15 April 2020

Going Virtual: The High Tech/High Touch Charrette

The COVID-19 quarantine has pushed us all ahead quickly into the distance communication world. Our April 28th webinar, sponsored by NCI and Smart Growth America will highlight what could be the first 5-day charrette conducted 100% remotely. The Dover Kohl team of consultants were not in Missoula and working separately with the exception of the husband and wife team Jason and Pam King. This is the latest generation of what we call High Tech/High Touch Charrettes.

In the webinar we will ask if Missoula was a “real” charrette and can a virtual charrette achieve successful public engagement? NCI describes a charrette as a multiple-day collaborative design event that includes key participants in at least three feedback loops or review sessions. The charrette is not an isolated event but part of a larger holistic process we all the NCI Charrette System, a collaborative project management system featuring the charrette as the big bang, design event.

The NCI Charrette System has four steps:
1. Connect with the People (what people?) Those affected by the outcome. Those historically left out of the planning process. People providing valuable information. Potential supporters. Potential blockers. Decision makers.
2. Build TRUST with those people in the process
3. Engage the people in a co-design process (charrettes or workshops)
4. Implement the project

So how much of this can be accomplished remotely; does this all need to take place face-to-face? At their best Charrettes can transform people’s understanding of an often-complex project through embedding them into the design process. Step 2 requires that the right people (Step 1) must trust the process in order to engage in good faith. Importantly, relationships must be developed between the project sponsors, the consultant team and key community members. These relationships form what NCI advisor David Leland calls the “people infrastructure” of a successful planning effort. When asked about distance participation our friend and communications guru Ben Brown says, “no matter what media you use, remember that is it about the relationships.” Trusting relations are the foundation of a successful co-design process. We believe that face-to-face is the most effective way to build relationships that lead to meaningful involvement in the creative process of the charrette.

Web-based participation and social media can help increase the number of participants. These tools definitely increase the access for people who for whatever reason do not participate in public design events. However, they can create barriers to people lacking broadband access. Remote tools also lack the human contact central to creating and fostering relationships. When it comes to the nuances of human connection, no distance tool can beat eye-to-eye contact. The tools can be very useful for sharing and learning once relationships are in place.

The High Tech/High Touch Charrette melds technology with face-to-face meetings. The term is taken from the 1982 classic, Megatrends by John Naisbitt. Naisbitt identified “high-tech/high-touch” or the balancing of human response with technology as one of the 10 trends of the future. Think Steve Jobs. High Tech/High Touch Charrettes use web-based tools to inform and involve people and ideally drive them to the face-to-face charrette.

The Missoula Virtual Charrette was preceded by on-the-ground work by Missoula staff. This preparation work built trusting relationships that helped make the virtuall charrette a success. Tune in to the webinar on April 28th to hear all about. The recording of the webinar will be available at a later date. I will talk more about the HighTech/High Touch Charrette in the future blogs.
Register for the webinar at this link. https://msu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_83em8i-PSBOitIrU8mhiNw
Stay Centered and Safe!

Leave a Reply