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A virtual engaging place to collectively re-define public realms with their community stakeholders in response to emerging Post-COVID needs

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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 Background: 

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. 

Service streams  

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 

What is the need are you focusing on?

Public spaces have been mediums for social interactions. Emerging needs and norms will significantly transform these roles. Existing Public Life Database is insufficient to identify emerging reality of public life during and after COVID-19, thus fails to inform planning/design of public realms for the new normal. 

People of living experience should be inclusively engaged in defining Post-COVID repercussions for social interactions and how public realms should accommodate this new normal.   

Current virtual engagement tools have not designed based on the implications and needs of engagement within the new normal thus cannot effectively and inclusively supplement/replace in-person engagement models.   

Roles of public realms in communities' resiliency haven’t been addressed systematically before and now the unknowns and gaps in practices are even more serious, because there is an emerging social capital at local levels and increasing demands for local self-sustainability and resiliency. 

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Identifying a gap that needs to be addressed
  • Sharing a pivot idea your organization is considering or could consider

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

We are pivoting towards a hybrid model of inclusive community-engagement that takes advantage of digital engagement tools while extracting and incorporating assets of in-person engagement processes. Considering the evolving effects of climate change, current COVID-19 pandemic, as unprecedented and severe as it is, won’t be the last crisis facing us. This alarming situation sheds light on the great importance of collective resiliency for the co-creation of just and sustainable human-made environment. To enable this resiliency, we believe it is necessary to focus more on long-term contextual impacts of our initiatives rather than on specific target groups, and hence are evolving our community-engaged design strategy from a “Human-centered” into a “Humanistic-centered” approach, where stakeholders co-define a desired future, build off of their local social capital and use “backcasting” techniques to co-identify the steps and actions needed to create shared values.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

Improved social capital/ Improved Resiliency: Our solution enables communities to rapidly and collectively assess and adapt their resources in response to unprecedented situations and hence self-sustainability and resiliency/ Improved Public Realm: Using an inclusive engagement model; generated evidence-based information and collected public life data accessible, Souk promotes shaping of public realms that create maximum shared value for people’s health, happiness, safety and their social and economic livability/ Improved Citizen Partnership and Power Sharing: Souk inclusive process in creating/boosting communities' capacity for civic engagement, will level up citizen partnership into a proactive engagement of people in various decision-making processes that shape their cities and collective well-being. Target in pilot stage: reach out +1000 community stakeholders of 10 neighborhoods in 3 different urban contexts: Toronto, Berlin, and Istanbul over 6 to 8 months.

What is the name of your business or organization?

Open Architecture Collaborative Canada (OACC)

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

We offer educational&professional services in inclusive community-engaged design&planning and community-driven placemaking. Our target beneficiary groups are community stakeholders. We offer our services to community-level projects in partnership with organizations with hyperlinks to local communities. We're expanding our service streams to interactive learning content development in design&planning for social impact, and consultancy services to architectural/urban design firms to ensure meaningful participation of local stakeholders in design/planning process. We address the need for inclusive and meaningful engagement of community members in decision-making process for their built environment to ensure creation of maximum shared value.

What is your profession?

Architectural/urban Designer - Design Strategist - Community Outreach Consultant

Where are you located (country)?


Where are you located (region)?

  • North America

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Engineering/Architecture
  • Non-Profit/Philanthropy

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 0-10

How old is your business/company?

  • 2-5 years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Social Enterprise

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Funding- Investment
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- NGOs
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Private Sector
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Civil Society Groups
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Grassroots/Community Groups

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

We need seed funding in order to develop the pilot virtual platform. The fast paste demand growth for real-time interactive placemaking in urban/architectural design can be a winning point for our idea if we can accelerate our early-stage process. That’s why we are looking for a strategic partnership with an already established social design/innovation hub that enjoys strong hyperlinks in the social innovation ecosystem to incubate/incorporate this platform within their platform/hub.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

Varied digital literacy/capacities and access to internet/smart devices among different community stakeholders and local contexts put barriers to inclusive and accessible virtual engagement processes. The process of design & planning has long been exclusive to architects/urban designers. This exclusion has contributed to low levels of confidence among the communities to speak up their desires and to engage in the design process and hence the exclusive and unequal engagement processes. Local resiliency requires agility in public policy and regulations. Rigid and slow adaptation of public policies poses a barrier to adapt spaces responding to unprecedented situations. Rigid building & urban design codes exacerbate this limitation.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

In our shift towards virtual engagement tools and platforms we have learned that online processes can offer new opportunities and potentials for revolutionizing community engaged-design; However, simply copy and pasting offline engagement processes into online tools and platforms would not result in meaningful and inclusive processes required for a sustainable and resilient outcome. Furthermore, existing virtual platforms lack essential context-sensitive features for inclusive engagements. Therefore, virtual-only models won’t suffice our vision for an inclusive engagement process and we need to fundamentally rethink our offline engagement models and adjust our facilitating skills and assets in order to develop a hybrid model of engagement capable of fully realizing potentials and capacities of both offline and online processes.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?

CommonSpace App: A map-based public life data collection app –currently in beta/Collab: A prototype to promote decision-making among communities–We have a plan to connect/ Community Solution Portal of Future Cities Canada to enable transformative solutions in communities–We are contributing to FCC’s efforts through idea sharing/ OPEN IDEO: our proposed solution inspired by their inclusive human-centered design methodology- We regularly monitor and attend their webinars and idea-sharing events.

Website URL

Old website: Under construction website:


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