Session #3 – Ideas for AMELIO to develop the Lab

Here we go with the third session of Transfo Lille, May 14th and 15th. As a reminder, during the two previous sessions, the ambassador team started working on the first practical case: the AMELIO device, which brings together the various energy renovation services, but which is little known and under-used. After a survey of professionals and users, the ambassadors came up with 16 ideas, grouped into 5 scenarios, to deal with to the problem of how to promote peer-to-peer communication about the device from a fresh angle, rethink the chain of professional intermediaries, imagine a health card for taking care of your home, communicate differently.

The objective of this third session is twofold. First, to share these scenarios with the European Metropolis of Lille (MEL) department in charge of AMELIO to further co-develop these scenarios, identify the most actionable from the perspective of testing and, where appropriate, of implementation. Then to take stock of this first practical case and draw lessons for the future MEL innovation lab.

An exhibit at MEL

The first day is devoted to AMELIO: the scenarios are presented in the form of an exhibit hung in the hall in front of the CreaBox and presented by the ambassadors to the housing department and any agents who happen to pass by. All this is followed by a discussion time with the agents from the department, to field their questions, better define the scenarios and envisage possibilities for testing. The stakes are high, since this involves translating ideas developed in a few days by agents from all areas into a form informed by the experts from the department concerned, and, hopefully, a real test by the latter.

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Do-it-yourselfers, pitchers, mediators

We take a flying start on the day: we have to hang the exhibit and polish up the speeches for the presentation in the afternoon. One group gets started on building the 15 fluorescent orange panels for presenting the Transfo, the AMELIO device, the problems encountered and the scenarios imagined in the previous session. Another group prepares itself to play the role of mediators with the visitors to the exhibit (agents from the housing department or simply curious passersby), goes over the exhibit route, and works out what they’re going to say.

In the CreaBox, we have our work cut out for us too: we have to prepare the “world café,” a time of exchange with the agents from the housing department following the main presentation of the exhibit. The ambassadors are divided into as many pairs as there are scenarios, and one prepares the precise pitch of the idea while the other works on coming up ways to stimulate the discussion with questions and the main stages prototyping.

Co-development of scenarios

In the afternoon, after a trial run with a few passersby who aren’t in a hurry, the ambassadors welcome the agents from the housing department: in small groups, they visit the exhibit and then gather around the different tables. At each table, a pair of ambassadors gives a precise explanation of one of the scenarios, then leads the discussion (the above-mentioned “world café”), whose aim is to test the scenario, clarify it, improve it, and sketch out the stages of a possible test.

The reaction from the agents is pretty encouraging: over the course of the discussion, the ambassadors identify the main principles relevant to each idea, apply their expertise to the implementation of the scenario by asking the right questions (what financing, what link with existing services, what resources will be made available), and envisage a small-scale test. The idea of developing community liaisons for the AMELIO department, for example, seems attractive because it would raise awareness of the platform by promoting trust with residents. The idea gains clarity: first it would be necessary to pick a small city, inform the actors (home caretakers or schools, for example), then give them training in being liaisons.

Models for the future lab

Day two, stage two of this session: take stock of this first practical case and draw lessons for the future lab. What sort of structure will this lab have in the context of MEL, how will it work? What issues will it deal with, and how will these cases be chosen?

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Before answering these questions precisely, we look back on the meeting with the housing department of the previous day, to highlight the positive and negative points and try to draw lessons for future cases or the lab. First observation: the agents got their first taste of Transfo and its working methods; a period of acculturation and more exchanges with the ambassadors would certainly have enriched the back-and- forth of ideas. For ambassadors, who are non-experts and thus not necessarily in a position to question expert opinions, the challenge is to find the right stance: that of an uninformed source of a creative dynamic without interfering with the substance. On the other hand, the ambassadors are very enthusiastic about the Transfo working methods, which encourage co-construction of ideas, mutual trust, etc. The discussions also raise the issue of clearly defining the coordination with participation from the community and the importance of thinking about bringing elected representatives into the process.

While the first lessons for the follow-up to Transfo are drawn from the course of the discussions, the ambassadors are invited to join in a prescient exercise in envisaging the future lab. In small groups, they must think about a “model” of this future lab: working with diagrams, pictograms and short texts, they propose ideas about the way the lab should work, its relationship with the rest of the administration, the available human resources, etc.

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It’s hard work: you have to envisage yourself organizing a new department within an already very complex administration… In fact, the ideas which stand out are for the moment pretty close to how Transfo functions: the lab would consist of about twenty agents from different departments, accompanied by one or more permanent staff, who meet about once a month, and are inspired by design methods and input from users and professionals to gain a fresh viewpoint on a given problem. This first sketch of the lab will evolve in the coming months, but it shows that the mode of work adopted for the first case was appreciated! In order to integrate these different models, the groups are asked to present their ideas in a sequence plan consisting of 25 interventions lasting 30 seconds each. Not easy, but they managed it: a good example of a quick and collective way to do a synthesis!

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How to choose “good cases” for the lab?

The afternoon is devoted more specifically to projects the lab can work on. What are the criteria for choosing a “good case”? To answer this question, each ambassador first looks for an example of a problem dealt with by their department, and which could be presented to the lab. These “possible cases” are assigned to the groups of ambassadors, who try to get a grasp of these problems and imagine if the lab could deal with them, and how. This is not always easy, because the issues in question are sometimes technical and beyond the grasp of agents who don’t work in the department in question. From these initial ideas, the selection criteria must be defined so that the lab can choose its practical cases.

We then take all these different criteria and together try to clarify and group them. The exercise proves to be more difficult than expected: some ambassadors feel they don’t have enough time to formulate truly relevant cases, while for others the cases, as proposed, don’t allow for the formulation of relevant criteria. Nevertheless, the exercise enables us to highlight important criteria for judging future cases: feasibility, potential for replicability, political and administrative support… Moreover, it raises aspects of the positioning of the future lab that produce debate within the group: should Transfo be obliged to define public policies and deal with issues as broad as anti-unemployment policy? Can it take on missions that are highly prospective and exploratory, or should it limit itself to operational fixes?

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Towards the next practical case

This session enabled us to finalize the first practical case, which is generally positive: the ambassadors succeeded in developing several ideas for improving the use of the AMELIO device, some of which were welcomed by the department in charge of the platform, even if it was sometimes difficult to oppose the experts in criticizing the proposed ideas… It remains to be seen whether and how the housing department will accept these proposals and, in the long run, test and even implement some of them.

Still, this first case was an opportunity for ambassadors to test certain methods of public policy design (immersion, ideation, visualization, exhibition), as well as other ways of working (user-centered approach, collective and horizontal work, drawing on the very diverse skills of the group, a ‘quick and dirty’ style, in contrast to the habits of administrations…). Ambassadors and residents will meet in June for the launch of the next practical cases, which will focus on the empty heritage spaces at MEL.