As part of our mission to address the social and civic challenges facing Lakewood, we proudly engaged the National Charrette Institute (NCI) and the Consensus Building Institute (CBI) to help form a collaborative process that will foster a shared blueprint for Lakewood’s future. The process has two phases: an assessment that consists of interviews with representatives from all segments of the Lakewood region, identifying key issues and making public recommendations, and a “charrette” method for designing and developing solutions to pressing community needs.
We sat down with the two organizations to learn more about the process at hand, their unique experiences in conducting these assessments, and their goals for the project. Here’s what they had to say:
National Charrette Institute (NCI)
What is a charrette process, exactly?
NCI: The NCI Charrette SystemTM is a three-phase collaborative design process involving preparation, a charrette, and implementation. The hallmark event is a multiple-day design event called a charrette where stakeholders and decision-makers are brought together to work with an impartial multi-disciplinary design team to co-create highly creative yet feasible solutions. The charrette makes the best use of everyone’s time by engaging people when their input will have the greatest impact. Note that people are not at the charrette all the time, instead they attend two or three feedback meetings at critical decision-making points during the charrette.
How does a charrette when applied to design differ from the charrette process that’s being undertaken to help build relations in Lakewood?
NCI: The NCI Charrette process is highly adaptable because it’s about process, and many issues that we think of that aren’t necessarily design-related can be addressed from a design thinking lens. Yes, NCI’s charrette process was born out of urban design and architecture disciplines, and its historical application has been among design problems related to the built environment. However, we are finding it increasingly relevant in addressing policy and relational challenges within communities. The process is the same, you just swap out the products and change up the types of engagements within the charrette.
What’s the most rewarding element of the charrette process?
NCI: We’ve found that the NCI process is not just a great way to develop a plan or solution quickly, but that this approach leaves participants poised and excited to implement it together. The most rewarding part of a charrette for us is seeing a diverse community unite and come together to create what they designed. The charrette at its best is a community building event.
Consensus Building Institute (CBI)
What’s the most important component in building collaboration?
CBI: In order to build successful collaboration, it is important to find the opportunities where all of the parties have a chance to reach outcomes that are better for all than if they each sought to achieve their goals separately. This might include finding the places where parties have shared goals and interests, and also places where their goals and priorities differ, to identify where they may be able trade across issues that they value differently to each achieve gains on their most important interests. This is why a thorough diagnostic process is so valuable at the outset, to identify those goal-setting, collaboration, and trading opportunities.
How does the mediation/collaboration process change over time? Are there new techniques being utilized to adapt to technological and cultural changes?
CBI: In many collaborative contexts, such as large-scale planning, the advent and uptake of technological tools has allowed more people to engage in meaningful participation from afar. Sophisticated scenario planning and decision-analysis tools have also helped groups to integrate multiple variables and criteria to collectively evaluate options. In our practice, we have also found that emerging understandings of cognitive bias and the limits of reason, persuasion, and “objective facts” have led to more understanding of how human beings actually process conflict, and to more use of tools from behavioral economics, like storytelling, joint fact-finding, acknowledging and managing emotion, and active reflection.
What’s the most common misunderstanding you hear about when it comes to the collaboration building process?
CBI: I’ll describe two common misunderstandings on two sides of the spectrum. Some people hear the word “collaboration” and think it is about being touchy-feely, and everyone just being nicer and getting along. This ignores the meaningful and substantive concerns that people have, and legitimate needs to resolve differences. On the other end, some think collaboration isn’t possible if parties don’t agree and can’t trust each other. This is also overstated – if everyone needed to trust each other before any progress could be made, we would all be in a lot worse trouble than we already are. Negotiation and consensus building provide ways to resolve differences, find shared interests, and hopefully build trust as you go along.
About the National Charrette Institute:
The National Charrette Institute (NCI) is a program within the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University that is dedicated to transforming the way people work together by building capacity for collaboration. NCI accomplishes its mission in three primary ways: training others in the charrette methodology, providing coaching and support of others in their charrette processes, and conducting charrettes. For more information: https://www.canr.msu.edu/nci/index
About the Consensus Building Institute:
CBI is a nonprofit organization with decades of experience helping leaders collaborate to solve complex problems. CBI’s staff are experts in facilitation, mediation, capacity building, citizen engagement, and organizational strategy and development. The CBI team is committed to using its skills to build collaboration on today’s most significant social, environmental, and economic challenges. For more information: cbi.org