Recent projects have given DoUC the opportunity to reflect on the tools and processes we use to design community engagement activities. It’s a constant process of adjustment through listening, sharing, guiding, understanding and designing that can lead to the most imaginative and relevant results.
Our top priority is to build trust with participants and stakeholders. We try to take the time to not only listen but also have patience throughout the process to really understand the essence of answers and information shared. Trust evolves with relationships and can often allow for new ways to re-engage participants in different and more complex activities. Trust also depends on a willingness (of all involved, including us) to be excited, open, and to sometimes be wrong.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
DoUC’s fundamental job is to understand and define what questions need to be asked and answered. Building on the idea of trust, participants may not know what they want but they know how they feel or what outcome is needed. It’s important to trust these instincts that people share. Our goal as facilitators and designers is to create activities that draw out information in an open and inclusive format, and to guide that format for participants without necessarily guiding content. Asking questions indirectly or through abstraction shifts the focus from directly addressing the problem to a more unrestricted approach. This can also help to remove bias.
INTEGRATION AS A CONVERSATION
The goal of every DoUC project is to tell a story. Community engagement facilitates the exchange of value between participants and designers, and should become an ongoing conversation at every step of the design/creation process—and beyond. Feedback and following up are essential to show participants how their input is meaningful to the project. Engagement activities should create a sense of ownership, from the beginning of development throughout completion and for the entire lifespan of the project’s outcome.