Counting (part one)

As we may have mentioned before, one of our big gripes at Make Space for Girls is the data hole around teenage girls and parks. In fact there’s a giant data black hole around teenagers and parks in general. Basically, no one seems to care enough to collect any. Facilities get built, over and over again, but then people forget to count who is using them, never mind who isn’t getting a go.

But we care. And for obvious reasons. It would be good for teenage girls, Make Space for Girls and anyone else in favour of more inclusive spaces if people started counting who used the facilities there are. We want to help them do this, which means making the process as easy as possible. All of which is why Imogen and I spent a very cold weekend in a park a few weeks ago, counting who was there.

We were testing out a new way of measuring park usage. At the moment the standard way of measuring this is a system called SOPARC. I won’t go into details, but the key thing you need to know about it is that SOPARC is paper based, which means that once you’ve gathered all your data, you have to spend almost the same amount of time again inputting it into the computer. Which as a result sometimes doesn’t get done.

What we were trialling was a new system called Inhabit Place, which was designed by some architects from Australia who were sick of paper and inputting and who felt that, in an age of mobile phones and connectivity, it might be possible to do things better. So they created an app which allows you to input directly from your phone screen, and then generates a report from the data.

We had an hour’s training on the system, and set off into AnyPark, which sits in a rural town of 25,000 people and has a MUGA and a skate park and teen shelter (handy for us when it sleeted, which it did) and a lot of very good equipment for younger children too. And then we began.

The app needs two people, and it rotates the pair of you through four different forms of measurement, two every half hour. For the first half hour one person is just counting people and noting not just demographic information but what they are doing – walking or cycling or being wheeled in a pushchair for example. Then after that you switch to doing short standard interviews (Imogen’s favourite) or counting ‘time in place’ – who is staying in an area and what are they doing.

Every so often, the app nudges you to either take a photograph or record an observation as well.

All of which produces some really interesting data, as you can see from the images in this blog.

But the big question that I am sure you have is – does it work? And we say yes it does. Rotating between the different approaches doesn’t give you absolute numbers, but it does provide a really good cross-section of who is using the park, what they are doing there and how they feel about it.

Inhabit Place can also give you the raw data from the observations – which means that we can tell you that the gender breakdown of park usage looks like this.

AgeGirls (no.)Boys (no.)Girls (%)Boys (%)

We’d probably want to fiddle with the age boundaries a bit to make it completely right for us, but even so, it’s clear that the gender split in our target age group of 14-25 is almost 30:70, clearly weighted towards the boys. Some work to do I feel. And lots more counting. But at least we don’t have to input it from paper records any more.

The counting was also interesting for us in a different way as well, because it made us really look closely at what was going on in the park and how people were using it. But we’ve got so much more to say about this that it’s going to be a whole other blog next week…

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