The Block by Block Playbook: Using Minecraft as a participatory design tool in urban design and governance
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The Block by Block Playbook: Using Minecraft as a participatory design tool in urban design and governance

The purpose of this playbook is to outline UN-Habitat’s approach to using Minecraft as an enabler to encourage community participation in urban design and governance.

UN-Habitat has integrated the Block by Block methodology in its Global Public Space Programme, a programme launched in 2012 to develop local policies, plans and designs for safe, inclusive, and accessible public spaces for all to support cities to become more compact, integrated, connected, socially inclusive, and resilient to climate change. The Programme provides technical support in developing city-wide public space strategies, conducting participatory design/visioning workshops, setting up public space management frameworks, conducting city-wide public space assessments, developing indicators to monitor implementation and assess impact, amongst others.

Central to Block by Block is the notion that in order to make urban planning and design processes more participatory, people without design or architectural skills need easy ways to use tools to effectively describe their ideas and desires to professionals. The lack of such tools makes it difficult for non-professionals to engage in dialogue with professionals because they lack the technical skills, confidence and language to

adequately communicate their ideas. This creates an engagement gap which is particularly prevalent among marginalized communities with fewer resources and lower levels of education, for example, with youth, people living in informal settlements and disabled, and, as a result, when deliberation occurs it is often biased towards more powerful stakeholders with greater resources.

Participatory outcomes are often aspired to, but hard to implement in practice. Involving multiple stakeholders is challenging and requires considerable planning and preparation. Involving people who are not trained in spatial thinking, reading maps or drawing, likely to be the case in marginalized communities, can also be particularly challenging. Using different communications and engagement methods can be a useful way of lowering barriers to entry, particularly for under-represented segments of a population.

UN-Habitat believes that Information, Communication and Technologies (ICT) can be a catalyst to improve governance in towns and cities and help increase levels of participation, efficiency, and accountability in public urban policies, provided that the tools are appropriately used, accessible, inclusive and affordable. Research shows that ICT use can have a direct impact on increasing civic engagement, giving them new avenues through which to become informed, shape opinions, get organized, collaborate and take action (Ben-Attar & Campbell, 2015). UN-Habitat’s experiences of using the video game Minecraft as a community participation tool for public space design confirms this view and shows that providing the community with ICT tools can promote improved civic engagement.

The Block by Block methodology employs community meetings, presentations, site visits, and, very importantly, the site design workshop using the video game of Minecraft as a tool, to help the community visualize the site planning and design. The local communities (1) plan, (2) design, (3) develop, (4) operate, (5) monitor, and (6) evaluate their public spaces. The Block by Block methodology gives voice to those who are not usually heard, but who are most impacted by the planning decisions.