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The Zen of Charrettes: Charrettes as Collective Mindfulness

May 13th, 2016 by Beth Madsen-Bradford · Comments Off

The Zen of Charrettes: Charrettes as Collective Mindfulness
This is the third in a four-part series on The Zen of Charrettes. 
There is a lot of talk about mindfulness these days. Mindfulness is a practice of relaxing, becoming fully present in the current moment, and, in doing so, releasing tension to allow creative energy to flow. Mindfulness trainings can be found in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to grade schools. In last month’s newsletter I talked about managing the flow of ideas, information and energy in charrettes. I have also witnessed a sort of collaborative or collective mindfulness taking place in charrettes. 
The central strategy of charrettes, as practiced in the art schools of the 19th century, calls for the student to singularly focus on a design project over an extended period of time. Master designers and artists describe the experience of creativity as becoming a channel, allowing the creativity to flow through when they “get out of the way.” To get to this point, one needs to focus and stay focused, or mindful, throughout the creative process. 
Members of the design team practice mindfulness in community planning charrettes as well. The uninterrupted immersion in a design effort that takes place in a charrette leads to creative, unexpected outcomes. But beyond the level of the individual or team, charrettes have the extraordinary ability to bring the power of mindfulness to the scale of an organization or community to create transformative solutions. While people don’t sit around and meditate together in a charrette, an alignment of energies does develop when people focus together over a number of days to develop a plan to realize a shared vision. 
In a charrette, community members and key stakeholders participate with the design team in at least three feedback meetings throughout the evolution of a design solution. Although their focus is not as continuous as the design team’s, the shortness of the gaps between reviews – no more than a couple of days – allows them to reengage while the ideas are still fresh in their minds. In a multiple-day charrette, all participants engage in a creative group process, experiencing the roller coaster of creativity in developing feasible, transformative solutions. As co-authors of these solutions, participants are more likely to become project champions, working on the implementation in the years to come.
Next month’s topic: The Designer’s Secrets to Creativity

Comments OffCategories: The Zen of Charrettes

The Zen of Charrettes: The magic of three feedback loops with space to get it wrong twice

April 22nd, 2016 by Beth Madsen-Bradford · Comments Off

The Zen of Charrettes: The magic of three feedback loops with space to get it wrong twice
This is the second in a four-part series on The Zen of Charrettes. 
Reflecting on my decades of managing charrettes, I realized that what I’m really managing is the flow of ideas, information and energy. A key to doing so successfully is the thoughtful use of feedback cycles to establish and maintain a flow of information and ideas among the community and business members and advocates, decision makers, staff, and design team. Information flows at different frequencies between different groups in a multiple-day charrette. Design team members may have multiple interactions happening continuously as they work in close quarters for compressed timeframes, while staff and community members may interact and exchange ideas and information less frequently.

In order to manage the flow of input, ideas and solutions within a community planning process, we find three feedback loops to be the magic number. Three feedback loops allow for a progression from a large set of concepts to a synthesis into a preferred plan. It can take three interactions with a person or group to transform from a position of resistance to a position of listening and then to a position of understanding. Here’s another way to look at it- three feedback loops allow the design team to get it wrong twice before landing on the best idea. Inherent to this process are numerous benefits- by getting it wrong twice, the design team drops their guard. Here openness and listening replace big egos. Participants develop trust in this authentically open design process that seeks the best solution regardless of its source. Shared learning take place during each feedback session among specialists and community members.

How do three feedback loops work into a charrette?
We recommend that complicated, contentious projects are best served by containing the three feedback loops in a minimum of five contiguous days. The main reason is that five or more days allows the space to deal with the unexpected, yet inevitable, bumps in the political road before they spin out. Less contentious or less complicated projects may qualify for a shorter “Lean Charrette.” (More on that approach in the next newsletter.)

The opening night of a charrette is a community workshop focused on information sharing and a vision development exercise. The goal is to develop a shared understanding of the project purpose and process as well as to listen for what is important to the community. The design team then develops a large set of concepts with the involvement of staff and key stakeholders. The first feedback, or pin-up, session happens a day or two later. Here, the design team literally pins an impressive set of concept drawings on the wall. Specialists, project sponsors and community members are engaged in an open conversation about the merits of each proposal. All ideas are reviewed in terms of their strengths and trade-offs are measured against an agreed upon set of metrics. Participants in this pin-up can come away happy, irritated or somewhere in between, which is just fine. The goal is for everyone to be more informed, to appreciate the process and to come back. Unhappy people are often invited to come to the design studio the next day for one-on-one discussions. The design team then moves forward to revise and narrow the concepts down to one or two preferred options.

The second feedback loop occurs a day or two later. A similar process commences, with the goal of picking one or two preferred options. Returning participants now see a changed set of concepts in response to their input. This is the point at which people can become hooked on the charrette process. They appreciate that they are involved in a creative process wherein they can have an impact.

The cycle continues to the third feedback loop a day later. This time a preferred plan is presented in more detail, usually accompanied by technical feasibility studies such as traffic modeling and financial analysis. By the third go-around, repeat participants (who usually number up to 70%) have been embedded in the design process. They have invested their energy, witnessed the design team’s responsive efforts and are now potential project champions. Of course not everyone gets what he or she wants, but everyone should appreciate how they were treated.

It is crucial to match the project process to the type, budget and complexity of the problem. NCI’s Charrette System trainings provide the analytical tools for determining if a project merits a five or more day charrette. Learn more at a the next NCI Certificate Trainings in Asheville…


Next month’s topic: Charrettes as Collective Mindfulness

Comments OffCategories: Benefits of Charrettes · Charrette Organization and Management · Charrette Preparation · Design Thinking · Meeting Facilitation · Public Meetings · Public Participation · Stakeholders · The Zen of Charrettes

The Zen of Charrettes: Transforming Conflict into Co-action

April 22nd, 2016 by Beth Madsen-Bradford · Comments Off


The Zen of Charrettes: Transforming Conflict into Co-action
This is the first in a four-part series on The Zen of Charrettes. 
It is not unusual for a charrette to agitate concerns and misunderstandings. Designers recognize that innovative solutions are often fueled by what may appear, at first glance, to be confusion, conflict or chaos. Placing value on inclusion and listening is the first step toward recognizing when conflict actually represents an opportunity. 
The NCI Charrette System™ uses a process for engaging stakeholders before a charrette begins, to establish trusting relationships and greater understanding about the purpose and process of a project. One of the goals of an opening night public meeting is to bring any remaining differences to the surface, so that that they can be addressed in the ensuing days of the charrette.
Following are some initial key steps toward transforming conflict into positive action in the course of a multiple day charrette. Multiple days allows the space to deal with the unexpected disruptions that are common in volatile political situations.: 
  1. Make sure that the opening charrette public meeting is mostly devoted to community input. 
  2. As soon as they arrive, give people a hands-on task, such as placing dots on photos they like or creating a vision wall with post its. 
  3. Move into small table exercises as soon as possible after a brief meeting introduction. 
  4. Ask table facilitators to be aware of people having a hard time with the meeting, and give space for dissenting viewpoints to be heard. 
  5. Connect with these people, find out who they are, and determine the best route to address their concerns. Options could include visiting them off site, or inviting them to the charrette studio the next day. 
  6. Engage people in the design process, and work to understand their positions. Keep asking “why” until you uncover the implicit need, such as safety, privacy and/or property values. 
  7. Continue drawing ideas to probe for an acceptable solution. It is important to show the trade-offs of each option. 
It can take up to three interactions, or feedback loops, to transform people’s positions, so these strategies are most successful in a multiple day charrette. This allows the time and space to deal with the unexpected disruptions that are common in volatile political situations.

Next month’s topic: The Power of Three Feedback Loop

Comments OffCategories: Benefits of Charrettes · Charrette Organization and Management · Charrette Preparation · Public Participation · The Zen of Charrettes

Forget Dot Voting, Use an Ease/Impact Map

February 29th, 2016 by Beth Madsen-Bradford · Comments Off

For years, we have been teaching the dot voting method for prioritizing vision ideas at public meetings. While this method certainly has merits, the problem with dot voting is that someone inevitably ends up feeling like they are on the losing team. How can you get a group to agree on the relative importance of a set of ideas? 
Starting with our next training in Seattle, NCI will be replacing the dot voting exercise with ease/impact mapping. Taken from our research into the Design Thinking toolbox, ease/impact maps are a way of gaining consensus on priorities rather than creating winners and losers. 
We tested this tool at our New Partners for Smart Growth Conference session here in Portland last week. One participant said that the mapping would solve her problem for how to get a group of people to prioritize ideas. She reported that people in her community were still mad about losing in a dot voting exercise a full two years ago. 
An ease/impact map has four quadrants into which participants place post-its with vision items according to the potential impact and degree of difficulty. There are no winners or losers in this exercise. It is a way for the group to track which items should lead the effort because they are easy and can make an immediate difference. 
Our upcoming NCI Charrette System™ Certificate Training will integrate this and other Design Thinking techniques. Click here to learn more about the training. 
Click to download an instruction sheet on how to conduct a Vision Wall and drawing plus the Ease/Impact Mapping exercise (PDF).

Comments OffCategories: Charrette Organization and Management · Charrette Preparation · Design Thinking · Public Participation · Trainings/Events

Charrette: A Social Innovation Lab

February 29th, 2016 by Aarin Lutzenhiser · Comments Off

by Hazel Borys, Place Makers

When you think social innovation, you might think micro loans in developing countries, or hand-ups to help people in from the fringes here at home. Or a wide range of ways to build social capital or how charitable institutions backstop community with philanthropy. But for those of you who are working in the city planning trenches every day, using collaborative design workshops to engage the people, you’re really running a form of social innovation lab.You’re drawing from diverse perspectives, co-creating solutions, and taking on a systems approach to problem solving. You’re helping the community use design thinking married up to community development to tell their own stories and make their own places, inviting participants who will use the design to be part of its creation process. You’re asking someone to help set the table, instead of inviting them to dinner that’s already been set. Making for more durable solutions to social innovation. And for way more resilient places….continue reading this piece

Comments OffCategories: Benefits of Charrettes · Public Participation

Collaboration Overload?

January 15th, 2016 by Beth Madsen-Bradford · Comments Off

We live in the age of collaboration. Everywhere you look, people are realizing that the only way to solve our problems is to work together. However, working together can be a challenge, especially with a large number of disparate stakeholders, acting within their own silos. The latest edition of the Harvard Business Review, titled “Collaboration Overload,” states that the result is too often a series of endless meetings and an unsustainable workload for a small number of key people within an organization. Endless meetings that produce few results can sour people on the process. How can you create a culture of collaboration that is rewarding and manageable for people?

One way is to focus on reducing rework in your project. Rework is an indicator of a dysfunctional process, and the most common culprits are data and people. Rework can occur when key people are involved too late, or left out altogether. Similarly, data that is incorrect or late to arrive can throw the project into reverse.
Charrettes are designed to make the most of peoples’ time by involving them at important decision points. Charrettes also use the technique of time compression to bring key people together to create feasible, innovative solutions quickly. A design team is assigned to develop a set of alternative concepts that are merged into a preferred plan; stakeholders then provide critical review and design input through a series of short feedback loops. In addition, the charrette is an exciting, creative community-building event. Like in a traditional barn raising, lasting relationships develop when people work together intensely on a common cause.
The NCI Charrette System™ guides you through the organization and conduct of a multiple-day charrette that can transform the way your community or organization works together- both on your projects and in your day-to-day work. Learn more through The Charrette Handbook, one of our recorded webinars or in-person at one of our upcoming trainings.

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Are you charrette ready?

December 2nd, 2015 by Beth Madsen-Bradford · Comments Off

Watch this short video in which Bill Lennertz, NCI Executive Director, talks about what happened to a charrette that was not charrette ready. Before you commit to a charrette, you had better be certain that you’ve done your homework…

How To Know If You’re Charrette Ready And What To Do If You’re Not

Live webinar: December 16, 2015, 10am PST/1pm EST

Join Bill Lennertz, NCI Executive Director and Stacie Nicole Smith, Senior Mediator at the Consensus Building Institute, as they discuss how to get the most out of your charrette. Two of the most costly mistakes an organization can make are not being charrette ready and not dedicating the right amount of time to the process: scheduling too many days is a waste of resources, while not planning for enough dedicated time means your team can pull an all-nighter, yet still come up short of a complete solution.

Topics that will be covered in this 90-minute webinar include:
How to determine your organization’s charrette readiness
What to do when you are not charrette ready
Tools for handling tough political divides
How to determine project complexity to schedule the correct number of days for your charrette

Register today

This webinar is  accredited with the AIA for 1.5 continuing education system (CES) units, with the AICP for 1.5 certification maintenance (CM) credits, and the Congress for the New Urbanism for 1.5 CNU-A continuing education credits.

Comments OffCategories: Charrette Organization and Management · Trainings/Events · Video

NCI Charrettes + Design Thinking – Recorded Webinar

November 4th, 2015 by Beth Madsen-Bradford · Comments Off

Originally presented on October 21st, in this 30-minute webinar, Bill Lennertz, NCI Executive Director, shows how NCI is combining the accelerated collaborative charrette workshop process with design thinking ideation exercises to tackle “non-physical” design problems. NCI charrettes typically achieve collaboration by design through the use of architectural and urban design drawing. But how do you achieve the power of collaboration when the problem doesn’t lend itself to drawing? How do you get beyond flip-chart brainstorming to more creative exercises? This webinar will show how NCI is engaging stakeholders in strategic planning projects using design thinking exercises that achieve innovative solutions.

Key Learnings:

  • The connection between NCI Charrette System™ and Design Thinking
  • How to leverage the power of NCI Charrettes and Design Thinking to solve strategic planning and policy issues

View the recording now.

Comments OffCategories: Design Thinking · NCI Publications/Resources · Stakeholders · Video

Top 5 tools for Design-based Public Participation

October 5th, 2015 by Aarin Lutzenhiser · Comments Off

Check out our latest free webinar presented by NCI Executive Director, Bill Lennerz. Learn about our latest tools, developed and tested on-the-ground for NCI projects in Denver, Norman, OK and Memphis. The way a meeting starts is key to its success. Learn how to positively engage people from the moment they walk in the door to the end of the meeting. Learn how to integrate tech tools and drawing into public meetings. Learn the most effective way to collect input on a proposed plan from a large public meeting.

Top 5 tools for Design-based Public Participation

45-minute webinar recorded 9/22/15

Comments OffCategories: NCI Publications/Resources · Public Participation

NCI Working in the Field: Practicing what we teach

September 10th, 2015 by Aarin Lutzenhiser · Comments Off

In addition to our annual public trainings in Portland, OR and Washington, DC, for the first half of 2015 we have been working on a variety of interesting projects and customized trainings. This ongoing project work means that we bring new, constantly evolving,
real-world experience to everything we do. Coupled with our trainers’ over 25 years of accumulated stories from work in the field, our trainings are both fresh and grounded in a deep history of wisdom and success.

  • Forest County Potawatomi Community As part of our ongoing work with the US EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities under their Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program via a grant to the Project for Public Spaces, NCI collaborated with the Local Government Commission on a mini-charrette for the Forest County Potawatomi Community in Crandon, WI to develop recommendations for a sustainable development action plan for this Native American Tribe.
  • Memphis Fairgrounds An NCI team including Placematters and Equity Consulting Collaborative facilitated live and web-based forums to gather community input in advance of the Urban Land Institute panel on the Fairground reuse project. It was a first for a ULI panel to be preceded by an NCI community outreach process.
  • Saint Mary’s Food Bank NCI is facilitating the application of the NCI Charrette System™ to St. Mary’s Food Bank’s (Phoenix, AZ) strategic action planning process. Operations work teams are crafting action plans using a shared website as well as on-site working meetings. Plans will be merged during a 2-day charrette with management.

Comments OffCategories: Benefits of Charrettes · Trainings/Events · Uncategorized