Tag: Learning

Designing with communities – a bit of advice

Designing with communities – a bit of advice

A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about Clear Village, an organization based in London that, “provides creative regeneration services to social landlords, local councils, community groups, funding agents and other organisations that work with communities.

Clear village appeared to have completed projects akin to the proposed work with YSA, so I reached out to them and talked with Frank van Hasselt. Frank had plenty of experience working with community projects and was a gold mine of information.  Here are a few things we talked about.

1. Get clarity of the larger aspirations

Way of Being: introspective, sincere

The first advice he gave was to have clear aspirations for the space. Have the community members articulate their core rationale. For example, one of the components is a stage –  What is it about the stage that people are interested in? Is it to have community functions? To give young adults a space to tell their stories?

By articulating these rationales, the project has a clear goal. Different people designing may be bogged down on details, like size or color of an item, and so clarity on the larger goals will create a sense of unity. If everyone agrees that we want a space to come together, we can go back to that goal while figuring out the size and color. Additionally, these larger aspirations can be used to figure out the appropriate monitoring and evaluation protocols (advice #3)

Overall, I see the process of articulating the larger aspirations as an opportunity for the community to reflect on their deeper values. I would hope that we can talk about the importance of creating space for community, sustainability, equality, etc. in our local environment, and then expand this notion to the world. Additionally, the process is an opportunity for the youth to learn project management and professional skills, important life lessons for job training (a desired outcome of YSA).

2. Creative Phase

Ways of being: quirky, fun, joyful

Once there is a clarity in the aspirations for the group, we can start the creative phase. Using brainstorming techniques (with a lot of post-it notes and large paper), along with case studies of other projects, we can think of ways to create those desired outcomes through physical space and programming. To find case studies and potential sources for workshop material, we talked about simple google searches, Project for Public Spaces, and the IDEO.

Honestly, I am more nervous of this phase, and I do not know how much work YSA has done thus far. I perceive my strengths are in the reflective space. I love being creative, and can get there… but it is not as natural. I may connect with friends and colleagues, to get some thoughts on how to harness this type of creativity.

3.Fundraising and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)

We also discussed the importance of M&E for fundraising now and in the future. I did not mention this in the conversation, but this was a large interest of mine during my time working for a Jive Media in South Africa. I would definitely like to make a solid M&E plan so that I can have that experience and added benefit to YSA. In our conversation, we went through the things that they gather within their organization and the general importance of data.

Qualitative data: The basic information that should be gathered is the stories and testimonials after the project. How did the project impact the youth’s lives? This can be done through audio recording, through videos, or having them record themselves.

Quantitative analysis: Gathering data over time, such as the impact of the project on the youth’s confidence, teamwork, job prospects, etc. are important. This is where identifying the aspirations from above really help. We are essentially gathering evidence that the project achieved the desired aspirations. Asking the same question over time, or giving surveys are useful, and funders greatly appreciate it.

4.General advice

  • In facilitation, make sure that everyone’s voice is included and heard
  • There is generally more work than it looks like
  • Make sure everyone’s on the same page on desired goals
  • Governance can be tricky – specifically when it comes to juggling different stakeholders desires and expectations
  • Having people hyped about the project makes everything go smoother
  • The community experience will change project to project, sometimes it works well, and sometimes not… its part of the process
  • Have designers and experts in the creative phase to assist in the design phase and provide input on what is feasible.


Image source: “Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept” by Scott Maxwell is licensed under CC BY 2.0