Innovating Solutions among U.S. and German Cities: Dialogues for Change Workshop #5
From November 17-19, 2014, the Dialogues for Change initiative convened for its fifth workshop in Baltimore, MD. Participants spent two and a half intensive days in peer-to-peer dialogues, facilitated conversations, small group problem-solving sessions, and city specific action planning meetings. It had been nearly seven months since the full network had been convened and participants had a lot of updates to share. Between workshops, participants engaged in conference calls and had identified two sticky challenges: maintaining momentum and organizational structures for implementation. The aim of this workshop was to address these challenges in a concrete way and use new methods and tools to help participants achieve their goals.
As in previous workshops, we used keypad polling technology to discern measurable outcomes and progress toward group priorities. Overall, participants felt that they had made progress towards their implementation goals outlined in the previous workshop and have been working hard to engage the community throughout the process. For example, Flint is starting to launch a community education process in schools with considerable buy-in from the community toward the city’s implementation priorities.
One of the key objectives of each workshop is to increase the understanding of the host city’s policy priorities and their project work. The team from the City of Baltimore arranged a comprehensive site tour for the group that looked at the Growing Green Initiative through different projects around the city. These projects illustrated how the city will implement the green pattern book and how they are coping with city’s ongoing vacant property problem. Through a design competition, community groups, non-profits, and private partners had the opportunity to showcase innovative ideas to transform vacant lots in the City of Baltimore. Overall, seven projects were awarded seed money to implement their idea. Participants visited other community sites, such as neighborhood gardens, including a Gather Baltimore site that provides fresh, healthy food on a weekly basis to community members in need. Another stop on the tour was a street of vacant row homes that are being deconstructed by workers from the community who are being trained through Humanim, a non-profit that provides services, including workforce development, to those in need. The workers are carefully removing and cleaning bricks to be resold.
As a follow-up to the tour, and to address one of the sticky challenges identified by participants, a panel of experts involved in the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative, spoke about its impacts on the community and the partnerships and organizational structures that had been formed through the initiative. This project is an effort to build a mixed-income community in a deeply distressed neighborhood adjacent to the Johns Hopkins University campus. The panel of experts included:
- Karen Major Johnson, Esquire, Senior Director of East Baltimore Development Inc. Family Advocacy and Supportive Services
- Scott Levitan, VP and Development Director, Forest City Science and Technology Group
- Annette Anderson, Associate Dean, Johns Hopkins School of Education
- Charles Rutheiser, Senior Associate in the Center for Community and Economic Opportunity
- Meghan Gough, Assistant Professor Urban Studies and Regional Planning, L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University.
The panel spoke to the issue of adapting to a change in leadership through heavy community involvement and a strong interest in seeing the project succeed. Absent something tangible, the coalition stayed together because their reputations were on the line and they were committed to getting it right.
In this workshop, participants focused on how they would address issues and what tools and methods they could employ. Participants worked through the process of design thinking to help cities more fully understand their concerns and work through them to find feasible solutions. Design thinking is a process that focuses on a human-centered approach to problem-solving and at its core, is empathy. Empathy helps the problem-solver see the problem from the user’s perspective. After going through this process, participants shared their insights that they learned. Some participants mentioned that they realized it was normal to focus on what doesn’t work, but that it’s also important to focus on what does work. Others noted that it is important to look at the process from the perspective of all stakeholders to better understand their actions and help everyone work together towards a common goal. After gaining empathy for a stakeholder group(s) involved in their challenge, cities spent time thinking through potential solutions in the ideate phase of the design thinking process.
The ideate phase is an opportunity for people to expand their horizons and come up with new and innovative ideas. The purpose is to create ideas and not to evaluate. Participants suspend judgment and come up with as many new ideas as they can in the time allotted. After working through several individual and group activities, workshop participants met with their city groups to talk through their solutions and start thinking about which solution they would like to prototype and test.
Workshop participants spent a significant amount of time creating a prototype of their favorite solution and getting feedback from other city participants. Their prototypes were impressive, thoughtful, and innovative. They worked to prioritize the potential solutions for their cities and create an action plan for moving forward between now and the next workshop, which will be held in March in Ludwigsburg, Germany.
This workshop was made possible through generous support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.