Creating shared futures together

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New AR App Allows Belfast Communities to Collaboratively Design their own Presents and Futures

This week a new ground-breaking app will be publicly released for community members in Belfast and potentially around the world to work together to transform their communities. Called “Shared Futures” it enables people to redesign their present and futures through innovative AR 3D mapping technology. This app was developed through a partnership between the Belfast Interface Project, Professor Peter Bloom, the technology cooperative Animorph, and Cobra Collective UK and was generously funded by Northern Ireland’s “The Executive Office” and the University of Essex.

This app aims to enable people to shape their present and future from the palm of their hands using AR technology. Its unique combination of realistic and imaginative 3D mapping and interactive comment system will allow community members to share ideas about how to improve where they live and work today as well shape what it will be tomorrow. This is an empowering tool for enhancing community collaboration and participatory governance locally and globally.

It is part of a pioneering effort to bring communities with histories of conflict together through principles of “communication, consultation, and cooperation”. The pilot project in Belfast was inspired by the desire to discover engaging ways to help interface populations still divided by “Peace Walls” to positively interact in order to collaboratively improve their communities. Through being able to imaginatively explore and comment upon a map of their current area and what it could look like in the future, this app provides an important new space for collectively empowering residents.

This project worked with two interface communities – Inner East/Short Strand and Divis/Townsend to help reimagine interfaces by using AR to “break down mental walls” for virtually – and eventually physically – uniting these communities historically divided by conflict. Specifically, the app allows users to:

  • Explore a 3D present and future map of their community, giving them the freedom to zoom in and “walk the streets” or zoom out and take a birds eye view of their area.
  • Share their views of the present and future scenarios as they explore the map, i.e. dragging the icon to post comments on any of the highlighted areas located throughout the maps
  • Collaborate with others from their community by reading and responding to each other’s comments. This creates an opportunity to redesign their future together as a community.

It uniquely brings together, in this respect, ideas of “future building”, “interfacing” and “community-driven technology” to help communities transcend the histories that divide them through coming together to imaginatively create shared futures. Fundamentally, it seeks to promote mutual understanding, the acquisition and dissemination of new knowledge, respect and tolerance, shared ownership of common issues, concerns, resources and opportunities, creativity and innovation, equality and accountability, self-help and mutual support.

The ‘Shared Futures’ app is the first step in the broader creation of a Community Planning Toolkit designed by Belfast Interface Project, The University of Essex, Animorph, The Open University, and the Cobra Collective UK to enable communities to co-create positive change. Apart from the app, the toolkit includes a dedicated website and a MAZI Raspberry Pie offline hub for local consultation and collaboration. As part of these efforts, the developers are also exploring additional app features including a “builders mode” allowing residents to create their own futures together and share them with others in the community as well real time voting on proposal for improving their area.

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Geraud de Ville
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Policy Specialist

Géraud holds a PhD in international development from the Open University (2016), with a focus on the critical impact of technology on individuals and communities. He uses his interest in social technology, design and storytelling to support community participation and empowerment. He has worked in public policy and strategy for a local government and currently leads the development of a new model for supporting civil society in East London whilst working on his own mobile app. He has presented his work at several international conferences and workshops, in Europe and in America.