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Travelling Without Moving

Edited on

05 May 2021
Read time: 3 minutes

A new chapter for digital study visits

Author: Ian Graham (DigiPlace Lead Expert)

The humble study visit has been a mainstay of transnational exchange activities for decades. But the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 put a stop to in-person city visits for over a year, and looks set to continue this blockade for some months yet. Cities have made a good effort in moving transnational exchange activities into the digital domain through tools like Zoom, Miro and Mentimeter, but city visits and case studies are still catching up with that shift to digital working.

Whilst there are now some signs that in-person visits will start to become possible again in the future, the financial and environmental cost of physical city visits means that a digital / online option for this must become a new permanent tool for effective sharing and exchange of good practices.

Having both in-person and digital city visits in the exchange and learning toolbox can only be a good thing. Whilst digital city visits will arguably require more time and resource for design and preparation, this will be more than offset by the benefits, which include increasing reach by including those who would not be able to travel for a visit, and also reducing both carbon footprint and financial costs from reduced travel.

To help address some of this, in the coming weeks DigiPlace Lead Expert Ian Graham will be working with fellow Digital Support Expert Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse to build on previous work to  unpack what makes a good study visit and how we can make that as effective as possible when using purely digital or remote tools. 

We have many digital tools and methods on offer and the recent increase in willingness and ability to engage with digital media presents an opportunity. Whilst still essential components, we need to move beyond short videos and slide decks for sharing city experiences through digital means.

The irony is that, like most of our newly found digital working practices, remote visits have been possible for years, but we have never made full use of them. They can still never replace all the aspects of an in-person visit, particularly in terms of richness of experience, really getting a sense of a place, the practices that happen there and the true impacts of those interventions. However, improved digital city visits will open up a whole new set of opportunities in future exchange and learning programmes, well beyond the restrictions in place from the current pandemic.

Ian and Mary will work together to explore options (both existing and new) and look at how these can be combined to create an improved experience for cities and practitioners from digital visits. The team will then work with one of the DigiPlace Partner Cities to test out possible formats and components for a city “DigiVisit” using a genuine case example in the coming months. The ultimate aim is to have a set of principles and potential methods that can be combined when cities and urban practitioners are building city visits in the future.