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In early February we had the chance to chat online with Maje Reig Alberola and Pascual Pérez Gallego from the project Civimetro, one of the 10 initiatives selected in the 3rd Open Call for Scaling of Designscapes. We talked with them about their team, the current state of their project, as well as the lessons and goals from this replication phase. Here are some highlights of this conversation:

Civimetro in a nutshell…

Civimetro aims at developing an Evaluation Guide that can help Civic Labs in assessing their capacity to activate the territories they work with.

The team behind Civimetro’s replication…

To start our conversation, Maje and Pascual introduced us to the team and the story behind Civimetro. “The team is… like a team of teams,” Pascual told us, “because the project is presented by CivicWise network.” The team members, in fact, are all part of this international network in different ways: Maje is an architect with experience in placemaking, cooperative housing, participatory processes, working at CARPE and Pascual, also an architect and expert in participatory processes and civic innovation processes, works for another cooperative in Spain, Oficina de Innovación Cívica S. Coop. The team also includes Nora González Dwyes, a service design expert, Maite Gamarra, an expert in impact evaluation, and Ana Méndez de Andés, a commons culture researcher. For this replication stage, the team is collaborating with Medialab Tabakalera, a cultural center in San Sebastian that is now trying to develop a program for a new Civic Lab.

Regarding the strength of the team and their collaboration, Maje explained: “We are used to distributed work… We work in a horizontal way, and I think we are […] used to working digital, so now is not a new situation for us.” She also elaborated on how the way they work aligns with their project partners’: “The strength with Medialab Tabakalera I think (is that) they are working in a similar way… I think we are understanding each other very well.” “We wanted to improve our guide and test in other contexts and they were very interested in evaluating what they are doing,” Maje continued. From this win-win opportunity, their collaboration started.

What is Civimetro currently busy with?

The team is at a good point in its overall project plans for this replication phase. They planned to test and iterate four main steps of their guide for Civic Labs, previously developed during the prototyping phase in Madrid, with Medialab Prado. At the time of our meeting, they had just carried out an online workshop with Medialab Tabakalera to test such steps. “We implemented and tested as much as we wanted,” Pascual told us, “and now what we want to do is something like trying to collect all the learnings, all the things that go wrong, try to analyze that and try to build the second version of the guide.”

Regarding working around the obstacles of the current situation…

Unlike other projects, the work on Civimetro was not disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis. As Pascual explained, they luckily managed to coordinate their work with Medialab Tabakalera early on in the project, before being forced to work only digitally. “That time it was important,” he said, “because we needed to understand the context and to know the coordination team of the lab, really face to face.” He added: “[It] was so productive in that way. After that it was possible to do it online, but only because of that first physical week. So we were lucky that we could work that week in November.” Working remotely on the development of their evaluation guide also gave the team an alternative opportunity for disseminating the tool online: “Now we’re thinking of translating everything in MIRO so everyone can go there, find the layouts and work directly with all the tools.

Key elements of the collaboration: aligning expectations and creating space for experiments. 

When we asked what made a difference in developing the project in this replication phase, Pascual immediately pointed out their chemistry working with the coordination team of Medialab Tabakalera. “They assume that we are experimenting… There isn’t this accountability relationship in which they want something concrete, they understand the context of the project and I think that helps a lot with the whole process,” he told us. “At the same time, they are involved in the project and they’re trying to do things with us. It’s like a very relaxed context in which we can innovate. I think their attitude helped a lot with the project.”

“We have to be very focused on what we want to do, and maybe not create these big expectations of the process as well,” Maje mentioned. But rather “enjoy the process,”  she added, “because for these kinds of projects, I think the way you do them is more important than the outcome, and I think this attitude to enjoy the process from both parts, us and Medialab Tabakalera, this kind of atmosphere is very important.”

Pascual picked up from that point, to also point out that these types of collaborations remain however really dependent on external fundings. “Calls like DESIGNSCAPES help a lot because a project like Civimetro […] you have to do it, like in a very experimental way,” he said. “We can’t build the perfect guide and then implement it in a lab… We have to implement it at the same time that we are designing it and thinking about it, and for that, we need labs that are willing to go there. And they are,” he concluded, “but they don’t have the resources.”

Looking ahead, what would you like to achieve in the upcoming months?

“We have implemented it with Medialab Prado in Madrid and Medialab Tabakalera. I think it is time to open more projects with other labs,” Pascual told us. “Also to connect the labs… For us, it would be really nice to have Medialab Prado for example and Medialab Tabakalera having a conversation about how to evaluate civic labs and to be able to do that through Civimetro. […] It would be really nice for Civimetro to also trigger this conversation within labs.” In other words, now that the experimentation with single partners worked, it’s time to scale not only the product they developed but also the new exchanges of knowledge and reflections that it sparked.