Category Archives: guidelines

Reforming play equipment and surfacing Standards: a few thoughts

I think it fair to say that within the broad community of play advocates – play designers, landscape architects, play provision providers, pedagogues – play equipment and surfacing Standards have not been a hot topic of debate or contention. For some they were, and continue to be, a form of assurance as to the ‘safety’ of a product; and, in addition, they may even be taken as a proxy indicator of that quasi-mystical quality: play value.

For others, Standards in their current form are a source of bemusement, if not irritation, seen as impeding the possibility of creating rich and varied play environments.

But what this diverse constituency  has in common,  is the shared sense that play equipment and surface Standards descend as from on high, are created via processes and people they know not, but whose pronouncements  have the force and authority of Holy Writ, to be adhered to, but not questioned.

That was then. Now is now.  

‘Now’ is marked by the steady growth, and the coming together, of a diverse  constituency of pedagogues, play advocates, academics, designers, individuals from within Standard-making bodies, all seized of the need to examine Standards, how they are formulated, who formulates them, their scope and their practical consequences ‘on the ground’.   And this constituency is growing. Continue reading

There is a link, I promise: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and play

I accept that at first blush it might seem odd to link words such as play, children, teenagers, risk-taking to the international trade talks currently being conducted between the European Union and the United States of America.  But there is a link, and it is potentially a threatening one. The talks, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), has as its general aim the lowering of what are described as ‘barriers’ to trade between, in this case, the EU and the USA.

One aspect of the so-named ‘barriers’ are Standards.  Standards in respect of, among others things: environmental protection; specification of electrical goods; of additives to food; in respect of cosmetics and testing; and standards in respect of, well, play equipment and playground surfacing.

The TTIP negotiations are conducted in virtual secrecy – itself a major source of concern – but Greenpeace has managed to acquire confidential papers that reveal, in part at least, the state of play between the parties.  The now released confidential papers are, says Greenpeace, at some variance from the EU’s publicly expressed opinion. Part of what is revealed is the US demand that the EU be put under an obligation to inform the US, in advance, of any planned regulations and to allow them the same ‘input into EU regulatory processes as European firms’ (Source: Guardian. 2 May). Continue reading

After Standards’ reform: The sunny uplands of possibility?

As a topic of conversation, the role and scope of play equipment and surfacing standards[1] may appear somewhat dry and technical, a bit of a turn-off.  But consider this:

  • The playground equipment and surfacing industry here in the UK has an estimated annual turnover in the order of £170m – £200m, a significant proportion of which is in effect funded by taxpayers and charitable funders.  Question has to be: Does that spend represent value for money, is it doing the best possible work for children’s play opportunities?
  • And a wider question: Are decisions about the detail of play provision spending lodged in the right hands?   Is decision-making about play provision well-balanced, or askew?

Those latter questions should counter the notion that questions about standards are merely dry and technical.  In this article I speculate as to what benefits might flow from a rationalisation of play equipment and surfacing standards. Continue reading

Standards: Time for reform?

It’s often hard to predict what will generate an active interest in an issue.  The issue may have been around for a good deal of time, indeed may have been a source of worry or irritation but, somehow, the matter appears impenetrable, difficult to grasp.

Such, arguably,  is how many play provision providers have felt and still feel about playground equipment and surfacing standards.   Decisions are promulgated, they seem to bear a stamp of authority, yet there is a persistent sense of disconnect between decision-makers, and those affected by their pronouncements.  The relevance of standards[1] is asserted by the bodies that generate them, but in many of the settings affected by them, there is doubt.  Such doubts hitherto have been muted, not channelled or organised, or, indeed, been the subject of much debate.

We may, however, be witnessing a change.  We may be experiencing by those affected by standards a nascent sense of empowerment.  The sense that if current arrangements for generating standards are perpetuated,  then bad decisions will continue to made.  That what is required, is a fundamental rethink about standards, the values that inform them, the structures and the processes that generate them.  It is, as I say, a nascent sense of empowerment, not by any means fully formed.  Continue reading

ASTM surfacing proposal – opposition mounting

In this brief post I can do no better than direct your attention to the joint open letter to the ASTM committee by the Chair of the UK Play Safety Forum, Robin Sutcliffe and Tim Gill.  It makes cogent and informed points that underscore the reasonableness of those urging ASTM to defer passing its current proposals in respect of  playground surfacing.

In a similar vein, I urge you to read – if you have not already done so – Jay Beckwith’s blog on the same subject.

I add two points of my own:

1.    It is important to value, to hold fast to, our common sense, observation and experienced-based knowledge about children, their competency, behaviour, and risk assessing capabilities.  ‘Objective’ statistical data represents but one form of evidence.  It says nothing in particular in the absence of a value-based framework within which ‘facts’ can be weighted and assessed.

2.  It is clear that opposition is growing to the ASTM proposals.  Voices are being raised, arguments made, blogs being written.  It strikes me – as it has done for some time – that there is also a need to organise, to generate an institutional form that can build on current concerns, and which can channel, inform and maintain a much needed, wide ranging discussion about play equipment and surfacing standards.  I hope my American friends will not accuse me of trespass if I suggest that this move is most immediately pressing in the USA.

I intend to return in more detail to the issues raised here and in the blogs referenced above in March once back from India where – on a recalcitrant guest house keyboard – this note has been written.

A final observational note: if you want proof of the competency of children, and their capacity to care for one another, visit this amazing country where such evidence is daily before one’s eyes.

 

Want to take a more balanced approach to risk? Here’s the tool you have been waiting for

For this blog I need do no more than direct your attention to Tim Gill’s blog entitled ‘Want to take a more balanced approach to risk? Here’s the tool you have been waiting for’ which is designed to promote the new Risk-Benefit Assessment Form  published by Play Scotland in partnership with Play England, Play Wales and PlayBoard Northern Ireland, and was commissioned and developed by the UK Play Safety Forum.

The perhaps startling succinctness of this blog should not, dear reader, be taken as a commitment to maintain such brevity in future posts.

Standards, regulations, guidelines and the muted voice

The recent visit to San Francisco/Berkeley gave me the opportunity to meet with like-minded and partially-like-minded people.    One issue in particular kept coming up and that is the way people felt hemmed in by standards, regulations, and notionally non-mandatory guidelines that in practice were treated as formal requirements .

This disaffection was not restricted to those responsible for play provision, but  was felt more widely.  If I had to sum up the general feeling as I encountered it, it is this: that in the USA the tendency was to over-prescribe the detail  of what may or may not be done in too many areas of endeavour.  The paradoxical effect  of this is to undermine the capacity of duty holders (I use the term loosely here to identify all those who have a formal role in decision-making, whether as professional or volunteer) to make informed judgments in the light of their ‘reading’ of the always particular, changing, situation-specific circumstances that they confront.  Instead of being able to exercise judgment, the pressure was to act as mechanicals, to follow a sort of universal script deemed to be suitable for all occasions.  In an odd, paradoxical  sort of way, the scripts – standards, regulations, guidelines – seemingly written to enhance best possible action and outcome in the real world, end up being other-worldly, conjuring the fiction that messy reality can be engineered into a pre-formed, one-size-fits-all template. Continue reading