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U of A design student prototypes new ways to increase community engagement

Guest Post by University of Alberta MDes student Travis Holmes


The CommuniTEA infusion van is a provocative instant community. It’s a pop up spectacle! The van enables community members to get together and talk about community and engage as connected neighbours. It’s a social innovation in the way that people with disabilities are key leaders in the initiative and are seen as community builders in Edmonton neighbourhoods. The question we played with during my time with Skills Society was, How do we encourage the engagement and discussion of community once the CommuniTEA Infusion van rolls away? The goal of this project was to find something that could do that.  I learned that leaders of CommuniTEA Infusion wanted to see if they could help spark more community connecting sustainably for weeks and months after an event. It’s a noble and tall order and I was excited to take it on.

Check out the CommuniTEA Infusion mini doc below

CommuniTEA Infusion Documentary from project citizenship on Vimeo.


TEavan prototypes7I was interested in finding a concept that had depth but was still simple and cheap to reproduce. I wanted the takeaway item to have a distinct connection to the CommuniTEA Infusion event. I designed a “CommuniTEA Starter Kit.” It has gone through many stages of revision, but it’s still a prototype. The user is supposed to take it home, and they will have some ideas of how to start building community.

The booklet uses simple and inviting language to reach a wide variety of users. It’s meant to give the user some basic event ideas for community gathering. There are some fun illustrations to give some context and hopefully entertain the user. The back portion of the booklet serves as a simple step by step tutorial on making community flags. The cover of the starter kit actually serves as a template for cutting out the flags.

The question is, how do we encourage the engagement and discussion of community once the CommuniTEA Infusion van rolls away?

Why the flags?

Teavan event 4The flags are a symbol of celebration. When strung together, the flags establish place. Think about a birthday party, or a wedding, or even a MEGA sale at a car dealership. Flags flapping in wind can build an inviting atmosphere. In this case, they are supposed to create a welcoming and inclusive gathering space with ideas on the flags that signal what makes a neighbourhood’s community rich and vibrant. The idea is, the flags can be made at CommuniTEA Infusion events. They can write or draw on them, maybe an inspirational or memorable quote. Community members can make their own contributions to establish place. They can actively invest through contribution.

After a CommuniTEA Infusion event, then, neighbour’s take their community building kit home, and look through it for ideas to encourage simple acts of neighbourliness and engaged citizenship in their community throughout the year.  I’m excited that Skills Society and I might dig a bit deeper over the winter, build on these initial ideas and have some cool CommuniTEA Infusion tools to launch in the spring of 2015.

Thanks for the opportunity to work with CommuniTEA Infusion and Skills Society on improving inclusivity and engaged citizenship in Edmonton!