Souk is a virtual placemaking platform that enables community stakeholders to re-envision and re-shape their public realms collaboratively in response to the emerging needs and norms for social interactions in POST-COVID era and toward the increasing desire for local resiliency.
The pandemic has shown that spatial assets should have the liquidity to be capitalized for new needs and norms; in crisis management, and toward local-level self-sustainability and hence resiliency. On the other hand, currently, we don’t know what the emerging norms of social interactions would be, and what these emerging norms and needs imply for the new meaning of communities' public realms. New norms and needs will not be decided by governments, or sociology and anthropology experts neither do new roles and shapes of public realms by architects and urban planners. People of living experience are the best experts to be asked how they envision their future social interactions and how they desire their public realms in an ever-shifting ‘new normal’.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the role of social capitals now more than ever in the ability of communities to stay resilient. Many communities have started building strong social capital locally through alternative non-in-person ways of sharing and connections, and by starting initiatives to maintain their communities’ agility. Such Locally driven initiatives have created a fertile ground to promote more strategic local innovations/intervention for local resiliency in the Post-COVID era. This built-up social capital can be boost-up and re-channeled to create collective answers to “what” and “how” of Post-COVID norms and needs and their implications for more resilient and responsive public realms.
Souk facilitates a collective conversation among community stakeholders to co-identify the post-COVID needs and norms for social interactions. With virtual community engagement at its center, Souk’s placemaking process channels social capital and the increasing momentum in communities for locally-driven initiatives, into re-envision collectively how communities’ public realms might look like in the new normal. Using a human(istic)-centered process backed up with effective and accessible tools and channels, this platform engages local stakeholders inclusively to re-design and re-program these spaces to accommodate new needs and norms of social interactions, and to address the increasing desire for local-level resiliency.
Souk’s intervention areas are as follow:
- Re-shape/strengthen the connection between people and the places they share within a safe and less risky process.
- Inspire people to collectively re-envision/reinvent public spaces as the core of their community’s resiliency.
- Co-Identify new functions and characteristics of communities’ spatial assets addressing emerging norms and demands.
- Co-Identify and synthesize existing assets at the community level that can be leveraged for re-shaping/re-reinventing public spaces.
- Co-ideate on the effective and inclusive ways to steward communities’ public realms for improved resiliency.
- Generate evidence-based information throughout the process that can inform decisions about effective resource allocation, to the areas that are more strategic for local resiliency and crisis management.
- Collect updated public life data that can be used to identify the challenges, opportunities, and effective approaches in managing and stewardship of community-level public spaces during and after the crisis.
Souk offers five main service streams:
1- The change makers forum:
A virtual forum that lets local stakeholders share in a secure place their concerns; needs, and inspirations about how their community’s spatial assets should/could respond to emerging Post-COVID needs and norms. This forum is equipped with various tools and provides accessible tools and channels for interactive conversation and story sharing including voices, notes, photos, and films.
2- The Virtual Engagement Toolbox
A series of digital tools and hybrid channels (i.e., a combination of virtual and in-person) for real-time interactive discussion and brainstorming. The Toolbox also provides a series of feedback tools such as survey and commenting, for a continuous off-line discussion and progressive input gathering.
What distinguishes these tools from other engaging platforms is that tools provide features for adjusting the engagement scenario to the level of simplicity/complexity and accessibility needed for engaging various target groups. Some key adjustable features are language, accessible options for hearing, or visual impairments. Interactive tools will be designed with different levels of complexity for example thematic cards will have tuners to change their levels of complexity responding to the target groups’ capacity level or demographic characteristics. (age, level of literacy, etc.), and hence maintain confidence among participants for meaningful contribution. All tools are associated with a virtual facilitator that will explain the tools in a simple way. The virtual coach offers voice, and video features. The voice feature will be adjustable in different languages.
3- The Coachbot
A chatbot feature that coaches developing a well-planned engagement scenario for community groups
4- The Local Agents of Change
A community of volunteers that are identified from already built up local social capital (such as community grassroots). This group will be mobilized from within the change-makers forum and will receive required virtual training that enables them to provide in-person training and coaching services to community people. Each Local change agent covers a specific region (defined by themselves) including their own neighborhood. Change agents will back up engagement projects by supporting target participants that might be excluded due to lack of enough digital literacy or access to the internet. Their roles include: Conducting one-on-one educating backups for essential familiarity with virtual tools, moderating using the platform, and providing in-place internet-based equipment/facilities for scheduled interactive sessions in their community.
5- The Virtual Co-Designing Palette
An adjustable interactive channel (virtual session) for collective ideation with communities offering interactive tools and features that can be adjusted to the level of understanding or confidence of communities for creativity and design. Design Palette can integrate tools of the Engagement Toolbox. The main purpose of the palette is to make design a tangible medium for people of living experience and put design experts as moderators of this creative process. Incorporating this vision in designing the tools and features will distinguish them from existed co-creation platforms that target users with certain degrees of creative capacity and design skillset.
Some accessible tools of the Palette are: collages and Idea Cards; people can choose from a variety of prepared illustrating materials to show what they see or envision or upload their desired photo, or record to explain their desired space. Bubble Diagram tool; provides an understanding of the space program for people. The Blank Space; allows participants to ideate individually, and then shared their ideas, this tool prevent excluding those who lack the confidence to join on-line interaction sessions.
5- The Marketplace
Community groups can search and find a variety of like-minded experts and service suppliers that can support them to further develop and implement their ideated projects, including design and built groups, financial support/financing, creative groups, etc. A tailored intermediary service stream is available that matches community-driven projects with best fitting service providers.
Main Target Outputs:
- New community groups or purposeful local-level initiatives will be shaped within the Souk’s forums.
- The output of engagement and ideated process by using Souk would be a design, programming, and management model for the community’s special assets that can create maximum shared values for the target community.
- Innovative patterns of use, re-designing, and re-programing of public realms will be created that can be the blueprint for creating flexible design and programming models for public realms.
- An evidence-based database and an improved/updated public life database that can inform effective use of public spaces and strategic asset allocation during and after a crisis.
Revenue generating steams:
1- Fee for services:
- Marketplace intermediary service- target market group: any user groups
- The chatbot feature
2- Membership fee:
- For non-community-member users of the platform. Different packages, adjustable for the market demands. Target market groups are community-focused non-profits, architectural firms and developers, municipalities,
- For access to evidence-based and public life databases. Target market groups: municipalities and university researchers
- For virtual training and coaching about virtual community engagement. Target market groups: architectural firms and developers, municipalities, Architectural university students