Best in Category - Design Strategy 2022

Tram Lab Toolkits

La Trobe University / Monash University XYX Lab / RMIT University

The ‘TramLab Toolkits’ are guides for gender-sensitive processes to create safer public transport systems for women and girls in Victoria.

In 2019 Aiia Maasarwe was raped and murdered after she alighted a tram in the outer suburb of Bundoora. Responding to public outcry, the State Government commissioned the ‘TramLab Toolkits’, bringing together interdisciplinary researchers in gendered violence and urban design to investigate the issues impacting on safety for women and girls on public transport. The research revealed that safety for women on public transport is highly complex, and impacted by multiple factors and causes. The challenge was to find a mode through which to communicate a multi-faceted and coordinated gender-sensitive approach to safer public transport experiences for women and girls.

Design Brief:

The primary aim of the Toolkits was to communicate the value of gender-sensitive, solution-based approaches to urban public transport design and policy. The design team reviewed existing international literature, policy and initiatives and conducted interviews with a diverse range of women users and key stakeholders. A series of intensive workshops then explored the co-design of solutions and speculative proposals with women and girls, representatives from local government and other stakeholders.

The TramLab Toolkits support public transport service providers to improve women and girls’ safe access to public transport safe space using intersectional, gender-sensitive design. They include:

  • Toolkit 1 lays out the steps for developing gender-sensitive communication campaigns.
  • Toolkit 2 details the process for engaging gender-sensitive placemaking to enhance safety for women.
  • Toolkit 3 details the steps for gathering gender-sensitive data for transport spaces.
  • Toolkit 4 outlines the implementation of gender-sensitive training for public transport service providers and aligned security staff.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Co-design and speculative research were the main design processes undertaken for the TramLab Toolkits. The XYX Lab created a special set of conditions for productive co-design as an ‘equalising practice’ that disrupted dominant power structures between the ‘expert’ and women. This process encouraged experts to step away from their ingrained ways of thinking and interacting, allowing them to approach situations and strategies from different perspectives. By fostering creative thinking informed by the intersection of academic knowledge, business contingencies and know-how with the lived experiences of women and girls, the co-design process was able to address complex problems of safety for women on public transport.

Participants included a wide range of women from the Victorian community as well as stakeholders from public transport and urban planning professions. Together a series of speculative solutions, policy recommendations and interventions were produced. The topics of inquiry included: Communication Campaigns, Data Gathering, Women-Focused Transport, Safety Audits, Protective Services Officers (PSOs), and Surveillance Technologies.

The speculative design interventions were then further developed in consultation with Darebin City Council to ensure the scholarly research and co-design strategies would translate into applied design strategies. This process allowed the TramLab research team to understand how various stakeholders would deploy the toolkits to address gendered experiences in cities. Designers, planners and policy makers offered feedback about how to communicate gender issues in cities and the ways that the toolkits could best prioritise inclusive and accessible cities for women and girls in Victoria. They assisted with the inclusion of the LGBTQI+ community, Indigenous peoples, ethnic communities, people with disabilities, the elderly, and children.

Design Excellence

TramLab brings together pioneering research expertise in violence against women; gender, space and design; and technology-facilitated sexual violence and harassment to investigate the issues and factors impacting on safety and perceptions of safety for women and girls on Victorian public transport. TramLab generated four toolkits—underpinned by rigorous research and co-design processes—for implementing gender-sensitive processes that address safety for women and girls on public transport.

The toolkits reflect that no single stand-alone initiative is sufficient to address this complex issue and that any action needs to be part of an intersected approach. The toolkit provides a guide to implement evidence-based interventions in real-world public transport settings. As a set, the four toolkits are adaptable documents that inform and facilitate safer public transport for women and girls.They have been designed to directly communicate evidence-based approaches to people working in the areas of city planning, policy making, and urban design and public transport more broadly. They bring together the diverse knowledge required to make public transport environments safer.

The TramLab Toolkits are the culmination of 26 months of research into how public transport spaces can be safer for women and girls. The project deliberately focuses on women and girls because research revealed that previous attempts at non-gender specific approaches to public transport safety have continuously failed women and girls. The project sets a benchmark for identifying how gender alongside race, Indigeneity, as well as ability, sexuality, age – and all the combinations of these – often result in discrimination, which means that many women are further excluded from public space and the transport systems that operate within them. This complexity around identities is one of the reasons the team insisted on working with as wide a range of people as possible. It is also why the method of co-design is useful for projects like TramLab.

Design Innovation

Sexual harassment and assault are widespread and affect many women and girls in their journeys to, on and around public transport. This sensitive context can generate fear and anxiety causing many women and girls to change their behaviour daily to protect their safety, including changing the routes they take and self-restricting their mobility. The research is clear that it requires gender-sensitive expertise and research innovation to address this complex issue.

The innovation of the TramLab research is the examination of women’s digital, experiential, political and material reality in Victorian public transport spaces and the collation and articulation of alternative design processes that can engage with the shared and conflicted struggles that women and girls face on a daily basis. The TramLab Toolkits reposition design as a strategic tool for challenging inequity.  These four Toolkit themes were selected for being both achievable and having a high impact. The Toolkits are intended to be used together, each frequently referencing the other.

Design Impact

TheTramLab Toolkits have positively altered the future of public transport safety for women and girls in Victoria and internationally. The Toolkits have identified the essential need for considering the experiences of women and girls on and around public transport, and detail how ‘gender-neutral’ strategies—the process of enveloping all users’ safety into a single approach—does not address the real and continuing challenges faced by women and girls in public spaces.

The intersected strategies provided by the Toolkits ensure that public transport systems are inclusive and therefore better patronised and more viable. The toolkits have been taken up by local and state governments (including governments beyond Victoria). The application of the toolkits in the strategies for projects such as the Suburban Rail Loop, the level crossing removal projects and the implementation of digital reporting process for women and girls on Victorian public transport makes significant social impact. By making a difference in the lives of women, their communities, and the public transport environment, the TramLab Toolkits also shape the attitude of various stakeholders in the public sector requiring of them a greater commitment to social well-being through being accountable and appraising women’s safe mobility.

The TramLab Toolkits have helped Victoria reflect on women and girls’ public transport experience and improve policy, planning and design. The toolkits have demonstrated the importance of gender difference in public transport as well as the surrounding communities and built environment. By improving visibility of the issue with experts the TramLab Toolkits have generated widespread support in policy, planning and practice across Victoria. The Toolkits are a mode to assist practitioners to defend these concerns with evidence base design research.

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