Building or rehabilitating spaces is decreed and organised according to the fundamental and eternal triptych of project owners – project managers – companies. The users or end-users are excluded from the development and decision-making processes, or else falsely included. Yet these are the people who will use the good – the public place. They will subsequently be the first to suffer from any malfunctions.

Experience shows that about 85% of the life of a building, a closed or open structure, is dedicated to use; the remaining 15% is essentially dedicated to programming, design and construction. Nowadays, users want to be recognised more as masters of use, experts in their experience, contributing to a better living environment. They are emerging as a fourth stakeholder in the act of building, aspiring to improve their health and well-being. They want to ensure that their daily practices are in line with the built space and their life trajectories.

In order to objectively coordinate all these stakeholders and make the link between the proposals made, the Assistance in mastery of usage (Assistance à Maîtrise d’Usage – AMU) is essential.

AMU is part of a sustainable development approach, which is [development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs] (Mrs Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norwegian Prime Minister, 1987). Thus, citizen participation, which is often weakly applied, is a constitutive element of the AMU’s approach. It is voluntary and determined by the decision-maker. It involves users in the projects from the programming stage onwards with the project owners and then the project managers.

The AMU is jointly revealed by practical sociology and sustainable engineering services:

– The engineer, with his/her experience in building and public works projects and his/her seniority, masters the entire construction chain. He/she is attentive to the needs of the users, their words, their ecological awareness in all benevolence. He/she places people at the heart of projects and legitimises the establishment of a co-programme. Sustainable building is no longer just a matter for experts.

The “observ’actor” sociologist (Carlisi-Ridacker C., 2019), who is both an observer and an actor, will analyse the use, appropriation and interactions between human actors (conflicts, negotiations, uses, etc.) and non-human actors (equipment) in a space. He/she will then act as a passeur de monde (Poirot-Delpech S. & Raineau L, 2012), mediating between decision-makers, designers and users so that the resources and needs of each of the stakeholders are considered.

Thus, combining engineering and sociological expertise, under the aegis of an AMU mission, makes it possible to build a bridge between the constructed space and the lived space by conducting a collective reflection with all the stakeholders.

Thus, in practice, we have the capacity to identify and constitute one or more user groups that are representative of the project and inclusive, to create a space for shared exchanges on social networks, to discuss the needs, constraints and desires of each stakeholder, etc. during consultation meetings and individual interviews if necessary.

We ensure and support the organisation of a prior and essential information meeting, as well as a feedback meeting. For us, consultation means exchange between the stakeholders, including users, in order to achieve a common sustainable project. Consultation also means giving citizens a place in the decision-making process and supporting the development of collective responsibility.

AMU is a new approach to participatory and territorial contribution. The processes of intervention and involvement are simplified, thus provoking an active adhesion of the inhabitants. Apart from the upstream phase of the project, participation can continue during the design and operation phases. In any case, informing the public about the progress of the project is the bare minimum!

Finally, organising consultation brings many benefits. We can mention, among others:

– Strengthened social links between the actors in a space for exchanges and meetings. This community of users will also be ambassadors to their families, friends and neighbours.

– The avoidance of conflicts of use and the reduction of costs (management, maintenance, etc.) through shared spaces that are well thought out and invested in.

– A reduction in corrective work through a global coherence with the adequacy between the building, the uses and the close environment of the building.

– A more human architecture by taking into account the human process and its environment, alongside standards and techniques, favouring better health.

– A better self-esteem, especially for the users.

– A work which will have a plus in its heritage value and which will convey a positive image to local elected officials and inhabitants.

The AMU, as an innovative democratic approach, will allow citizens to have their say and to make room for citizen initiatives. It restores trust between citizens and elected officials, reduces fears about new participatory projects and, ultimately, tends to enrich community life.

For the original publication, click here.

Published by la Revue Politique et Parlementaire.
Written by Laurence Camus (AlterAMO) and Cyrielle Carlisi-Ridacker (EcoTransFaire) – Member of the réseau AMU France