Street Engagement Documentation: Ha’Penny Bridge, Ciarán & Tara « Designing Dublin: Learning to Learn

Street Engagement Documentation: Ha’Penny Bridge, Ciarán & Tara


Originally the idea entailed having passersby pin a ribbon on to a tree in an urban setting. Each ribbon would pose a question to the recipient. The answer would be written on the ribbon, recorded and then pinned onto the tree. The hope was that the mass of ribbons on the tree would create a visual spectacle which would entice people into talking to us.

It was decided that it would be more appropriate to use a structure already existing in the infrastructure of the city. Vincent came up with the idea of fixing blue ribbons(the same colour as the Designingdublin Tee shirts)to the Halpenny Bridge. This would help establish the interactive space for the process to take place. We also fixed posters telling people who we were to the bridge.

The Ha’penny Bridge was chosen due to it standings as a quintessential Dublin landmark, the ease with which ribbons could be attached (as opposed to a tree, which would require a ladder), the visual effect that could be achieved by covering it with ribbons and the fact that it is an extremely busy thoroughfare with huge amounts of footfall from an incredibly wide cross-section of users of the city. The idea behind the process was to ask people a question and to write down their answer on the blue ribbon with a marker that we would provide. We would document the people we talked to taking details of their names, approximate age, nationality and the area they lived in.

We started with the question “What exciting thing do you know about in Dublin, that you don’t think a lot of people do?” This question tried to ask for the hidden gems of Dublin without asking the question directly which could possibly impose on the individual to reveal a secret that they wished to hold onto and keep to themselves. Passersby would be asked to write their answer on one of the ribbons tied to the bridge and then were photographed and questioned about what their favourite things about Dublin were and also what challenges they felt the city was facing (time and willingness to participate pending).

The original question left openness for a number of different answers. It did not specify anything physical so it was left to the individual how it was interpreted. If the participant asked for some help in understanding the question I would ask them to take some time to think about the question. I would also tell them that the answer did not necessarily have to be a physical thing that it could possibly have something to do with feeling, emotions or anything else that they felt was appropriate to the question. I also encouraged them to engage with all of their senses when attempting to answer.

I always started with this type of question but I sometimes needed to change the question depending on whether or not the participant could engage in this way with the original question. If the participant could not work with the original question and found it confusing or too abstract I would try to change it slightly so that the participant could contribute to answering a similar question that was not as abstract. It was necessary that we did not take a “one size fits all approach” to conducting our research.
More simplified questions include:
“What is your favourite thing about Dublin”?
We also came across a lot of tourists who had just arrived in Dublin City who would have not been able to answer the original question. In cases like this I usually asked “what are your first impressions of Dublin”?

Other questions included:
“What would you show to a friend in Dublin that you don’t think they know about”?
“What is the funniest thing about Dublin”?

Target Audience

This particular engagement covered a huge cross section of city users. The nature of Ha’penny Bridge as a crossing point on the Liffey means that it is used by an incredibly broad demographic; a wide range of age groups, nationalities, socio-economic classes; Dublin natives and tourists alike. Of course, some were more willing to engage than others and with many there was a language barrier, so the process in actuality did not harvest from the full range of city users it had the potential to.
The target audience included people who cross the Halpenny Bridge, including people who live in the city, people who live outside the city, people from all demographics and age groups. As it was mid-term break for schools this helped us reach a young audience which would normally be a little more difficult as research has shown that young people and elderly people make up a smaller demographic in Dublin City.

How We Ran The Process

Our desired outcome was to find 100 exciting things that we didn’t know about Dublin. We did not directly set out to address the challenges that the city faces but indirectly these challenges were addressed as a result of conversations we had with people who approached us inquiring as to what we were doing. I came across a lot of people including drug addicts, disenfranchised youth and homeless people who expressed their views on the challenges Dublin City is facing.

On Wednesday evening, we stapled approximately 500 light cyan ribbons to the Ha’penny Bridge. The ribbons were the plastic sort used by florists, chosen for their vibrant colour, propensity to be written on with a Sharpie (unlike fabric ribbons, there was no ‘bleed’ from the marker), waterproof nature and low cost (€2.61/100m).

Unfortunately, the ribbons were removed overnight. On Thursday morning, we replaced them with approximately 200-300 additional ribbons and also added Designing Dublin posters at the apex of the bridge. We stood on the bridge and asked people about the exciting things they knew about the city, asked them to write their answer on a ribbon and – depending on the rush they were in and the level of willingness they showed to participate – took their photograph, and interviewed them about the benefits and challenges of city living.

A few things quickly became apparent. Firstly, the nature of the process was not particularly conducive to a long, in depth interview. The bridge was too crowded and hectic to inveigle many people into a deep interview and in addition to this, most people were deliberately going somewhere, not casually wandering. Secondly, it became obvious that the basic question we were posing needed to be tweaked and modified, so as to gain the best possible answers.

A balance needed to be struck. On the one hand, it was extremely difficult for many participants to come up with an interesting answer on the spot, so it became obvious that at least a certain level of conversation had to be entered into. On the other hand, it wasn’t particularly easy to get into that depth of conversation with people who were in a hurry. Over the course of the process, the “challenges and benefits” aspect of the questioning process were by and large dropped in favour of concentrating on discovering the “exciting things” (unless of course, the participant was eager or willing to engage in a longer conversation).

On Friday, the atrocious weather hampered the process considerably. It just wasn’t feasible to stop people on the freezing cold, wet bridge. We tried several iterations of the process, attempting to stop people in Mercheant’s Arch, where the spectacle of the bridge covered in ribbons was still clearly visible. This was more successful than standing on the bridge in the rain, but people were still visibly eager to move on to wherever they were going, out of the bad weather. We then tried talking to people in the arch at the main entrance to Trinity College.

Over the course of the morning, it had become apparent that there was nowhere near enough communication between the group members and we both evidently had very different techniques. We then began talking to people in pairs and “shadowing” each other to see how the other’s technique worked and what we could glean from each other. By lunch time Ciarán was feeling quite ill and it was obvious that standing in the rain for the day was not going to be possible for him, so he was forced to go home. Ciarán’s technique was more conversational than mine and I attempted to implement his approach more in my own interactions, whilst still trying to glean the sort of concrete, tangible answers I was looking for. Brian and I experimented for a while with longer conversations, which was certainly more effective, but time intensive.

At 2.00pm or so, I took my lunch break, deciding I would go to the back of the IFI and if the opportunity arose, start conversations with people in a more casual, direct manner while having a coffee.

This technique worked astonishingly well.

I spoke at length to 6 individuals, firstly a man about 28 years old, for 20 minutes or so. When he left, I began talking to two men, early thirties about a snippet of conversation I’d overheard, which sounded intriguing. They were both actors and were discussing an interesting short film which one of them was in rehearsal for. Over the course of the next 1 1/2 – 2 hours, a number of their friends arrived and departed, all of whom I spoke to. Some I spoke to individually as their friends came and went, leaving them alone, other times I spoke to them as a group, always around the topic of exciting, hidden things in Dublin.

The conversation was natural and chatty, not in anyway a formal interview process and worked beautifully. Both the time span and the group nature of the discussion contributed well to the efficacy of gleaning information, giving everyone time to think and also offering the potential for a degree of one-upmanship; when somebody mentioned a particular thing or interesting fact, other people reciprocated with one of their own.

In retrospect, I should have realised sooner that this approach would be appropriate and effective. On Thursday night I met up with friends from college for a drink and the conversation I had with them about the goals of the process I was working on threw up some very interesting titbits. This question, is essentially, a perfect pub conversation, and not quite so appropriate as a question for eliciting a quick response.

That said, the process in and of itself was an excellent tool for engaging people and some extremely interesting answers were gleaned. We attracted a very large number of curious and interested people who all seemed to enjoy our temporary installation on the bridge. They interacted with it physically, running their hands along the fluttering ribbons and large numbers stopped to read what was written on them, even if they declined to engage in a conversation with us. The problem was that it was very much akin to trawling, rather than fishing, with a small percentage of the responses given to us offering much insight with respect to the specific question we had posed.

The process certainly has merit and warrants repetition, but may work better for a different question, or if for this particular question, will need refinement.

Reflection on what we were happy about and what you could do better next time in terms of visual impact and promoting and publicising Designingdublin we could not have chosen a better location than the Halpenny Bridge. As we experienced heavy rain on Friday morning we noticed that people were not as fast to engage with us so we had to move our project to other locations, usually to places were there was an element of shelter available. We discovered when it is raining people will try to get from A to B even faster than they normally would. As a result of this we went to places like Merchants Arch, Trinity Arch and the IFI(Irish Film Institute). The IFI was a great location for to talk to people who were not in a rush and had time to kill and also enjoyed competing intellectually with each other. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable approaching people at Trinity Arch as I felt that they were there waiting to meet somebody and didn’t really like you taking advantage of their captive disposition. Essentially they were a captive audience and noticed that we were in fact using this to our advantage. I felt there was no interactive space set up in the other locations either which is a massive support in encouraging curiosity among people. In brief, crowds attract crowds!

Perhaps we could have had another poster than the one we had which may have said something like “Tell me something I don’t know about Dublin I believe that it is important to have a poster that is inviting and not too abstract in its’ message. Although I do like the sense of mystery that surrounds the abstract nature of certain advertising posters as it encourages curiosity but I do think that is also important to be inviting also.

Answers on Blue Ribbons Ciarán & Tara
1) Wright Venue
2) Zoo in Phoenix Park
3) Seapoint
4) Sráid Ui Chonaill
5) The friendly locals
6) Iveagh Gardens
7) Spire
8) Ciarán Stanley
9) Windmill Lane Studios
10) Henry Street
11) The Hidden Bookshop in Wicklow Street
12) City Centre Appearance
13) NCAD (Thursday nights)
14) Mr Treats, Temple Bar
15) St Annes Park
16) The Liffey
17) The Rain
18) Lovely breakfast very friendly, Lauren aged 9
19) The Kerry people living in Dublin
20) Forbidden Planet, comic book shop
21) Little bird house in Temple Bar above palm tree sculpture
22) The Spire is great and don’t miss the Chester Beatty Library
23) Chester Beatty Library
24) Aisling is cool
25) The Pav(The Pavillion bar TCD) The best place to drink in the summer
26) Temple Bar
27) The smoking area in the Long Stone pub
28) Boardwalk
29) The Wheel
30) Chapters Bookshop
31) Stephens Green, (Maguel, Brazil)
32) The Liberties, Caroline
33) Ghost bus
34) Kileager stables
35) Natural History Museum
36) Gigantic bottles of Korean beer in the Hop House(Parnell Street bar restaurant)
37) Halpenny Bridge
38) Dublin Wollen Mills
39) Sky Bar, Guinness Brewery
40) A tree in Kings Inns Park that has swallowed a bench with its trunk
41) Captain America’s
42) The colour of the spire when the sun is setting
43) Dublin Castle
44) Against The Grain, Camden Street
45) I think Dublins’ great, Vincent
46) Hidden Abbey; Amazing! Underground in lane of Evans Art Shop off Capel Street
47) Shile ná Gig, at the top of door on Mona Lisa restaurant
48) House on GPO
49) lol Up the Dubs, Jason Williams, peace
50) Arnotts
51) The International
52) Heavenly Stephens Green
53) Bargain Shop in Arnotts
54) I like the old run down buildings
55) Chief Wiggem to the left of Merchants arch
56) The National Conference Centre
57) I love the atmosphere
58) Clerys
59) Paddy Kavanagh, canal bank seat, Baggot Street
60) Flea Market and the arch at Temple Bar
61) Vive la Pluie, (Horray for the rain!)
62) DIT Aungier Street
63) Grafton Street a wonderland
64) Very Cute!
65) The Buzz, the craic
66) Phoenix Park
67) Library in Trinity College, George T
68) Imagine Peace, The Spire, Temple Bar
69) We love the Spire
70) Dublins’ Blue Sky
71) Louie Bennett bench in Stephens Green- Labour movement around 1913
72) Cuckoo Lane
73) Shops
74) Coppers (Copper Face Jacks nightclub)
75) Café Des Irlandais
76) We like the Spire
77) It’s a kip!
78) How friendly everyone is in Dublin
79) Alexander Williams aged 13
80) Stephens Green, anna Sillery
81) Georges Street Arcade
82) Iveagh Gardens
83) Friendly buskers
84) The art project in the docklands
85) Everything, (Fabio, Brazil)
86) Camden Palace
87) The academy
88) Tea Garden, Ormond Quay
89) Pretty City, (un fraincis)
90) Harcourt railway station
91) Fafies’ creperie
92) It’s me home!
93) Good bus tour, (Olivia aged 6)
94) Halpenny Bridge
95) The Milkshake Bar
96) RADE off New Street
97) Artists Studios Henrietta Street
98) The friendliness of the people
99) Sunlight Chambers on Parlament Street
100) We love the Spire!
101) The Holly Well under the Nassau street entrance to Trinity College
102) The people and culture, KP
103) Blessington Street Basin
104) Love the people!! BE BACK….
105) Leprechaun Museum
106) Double Decker Buses, egg salad sandwhich, pubs, size of the city, City feel but not scary, easy to get around for the most part, accents, new place, (Amy, North Carolina, USA)
107) Pretty
108) Temple Bar
109) Dublins’ Great people
110) Croke Park on All Ireland Day
111) Temple Bar
112) Temple Bar
113) Rugby(Joeri aged 15 the Netherlands)
114) Happy Birthday Suerin!
115) Docklands wonderful area
116) St Stephens Green in the morning
117) Freedom of Expression, Go Civil Partnership! (woman approx 30 years old)
118) No swim suits in Dublin
119) The people
120) Temple Bar, Aisling
121) Vive le fish & chips, Cha
122) Kippure, Dublin Mountains and hill walking (man approx, 80 years of age)
123) In remembrance of Tom, RIP(homeless man in Merchants Arch begging, Tom died in the same hostel this man slept in the night night before)
124) The city lights as you come in from the country
125) The clothes shopping and the sports
126) The bell tower, if you stand under it you fail your exams
127) Bullet holes in the GPO
128) The Museum Building, TCD
129) Royal Marine Hotel
130) Fish Eye Mirror on the Foggy Dew Window(pub at central bank)
131) Funniest thing: listening to people talk; mostly on public transport
132) Daylight Robbery; There was tax on windows so people boarded them up e.g Bank of Ireland
133) I love Lee Fitzgerald, he lives in Dublin
134) Aviary in the smoking area of the Clock
135) The Dawson Lounge, the smallest pub in Ireland
136) If you walk under Campaniue (Bell Tower) and the bell rings you fail your exams
137) Lights at night
138) The mix up of traditional places and new venues- the LUAS trams
139) It’s not your democracy it’s my democracy
140) I didn’t know that the Trinity building was it when I started there
141) The streets and passages, the kind people of the city
142) Becel & Bring
143) The ghost bike by the canal near Harolds Cross
144) Campshires
145) I live there
146) I like the architecture in the Olympia Theatre
147) The Back Loft Performance and rehearsal space off Thomas st
148) Independent Youth Theatre – Basement in Clarendon St. Gigs, performances, parties and improv. (Come As Soon As You Hear – Facebook group)
149) CUBE – Campaign to Use Buildings that are Empty – Campaign launched by the Carbery Housing Association
150) The Complex, Smithfield Former disused warehouse, now live performance space ( 086 8109789)
151) Visit Dublin app. – Virtual tour for Dublin available on smartphones.
152) Garage Bar – Opposite the Project in Temple Bar.
153) The New Theatre – Connolly Bookshop, Temple Bar
154) Blue Bus – Smoking area/pizza restaurant. Back of the Bernard Shaw.
155) The Crypt – Underground performance space in Dublin Castle
156) Liffey God – Carved anthropomorphic representation of the Liffey on bridgestone of O’Connell bridge.
157) “Secret Bar” – Directly across from the Market Bar, carved snail above door.
158) Gay Map – Map of gay hotspots in Dublin. Available in the Fringe Festival’s office
159) The Lab – Rehearsal space, Foley St.
160) Beckett performance in lane behind Christchurch. – By Raymond Keane and Brian Burroughs
161) Berlin Love Tour – Non-traditional theatre piece, involving a tour of “Berlin” on Dublin streets.
162) Isolde’s Tower – Exchange Street Lower
163) “Culture of Child Abuse”- Exchange St. Lower
164) Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether – art space Ormond Quay
165) Phoenix Park is a poor anglicization of “Fionn Uisce” meaning bright water.
166) Irish National War Memorial Gardens Islandbridge
167) Knight from the Crusades, buried in crypt – St. Michan’s Church, Smithfield
168) Ghost Bike – Bridge over Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross
169) Health food shop

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