07 June 2017

Transforming Conflict into Co-action

Originally published on the National Charrette Institute Blog.

It is not unusual for a charrette to agitate concerns and misunderstandings. Designers recognize that innovative solutions are often fueled by what may appear, at first glance, to be confusion, conflict or chaos. Placing value on inclusion and listening is the first step toward recognizing when conflict actually represents an opportunity. 
The NCI Charrette System™ uses a process for engaging stakeholders before a charrette begins, to establish trusting relationships and greater understanding about the purpose and process of a project. One of the goals of an opening night public meeting is to bring any remaining differences to the surface, so that that they can be addressed in the ensuing days of the charrette.
Following are some initial key steps toward transforming conflict into positive action in the course of a multiple day charrette. Multiple days allows the space to deal with the unexpected disruptions that are common in volatile political situations.: 
  1. Make sure that the opening charrette public meeting is mostly devoted to community input. 
  2. As soon as they arrive, give people a hands-on task, such as placing dots on photos they like or creating a vision wall with post its. 
  3. Move into small table exercises as soon as possible after a brief meeting introduction. 
  4. Ask table facilitators to be aware of people having a hard time with the meeting, and give space for dissenting viewpoints to be heard. 
  5. Connect with these people, find out who they are, and determine the best route to address their concerns. Options could include visiting them off site, or inviting them to the charrette studio the next day. 
  6. Engage people in the design process, and work to understand their positions. Keep asking “why” until you uncover the implicit need, such as safety, privacy and/or property values. 
  7. Continue drawing ideas to probe for an acceptable solution. It is important to show the trade-offs of each option. 
It can take up to three interactions, or feedback loops, to transform people’s positions, so these strategies are most successful in a multiple day charrette. This allows the time and space to deal with the unexpected disruptions that are common in volatile political situations.