This two-year project, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, was designed to inspire and guide positive change in the design and management of public greenspace for the benefit of people who are excluded through disability, health or age.
The project produced a suite of site evaluation tools to guide designers and managers through a process of planning, prioritising and evaluating access improvements to their sites and services. The aim was to go beyond the standard ‘access audit’ to an evaluation system that embraces the wider meaning of accessibility.
The success of the tools has come from working closely with user groups and those designing and managing public open space to identify the limitations in the current systems of site evaluation and to test the tools in real situations.
The first year of the work focused on developing a framework for the tools, identifying what was needed, how the tools would be developed, what they needed to achieve and potential collaborators. This involved trying out alternative models for developing the tools and testing these with different projects and organisations (as outlined below).
As a first step, we developed a network of project partner organisations who agreed to share their insights, link us with community groups and provide feedback. They also worked with us to test the tool in real projects in urban parks, education centres and countryside settings and this was fundamental to developing a tool that would best meet the needs of site managers, designers and policy makers.
The second year focused on detailed development of tools, further testing, evaluation and modification, then packaging and disseminating them. The links with organisations, disabled people and disability groups have been hugely valuable in opening up consultation during the formative stages of the tool’s planning and development.
The development of the tool addressed the particular needs of the specific project/organisation, whilst maintaining a generic core structure. This ensured that it would benefit from the ideas and novel aspects of individual projects, but would have a widespread application.
In many of the examples given here we show how we identified further stages of work with project partners leading on from the evaluation tool phase; extending through the complete design process as described above and enabling us to test the success of the evaluation tool as an element in inclusive design.
A further crucial element of the work has been consultation with disabled people and disability groups, particularly in the context of user-testing of inclusive design approaches and key issues. This has been ongoing through the course of the project.
The project led to us developing a rich collection of tools that we now use widely through the course of our work. We use these tools for undertaking access reviews, sensory mapping sessions, community engagement and advising on the design process, and we continue to develop and review them.
The toolbox in action