of which have moved entirely to the Internet, which in times of crisis is understandable, but in the long run the Internet will not replace the physical meeting. This is particularly evident this season, when pandemic restrictions have been reduced, we have begun to meet again, outdoor meetings with the "Echo" are very popular.
We are also observing an increase in social awareness, the involvement of residents in matters concerning their immediate neighborhoods - cities, neighborhoods, neighborhoods or backyards. Residents are eager to get involved in Civic Budgets, create grassroots, local micro actions. "Echo" is a great helper here, thanks to it an official can conduct a local diagnosis, interviews, surveys, collect signatures for a project, promote it among residents and involve them in decision-making processes.
"Echo" is not only about consultation, in our opinion it will work well in many situations requiring social interaction. The pandemic forced many institutions to remodel their current way of operating, many of them decided to "go to the people" with their offer and began to organize actions in the open air, which is a great complement to the traditional activities taking place stationary, at the headquarters of the institutions. For example, the library will allow it to reach a larger audience, inform about the collection, new book items available at the institution, or set up a card.
"Echo" works well even in difficult conditions
Photo: Tomasz Kaczor, © Urban Matters
A politician will conduct an election campaign, present and talk to voters about his program. A cultural center can inform residents about classes, workshops or performances taking place at their premises. It can use the "Echo" to hold workshops outdoors - in a park or neighborhood square. A social organization will conduct an informational or educational campaign with which to reach a wide audience, or organize a relief collection.
Victor: Thank you for the interview!
"Echo" facilitates the consultation process
© Urban Matters
For more information, visit the Urban Matters website.