I’m standing between locks 8 and 7 on the Farmer’s Gate flight of locks on a footbridge which goes over an old spur which is called the Whitmore Arm which was used to bring sand, casting sand down to the foundries in the quarter. What I love about this bridge is that it’s a cast iron bridge and you can actually see the grooves that the ropes that used to tow the canal boats along this stretch of the canal actually on the side of the bridge where the horses have been pulling them. So really, in effect, you can touch history here. You can see how it’s been left.
— Participant, MapLocal project, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham

MapLocal was a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its Connected Communities programme that ran from 2012-2013. It developed and   piloted a smartphone app (‘MapLocal’) for use in neighbourhood planning. The   app was designed to be tested two in neighbourhoods in Birmingham, Balsall   Heath and the Jewellery Quarter, that were engaging with neighbourhood   planning as part of the Goverment’s localism agenda. A total of 50 people   took part in the pilot. The application gave participants the chance to   produce photographs, notes of preference, voice comments and boundary data,   all of which were automatically tagged to their location within the neighbourhood   using GPS (‘sat-nav’) technology. These materials were then uploaded to a   collective map for the community.  The   pilot generated 626 audio clips and over 1000 photographs and proved to be a   useful tool for undertaking the first stage of a community planning exercise.

The project had three key findings. The first is that using this type of technique can bring participation to people rather than requiring people to come to participation. This can significantly extend the range of people involved in these information-gathering exercises. Secondly, by enabling participants to collect materials while walking around their neighbourhood, richer and more experiential data is produced compared to sitting in a meeting or workshop. The third is that this type of holistic information from a broad set of participants can be used not only to inform neighbourhood plan-making but also for other consultation purposes (for example for historic conservation: the app has already been piloted by Worcestershire County Council) as well as prioritising local services at a time of budget cuts and/or moves towards co-production of shared services. 

Colin Lorne made a Flipbook of the MapLocal project that is available here. The final report is available here.

The pictures below were all taken in Balsall Heath and the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham by participants in the project in 2012-2013. 

Antonia Layard, University of Bristol. Contact.