The Transformational Impact of Community Centered Design
In a series of interactive workshops and discussions held throughout the Urban and Regional Policy Program’s SC2 National Network Workshop, Context Partners walked the fellows and their delegations through the firm’s Community Centered Design (CCD) process, which offers implementable methods they can use to directly impact the community driven work they do.
Context Partners Managing Directors Kimberly Manno Reott (KMR) and Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy (SSB) answer a few questions about their approach and how it applies to the SC2 initiative.
“People Support What They Help Create”
Can you give us a brief overview of the Community Centered Design concept?
KMR: Community Centered Design (CCD) is based on the assumption that the solutions to today’s most challenging problems and most intractable situations come from the power of communities and from unleashing the power of people, and not from what we traditionally call experts. It’s about designing with the community versus designing for it.
SSB: CCD brings elements of community development and innovation into a common set of steps and language. That’s the piece that moves it from theory and concept to an actual methodology and practice. It focuses on organizations and relationships and creates shared value among the community members by following these steps: listen, connect and move. Also, CCD doesn’t end. Sometimes, we have to listen again and again and again.
What is the difference between a community and a human network?
KMR: A community is a group of people connected by a shared characteristic. That could be a geography (like a neighborhood) or a particular experience (like students at a university). People may not even know they are part of a community or even think about it. Networks form when there is a shared purpose or set of activities or roles. For instance, your neighborhood turns into a network when you form a neighborhood watch group.
Why is CCD a good fit for the SC2 fellowship program and its associated projects?
SSB: It’s a really good fit because the SC2 fellows are a classic example of a group of people already doing similar things. In the first workshop, “Igniting Your Network,” we gave the mixed-city teams this framework and asked them to think in a particular way and then dive deep into a specific challenge. Even though some of them hadn’t met before, they were able to sit down and work on it immediately because they have that common set of values and culture and language.
KMR: The problems they’re working on are systemic in nature and they require the creativity and input and support from multiple types of stakeholders. CCD is really about how you engage and empower the community to come up with solutions. So I think it’s in line with a lot of approaches that the fellows and the teams were already taking. The workshops built on that by giving them a framework and a methodology to use to really drive the solution design process.
You ask participants to do some things that feel counterintuitive, including getting comfortable with chaos and having an agnostic approach to the project at hand. Any tips on how to let go of the need to control or establish neutrality?
SSB: One way to do it is to share examples where things have worked, as well as the horror stories. That helps people step back and be not so rigid or set in their ways. They realize it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to be neutral. It’s okay to be in a more chaotic space. Because in fact, it isn’t chaotic. You’re just setting up conversations. You’re setting up relationships.
KMR: We tend to see ourselves as being the person who needs to have the answers. If you don’t see yourself as having to have the answers, but instead as someone facilitating the process to get to the answers, it becomes sort of irrelevant what you think the answer is.
I also suggest surrounding yourself with people who don’t necessarily think like you do. The more diverse views you engage, the more likely you are to suspend your own personal biases.
How can the SC2 fellows use their own network as a resource and how has the SC2 National Fellowship Conference helped to foster that network?
SSB: If they are going to be an ongoing resource to each other, they’ve got to have something to share and a continuing common set of purposes. The German Marshall Fund started to foster that by bringing the group together for this event. They don’t know how important their network can be yet, but they’ll get there as long as it’s kept together.
KMR: In order to begin using their network as a resource, the first step I would recommend is for the SC2 fellows to actually map it. Who and what is their network? Who are the people? How are they connected and what are their needs and wants? What are their motivations? That’s the foundation.
Our pilot cities are home to a variety of diverse stakeholders, from universities to community development centers to health care campuses. How do you turn the differences of such entities into strengths?
SSB: If we approach a situation from the angle of assets — assets for the city — and not scarcity, that methodology is much more effective for bringing stakeholders together. They all want to make the city better and stronger. In that sense, they don’t have differences. If you lead with assets and recognize that people in the community are the backbone for creating change, sustainability and resilience, you’ll get the stakeholders to a common place faster.
The CCD method urges network participants to listen and listen again. With the SC2 pilot cities literary stretching from coast to coast, why is it important for the SC2 teams to convene and communicate regularly?
KMR: At the event, we heard how much these teams wanted to connect with each other. To really accelerate the impact they’re having in each of their cities, they need a set of relationships that support them in their work. Sometimes it’s important that those relationships are outside of their immediate network. That’s what the other SC2 teams can provide.
You have these individual fellows and groups of fellows in different cities. How do you make the whole greater than the sum of its parts? It’s only going to happen if they’re able to connect on a regular basis and communicate about what they are doing, including their successes and failures. It’s clear from the event that these city teams have so much to learn to learn from each other.
SSB: It is so important for GMF and the SC2 fellows to do these kinds of events in order to work together on solutions and move them from one place to another. During the workshop, we heard specific examples of how things can be adopted. Whether it was the parks or arts and culture or an anchor institution as the centerpiece, you could see individuals from various cities latch onto an idea that was working somewhere else. You could see it bring them closer to their goal.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel and events like this workshop move them toward it. It’s already started to become more real for them.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.