Pirie Associates was recently selected to compete in the LAGI /Land Art Generator Initiative/ Willimantic Competition.
We spent more than 4 days in Willimantic including a design charrette organized with the help of the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership. During that time, we had conversations with many people who generously provided us with their wisdom and wonderful creativity. Community outreach and/or deep client engagement is a primary step in the Pirie Associates design process.
WHY do we at Pirie Associates spend this time engaging people in conversation?
We value every idea. Every bit of thinking counts for us. That’s why we strive to involve as many people as possible: all ages, different backgrounds… to accurately reflect the community with whom we are creating.
OUR PURPOSE IS TO CONNECT PEOPLE WITH THEIR BUILT ENVIRONMENT.
We believe that engaged citizens are responsible and respectful. Entrusting you with the ownership of the idea to develop a place will make you belong, will help you to understand your community and will drive you to grow and maintain a better place.
Although designing is exciting, we hold on before we start creating solutions. We breathe and listen. We engage you in the process (as a key part of it) in order to not only get a beautiful solution, but, most importantly, an inspiring tool for you and your community to move forward—to grow and to thrive.
WHAT is community outreach?
Out·reach – dictionary.com
The extent or length of reaching out.
Reach further than…
Outreach is an activity of providing services to any populations who might not otherwise have access to those services. A key component of outreach is that the groups providing it are not stationary, but mobile; in other words they are meeting those in need of outreach services at the locations where those in need are.
…and WHAT does a typical day of community outreach look like?
Willimantic, CT – December 28th 2017, very early in the morning….
It is a cold morning, the ground is frozen and Laura and I laugh while remembering stories about slippery entryways and icy stairs. We are heading down (carefully) to “That Breakfast Place” on 37 Boston Post Road, famous for its generous and delicious breakfasts.
As soon as we cross the door threshold we find ourselves in a warm and lively ambience. The smell of freshly made pancakes makes us hungry! Most of the tables are full, but the welcoming waitress promptly finds an empty booth for us. We order eggs benedict and California omelet with homemade bread, and of course, house coffee.
After getting settled, we discuss our strategy on how to better approach restaurant guests: determined, while respectful; informative while being an observer; a listener and sponge for ideas, thoughts and wishes…. The restaurant clientele is very diverse: families, couples… all ages were represented. Exactly what we were looking for!
Laura introduces us to a couple sitting in a booth next to ours: two guys who had just been hiking on the Hop River Trail. They welcome our conversation and state their wishes about having a hang-out spot to stop at when hiking – that’s warm! They also point out the need for a constantly active place so “trouble-makers” stay away. We take note!
The morning starts getting busy for Laura and me… a public school teacher with his toddler daughter, an entrepreneur with his son, a family with three generations at the table, a couple of friends, waiters, the owner of a local business, children, students…. as much variety as we could find.
Laura and I decide to separate to make the most of our time. I focused on the Hispanic community, as a native Spanish speaker the language is a natural link to this community, not only for the fact that I know nuanced words, but mostly because some kind of special connection is sparked when you communicate in your native tongue.
Five and a half hours, four locations and tons of people later, we find ourselves exhausted but delighted! We have a full notebook of ideas, information, desires and wishes from the community with whom we wanted to connect.
NOW…are you excited to engage in some community outreach? Make sure your architect (or facilitator) uses the following 5 community outreach strategies:
- Will your architect/facilitator introduce themselves and clearly EXPLAIN the purpose of the visit? They should define why are they there and what they are looking to understand. Do they build a common frame of reference? Ask if your architect/facilitator speaks other languages. This may encourage a broader section of the population to participate.
- Does your architect/facilitator LISTEN deeply and let the participant take their time? Do they encourage them to be bold in brainstorming and invite them to dream? Ask how they will make participants feel that it is worth it to express every idea.
- Will your architect/facilitator stay at the surface or do they ASK more questions and get to the root of their thoughts – dig below the surface? They should know that ideas are distinct from solutions and not try to look for a solution yet!
- Do you think they really ENJOY the process, or is it “something that has to be done”? Community outreach is an extraordinary opportunity to connect with new, interesting people. Remember, everyone is unique and has a value waiting to be discovered.
- Will your architect/facilitator RE-FRAME the information they gathered in a context that builds a collaborative basis for the project? Does their approach encourage participants to feel an authentic connection to their environment? To belong with it, to respect it, to love their place?