Getting community engagement right

Posted on Posted in Built environment, Work
Community engagement in design

Written for the RIBA, this piece of guidance sets out the principles of good community engagement that is seen as central to the design process rather than a nice to have or tick box exercise. Evidence and experience drawn from participatory design practice points to the fact that a collaborative design process done well not only engages local people in the design of the built environment that they experience everyday, but can also lead to better and more sustainable projects, and a more collaborative and positive process of change.

 

Approach

The guide sets out an approach to community engagement, based on Sherry Amstein’s ‘ladder of citizen participation.’ From experience we know that if communities cannot see the impact of their involvement in final outcomes, then community engagement can be an empty and frustrating process. Consultation exercises that are measured by the number of people who attend meetings or amount of surveys returned, remain a window-dressing ritual because there is no assurance that community concerns and ideas will be taken into account. In this type of engagement, all that communities achieve is that they have participated in participation, and all power-holders achieve is the evidence that they have gone through the required motions of involving people. Meaningful engagement depends upon handing over power, so that people have a real say in the decision making processes, and therefore, design outcomes.

 

Case studies

The guide features inspirational projects that put community engagement at the heart of architecture and landscape projects including:

Broadway Community Garden, by Muf architecture/art
Castleford Bridge in West Yorkshire, by McDowell + Benedetti
Spa Fields in Islington, by Park Life/Fluid with students from London Metropolitan University
Homes for Older People in Camden, by Niall McLaughlin Architects

Guide

The guide is available to download here.

 

Shortwork have been involved in a number of community engagement projects using participatory research techniques. We are passionate about engagement projects that amplify the voices of those who are too often left out of the design process. We continue to develop work in this area, working with designers and commissioning clients to embed community engagement in the design process, and to draw learning to inform future projects through community evaluations of projects in use.