Urban Ecologies 2013: Bridging Cultures in Community Design
On June 21, 2013, members of the Community Design Initiative team led a workshop at OCAD University’s Urban Ecologies conference entitled “Bridging Cultures in Community Design”. The workshop invited the conference participants – planners, architects, designers, artists, and various other professionals – to better understand the manner in which our team has developed a unique collaboration model in order to support a capital project that is and, under any circumstances, would be a great challenge.
Those who joined the workshop had a certain degree of interest in being involved in participatory community design. Our goal was to facilitate how professional cultures share their language, practices, and problem solving approaches in these types of projects that is conducive to feeling safe and open to collaboration.
After a brief introduction to the Community Design Initiative, and the stories of how our various leads got involved and immersed in the project, the participants were given a scenario to work on. The scenario posed a situation where there was a possible government grant for a capital project in a community – a $17 billion fund – but the community had to mobilize in two months to get a plan together to access the fund. This scenario was loosely based on an experience that we have had in the past, and seeing how this group mobilized to optimize this opportunity would allow us to do an informal comparative analysis as to how we made decisions in order to accomplish a similar goal.
Our participants were assembled into groups of 3-4, each representing one of the various stakeholder groups involved in participatory community projects: the community, urban planners, designers, architects, funders, and city officials. They had 20 minutes to look at the scenario and design their way to a solution for this problem. What was most interesting, was that at no point in this process did any of the groups get up from their space and go to collaborate with another stakeholder. Our roles as facilitators was to not enforce collaboration, but to see if that was the first inclination of this group.
After the first round of problem-solving, we invited each of the stakeholder groups to present their solution to the larger group. At the end of the presentations we invited the group to put their plans into action, but this time, with a “curveball”: the government has changed their funding priorities and the fund is now $17 in total. (Go!) At this point, a few groups started to come together to chat about how they could collaborate, and by the end of the 20 minutes, the entire group had organically come together to collaboratively make decisions.
What we wanted to “show not tell” in this workshop, was that
a) Participatory Design cannot happen in silos;
b) The roles of each stakeholder in Participatory Design are non-traditional, and rather shifting and dynamic;
c) The nature of this work involves a high-degree of authentic relationship and trust building; and
d) Collaboration should happen responsively not reactively
In our efforts to use true design process and “show not tell” our participants how to collaborate, they left with a deeper understanding of the complexity of these problems, and how collaborating first makes participatory design authentic rather than superficial. We felt that the workshop was a great opportunity to draw out key insights that we have developed over the past five years, and share them in a way that goes beyond storytelling and farther into enabling others to do this kind of work.