Common Ground

Common Ground is a new initiative designed for the London Fire Brigade that builds upon their existing services and introduces new approaches to rethink fire safety awareness and preparation in apartment buildings. It changes the scale at which the London Fire Brigade offers services and how residents consider fire safety.
Kiran Dulay
London Fire Brigade
Designing for services under extreme pressure
There’s a lot that can be learnt about how to build robust services by exploring potential gaps within existing systems and considering the ways in which systems, services, and objects that function under pressure do so. I used Common Ground to build my own experimental approach to research by creating exploratory methods to understand the mindsets and behaviours of people in these moments. Given that the London Fire Brigade’s budgets are stretched, and their services range from mitigation through to rescue for a variety of emergencies not just fire, I aimed to repurpose what was currently available. When designing Common Ground I had 3 key objectives: 1 - Rethink the relationship between the public and the London Fire Brigade 2 - Ease the services of the London Fire Brigade and reduce some pressure 3 - Consider a collective approach to fire safety
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How I got started
Firefighting is a highly skilled operation, so to understand how the experts prepare for such incidents I spent time with London Firefighters seeing how they train, spend their time and step into action. This was accompanied by a healthy dive into fire forums and relevant content on Quora and Reddit. I then used these and other sources to compile a Pattern Library for Fire Safety which aided my process. Previously when asking people about their thoughts and feelings in moments of a journey it revolved around a positive/negative graph or a thinking/feeling/doing grid. While these are great for recalling and capturing responses, they didn’t help unpack emotions further. So, I created character cards with familiar movie characters which, while may not be entirely accurate, gave people comparison points to relate to when explaining the motives, traits and the tone of voice that they have and desire from others in high pressure environments.

Bringing back The Sims 2 game

Given that some people viewed fire safety as a serious or dull topic, or one that didn’t involve them, I wanted to simulate scenarios to give them something to react to and make it more fun and inviting. After getting people to map out their floor plans, select a likely fire scenario, and walk me through what they would do if this occurred, I decided to take it further. After a nostalgic flashback to modelling homes and playing out scenes in games as a teenager I turned my room upside down to find my old The Sims 2 CD and booted it up. It proved to be a great platform to immerse people in different user journeys and they engaged in conversations in different reflective states having embodied a Sim. I’m intrigued to keep exploring the utility of gaming platforms as alternative social spaces and their potential as sandbox environments.

(Service) Design is not without its awkward moments

My awkward moment came about while I was lost in the fog hoping for a eureka moment. As a way of refocusing I made something to get a response to. I created a fire safety kit, rang my neighbour’s doorbell and stood 2 metres back. Passing over the kit led to confusion, they remarked that it was out of the blue, wondered if I worked for the London Fire Brigade and if I didn’t why I was handing them this, and a few days later flicked through the kit, tried an activity then left it alone. It wasn’t as smooth as I’d planned but it shaped my next steps by validating an important assumption, fire safety is without prompt associated with the London Fire Brigade and it was crucial that a service for the public was not only delivered by them but, at the very least, maintained their level of trust.
The main idea behind Common Ground
A key change I’m proposing with Common Ground is to shift from each household in apartment buildings individually considering how they react to a fire alarm, to residents recognising that their collective actions impacts the effectiveness of fire services and coming together in how they respond. By changing the scale of considering fire safety it allows for better prevention and an organised response. Common Ground aims to do this by first increasing residents’ level of fire safety knowledge and then creating opportunities for a proactive approach to fire safety. It utilises existing services offered by the Fire Brigade moving from individual home fire safety visits to group ones for apartments with identical layouts and includes an operational fire safety demo with their building inspections bringing new value to residents. It recognises messaging platforms that residents engage through and suggests their use for updates if there’s a fire or false alarm.
Test your fire alarms when you change your clocks
Comprised of 4 key components; support, advocates, tools and rituals, a key date in the Common Ground calendar is when the clocks change in March and November. On this Sunday residents test their fire alarms, are offered support if needed and are invited to take part in a fire safety activity on prevention, preparation or best practice run by the Advocates. Advocates are volunteer residents who receive free training by the London Fire Brigade, to a level of knowledge similar to fire wardens and cadets, and are given support in how to run the fire safety activities in their buildings. This role isn’t about firefighting, recusing people or giving technical advice - that is left to the experts. In case of a fire, tools are provided including ‘I’m staying put’ door hangers to reinforce best practice as people tend to linger in the hallway, and a poster to input details to close the feedback loop afterwards.
special thanks
To my tutor Marta Ferreira de Sá who continuously encouraged the less conventional methods I took interest in, kept me on track when I hit the fog and throughout it all remained a great source of inspiration and motivation, helping me realise the value of my work. To our Head of Programme Clive Grinyer for always cheering us on and for being a sounding board and listening ear when I needed it. To Ian Greatbatch and the Fire Crew at Lambeth Fire Station for inviting me to join you and learn from you. To all the lovely people who said yes to interviews, testing and peer-to-peers and supported me throughout this project.
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