Birmingham, Theory

Dreams, dreamcatchers and public engagement

dreamcatcher libraryThe Stirchley Dreams project was born out of frustration and a desire to reposition the community back into the centre of an immediate decision which was due to be made, as well as provide some ideas for the future. And if I’m honest, a lot of it was curiosity.  Having worked in communications roles for years, assisting in campaigns which aimed to consult with the public and internally with staff, I knew only too well how hard this could be to get people to engage with consultations.  But I’d also learnt a lot about why people don’t engage and I wanted to do something which would benefit my community, using the skills I had.

Why did I want to do it?

There is a tendency to create a lengthy questionnaire, send it out and expect people to fill them in. Now I love a good questionnaire, but they’re also problematic if the questions aren’t written well, if they’re too long, if they lead people in a certain way with too many closed questions (yes / no type questions) and can take a long time to collate if there are too many open questions. They’re also really easy to ignore.

A good consultation works to the people it is looking to engage with, so the consultation had to be something that reflected the area – a creative, passionate and fun community.  So it needed to be something that would spark people’s curiosity, but also be relatively simple and cheap to produce as there was no funding.

The consultation requirement came off the back of an issue which was complicated and had a long of history; there were a lot of nuances but that if you boiled down what was being discussed it wasn’t about nuances of planning legislation, it was about improving the town centre. I took the core of the question, how would you like to see your high street improved, and looked at a creative way to reframe it.

And so the idea of a dream-catcher was born.


How did I do it?

Getting hold of a hula hoop and ball of wool was relatively easy, which probably says something about the creative community in the area.  Watching a few YouTube videos and some practice meant that making the large dream-catcher wasn’t as difficult as anyone seems to think. Labels were made from cardboard that would’ve gone into the recycling.

But more importantly, I engaged other people in helping, initially to sense-check the idea, but also gain enthusiasm and help spread the word.

If you’re asking the community to engage on something, it is at best naive or at worst arrogant to expect them to come to you.  Instead I took the hula-hoop-come-dream-catcher, the labels and a pile of pens to the local monthly community market.  In the space of four hours we got about 65 labels filled out – some people did more than on, others put more than one idea on a label. After that, I was donated another four hula-hoops and local venues were asked or offered to host a dreamcatcher. So I’ve made more dreamcatchers, more labels and it has engaged more people offering to help.

The project is currently ongoing, but I’ll report back once it is complete. What I do know is that it has piqued the interest of other areas, so the dreamcatchers may go on tour.

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