An ode to co-designing public policy
Bailey Siber (she/her) wasa 2022 Summer Fellow with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, working with the Boston Public Library and the MBTA to imagine new partnerships at the intersection of transit and library resources.
During the height of this summer’s wave of heat emergencies, several of MONUM’s Youth Civic Design Fellows and I were excitedly — albeit sweatingly — pacing the bus corridor outside Maverick Station with water bottles, Boston Public Library swag, and pamphlets in tow.
After a brief lull between trains, the stairs and escalators leading up to the street from the underground MBTA station once again came to life: public transit riders came pouring out, most of whom were heading directly past us to the 114, 116, 117, 120, and 121 bus stops. This was our moment. We approached folks as they walked by, cheerfully conversing in Spanish, English, Arabic, and ASL about our collective initiative to center community voices when exploring possible collaborations between the MBTA and Boston Public Library. For a few hours we passed out multilingual flyers, bumped into neighbors and friends on their way to the T, gave BPL pencils out to some adorable kiddos, and held space with folks as they shared with us about the intersection of their public transit and public library experiences.
Over the course of two weeks, these kinds of conversations and interactions took place across the city, from the Mattapan trolleys to the fare-free bus lines to the Chinatown T station. The goal was simple: get City Hall, and the decisions that are being made at City Hall, out of the building and into the community.
This approach to public service — meeting people where they are at, in the ways that are most culturally appropriate, empowering, and authentically human — is crucial for thoughtfully engaging with all of our city’s residents. I have seen similar Boston-based, community-based participatory research and co-design efforts prove immensely valuable in other situations, too, from evaluating the impact of the built environment and social inclusion on youth immigrant mental health to co-creating technical training programs for women and nonbinary folks of color.
One of the many benefits to these kinds of efforts is that it enables us to uncover the distinct wants and needs of various communities. In this project, when we disaggregated our data by characteristics such as language, neighborhood, and public transit mode, we identified truly useful and tailored insights. For example, we discovered that a Commercial Drivers License workforce development program might be of particular interest to some Spanish-speaking residents. We also found that there is immense interest in displaying real-time public transit information in neighborhoods such as Roxbury and Hyde Park, which may be correlated with a lower percentage of respondents in these neighborhoods having unlimited data plans, or the sense that real-time public transit information is currently concentrated in wealthier and whiter areas of the city.
Especially while the Orange Line and segments of the Green Line are closed, there is a real opportunity to not only connect MBTA riders with the Boston Public Library resources that they want and need, but to actually cultivate joy and delight in our public transit system. Co-creating and co-designing what that might look like alongside our community is crucial to seeing it become a reality.
Bailey is an Arab American technologist focused on addressing racial inequities in cities through innovative economic development and placemaking initiatives. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy as a Rappaport Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School with a concentration in Social and Urban Policy. In her spare time, you can find her playing Stardew Valley, obsessing over plants, or watching vocal coaches react to songs on Youtube.
About the Fellowship:
The New Urban Mechanics Summer Fellowship is designed for entrepreneurial students and professionals interested in working in public service. During this highly selective eight-week program, summer fellows work as a team and on their own projects, generating and implementing creative and thoughtful new prototypes to benefit the City of Boston.