2014 | Community Engagement | Matt Kleinmann and Nicole Joslin

In pursuit of a framework for design teams collaborating with communities in order to improve the built environment.

There is an old proverb that goes, “Nothing about us without us is for us.” What it encapsulates is the notion that no policy or action that impacts a community — be they rallied around a particular geography, social cause, or as part of anorganization — should be carried out without first directly engaging with the community that is affected. What constitutes as ‘engagement’ is what this document seeks to address.

Architects therefore often commit themselves to meeting the concerns of the client and delivering a project that is on schedule and under budget at the expense of giving proper consideration to meaningful input from the community. The goal of this document is to offer up an alternative method, one that seeks to develop a framework for community engagement that can provide tangible results in an expected timeline, therefore allowing a process of public participation to be accounted for throughout the phases of design. By instilling a better sense of community ownership, architects can provide their clients with real value, before, during, and long after the project is completed.

Practitioners are increasingly recognizing the value diverse perspectives bring to a design solution. Design practices described as human-centered, social impact, public interest, and participatory are increasingly infiltrating professional practice. These groups believe the people who face the problems designers are looking to solve are often the ones who hold the key to their answer, and the designer’s role is to bring it out and put form to it. Designers at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple described why stakeholders are engaged in specific projects through a series of interviews and facilitated discussions.

Transparency: Inform Stakeholders of the project and its community impact

Decisions: Engage stakeholders in decision making to ensure the project serves their needs

Good Design: Leverage stakeholder input to push against the status quo

Good Business: Engagement fosters partnerships for the benefit of current and future projects

There is obviously no shortage of methods and tools available to practitioners looking to get stakeholders involved in their projects. The barrier to incorporating meaningful engagement in the design process is more often the time available to plan and a willingness to share decision-making power, rather than access information about methods. For this reason designers tend to stick to a limited reserve of methods that they find safe and reliable. The four methods discussed in this section were repeatedly described by firm employees as ones they have used reliably in past projects.

Public Meetings: Push public meetings with tools that helps stakeholders discover new ideas

Questions: Directed questions help the design team understand stakeholder perspectives

Conversations: Designers often facilitate conversations between clients, user, neighbors, and representatives

Workshops: Exercises give stakeholders empathy and insight into the design process