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  • Writer's pictureMeghann Ormond

Utrecht's Bitterzoete Route: Design workshop targets local engagement and user experience

"It's been a year since we first launched the Bitterzoete Route tour, and now we want to move further towards achieving our goal: to raise awareness about features of the Dutch colonial past that people rarely talk about. But we've encountered some challenges to accomplishing this. With the help of Wageningen University's MSc Tourism, Society and Environment students, we got a lot of useful insight into our project, revealing to us a wide range of ways we can work towards achieving our goal. [...] This meeting meant a lot to us. While it showed our working group that we still had to address a range of issues, it also showed us that the tour content is important and relevant for everyone." (Rens Bleijenberg, Werkgroep Gepeperde Straten member, Utrecht)

In late January Wageningen's MSc Tourism, Society and Environment student organisation Licere, neighbourhood organisation Werkgroep Gepeperde Straten member Rens Bleijenberg, and I set up a tour and design workshop where 10 of our Wageningen master's students got the opportunity to reflect together on how to enhance local engagement and user experience of the Bitterzoete Route tour in Lombok, one of Utrecht's most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods. The Bitterzoete Route streetname tour was developed by the neighbourhood organisation Werkgroep Gepeperde Straten together with Dr Britta Schilling, Assistant Professor in Cultural History at Utrecht University, and her MA Cultural History students for curious locals and visitors to learn about and begin to reckon with the dark and difficult reality of Dutch colonialism. 

"Before having gone on the Bitterzoete Route, I assumed that I already knew the city of Utrecht fairly well. However, I quickly realized that the references to Dutch colonial history in the Lombok neighbourhood were completely new to me. All the streets we walked through, and the street signs that they had, carried so many stories: stories of the colonial past, stories of different perspectives from locals on how this part of history should be represented in the neighbourhood and stories from the makers of the Bitterzoete Route about trying to share these stories so that they will not be forgotten." (Channah Barneveld, MSc Tourism, Society and Environment student, Wageningen University)

Following the tour that Rens gave, we headed to Lombok local cultural centre and cafe, Kopi Susu, where I facilitated a participatory design workshop that drew on the Bitterzoete Route tour developers' and supporters' experiences and aspirations as well as students' knowledge about designing tourist experiences in order to strengthen the tour's impact and reach. Together with Werkgroep Gepeperde Straten members Rens and Peter and Utrecht Gemeente representative Milan Rouhof, we examined what works, what doesn't and how to improve the Bitterzoete Route tour to make it more accessible, relevant and impactful for different audiences.

"The Silent Conservation design method helps us to address the tour's challenges and come up with solutions. It was really inclusive and, within a short time, we were really inspired to tackle (some) of the challenges." (Rens Bleijenberg, Werkgroep Gepeperde Straten member, Utrecht)

To do this, following the tour, we used the Silent Conversation technique developed in the Susplace Toolkit, which enabled us to collaboratively map the collective thinking (concepts, feelings, associations) of the group, focusing on the Bitterzoete Route's challenges. We then broke into small working groups around the themes identified in the Silent Conversation (e.g., politics of representation, user experience, logistics and resources, local engagement, promotion and marketing, and content and delivery) in order to develop a set of recommendations for how to navigate the challenges that had been identified. Each group reported back in a closing plenary session, generating a wealth of relevant short-term and long-term ideas for how to move forward. It was an excellent opportunity for students to advise on and shape a real-life grassroots community-focused project. Results from the workshop will be shared soon with the rest of the Werkgroep members by the Gemeente representative. I look forward to further contributing -- both individually and with my students -- to the Bitterzoete Route's development and success.

"The Silent Conversation exercise we did really helped to consider what the challenges might be for all the stakeholders involved. This group of stakeholders is very diverse, ranging from local residents and shop owners to history students and the local municipality. The exercise helped to identify what the challenges might be for Bitterzoete Route as they interact with each of these. It was great to see that after a two-hour session of identifying challenges, grouping them into overarching themes and discussions in smaller groups we were able to think of a range of potential ways in which to resolve these challenges." (Channah Barneveld, MSc Tourism, Society and Environment student, Wageningen University)
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