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How to Engage the Community in Your Next Design

Engaging Your Community During the Early Stages of the Project Development Process

No design is produced in a vacuum. Great design is a composition of ideas from a multitude of sources. In the building industry, the more input an architect gathers, the more successful the project. In most cases, the client is not an individual, but a community made up of residents, students, teachers, staff, and patients.

Community engagement is an often-overlooked resource that that has a significant impact on the project. Inviting members to share their ideas and visions helps ensure their needs are met and the project is a welcome addition to their community.

Early stages of the project development process should include community engagement efforts. Consider mailing an announcement to the community to spark interest about the project using traditional print media like paper brochures, flyers, and postcards.

Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube, offer creative opportunities to engage with a large audience. Share the initial renderings, timelapse videos, and photos from breaking ground and key milestones to keep the community interested in the project’s progress.

Brian Freeman, assistant superintendent of Webster Central School District, said, “The most successful engagement was online. Dissemination of information across all district platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and the website allowed for a high engagement level. Understanding why we were doing the list of things and answering that question helped the most.”

An online survey is one way for the community to participate in project decisions. Surveys with multiple-choice questions can gauge what the community is most excited about and guide the project’s direction. LaBella helps clients develop key questions based on the input needed for the project, even on big picture items like the name of a new stadium or the color of the auditorium seats.

Vision boards help the team visualize their wants and needs for a project. Beyond the impact on the design, vision boards represent all the innovative ideas, hard work, and time that members of the community have invested to see their vision come to life. A vision board can be used as a creative teaser for the project to be shared on social media, printed to display, or saved for future inspiration.

In-person meetings are invaluable to the success of a project. LaBella’s project visualization meetings are hands-on, customized to the design, and involve opportunities for students, teachers, principals, and staff to be the decision-makers. A couple years ago, LaBella met with students and staff from Webster Central School District for input on the new library designs. The group was split into smaller groups and given a stack of about a hundred images of libraries. They picked what they liked and disliked and then used single-word adjectives to describe what they liked about each image.

Information gathering meetings are often more formal but invaluable to the space planning, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing phases of the project. Final finish selection meetings offer a space and time for members of the community to ask questions and share their opinions. The most productive meetings are those where the architect says the least. After the meeting, LaBella sifts through all the perspectives and data to evaluate the next steps.

Invite the community to see the completed space at a grand opening or ribbon-cutting event. Host tours to showcase all aspects of the project, including what changed and small details the community might not notice on their own.

Community engagement efforts should continue even after the project is complete. A follow-up survey with questions on what the community loves and what they would do differently shows appreciation for their input and lays groundwork for any successful future projects.

The most successful engagement was online. Dissemination of information across all district platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and the website. Understanding why we were doing the list of things and answering that question helped the most.Brian Freeman
Superintendent, Webster Central School District
About the Author
Stacy Welch, AIA
Project Manager

Stacy is a Project Manager with over 8 years of experience. Her role on projects includes conceptual design, construction documents, and construction administration. She is skilled at 3D modeling for conceptual communication and exploration, as well as BIM production for coordinated, cohesive construction document sets.