2019-2020 Session #4: Community Engagement

Date: January 10, 2020
Location: Big Brothers Big Sisters, 1003 Washington Ave Houston, TX 77002
Title: Community Engagement
Session Sponsors:
Inkind Sponsor: Dewberry
Venue Sponsor: Big Brothers Big Sisters
Leaders: Scott Dailey & Lara Richard
Documentation: Shelby Fisher & Qeturah Williams

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Overview

Scott Dailey and Lara Richard led the fourth Session of the 2019-2020 Christopher Kelly Leadership Program, “Community Engagement”. The session began with Josh Hawes with the Spring Branch Management District and Michael Robinson with SWA Group discussing the various projects they have worked together on within Spring Branch. Josh and Michael reviewed the real-life engagement strategies they have used within the Spring Branch community. Scholars were then assigned a specific demographic and challenged to create and present a community engagement plan to gain support within that demographic for a local park redevelopment project. Next, Big Brothers Big Sisters representative, Carlee Morgan presented on the history and impact in the Houston Community. Afterward, Carlee led the Scholars on a tour of Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston facility. Finally, the Scholars welcomed Kim Hanschen with Open Architecture Collaborative who spoke on the history of Open Architecture Collaborative and the importance of listening, communication and allyship when engaging with the community. Scholars were then assigned a community member role while Kim led a mock public meeting on a pocket park project in the Fifth Ward. After hearing all the community concerns, Scholars were divided into assigned groups and tasked to design the pocket park based feedback of their assigned community member roles.

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Presentation: Spring Branch Management District & SWA

Josh Hawes, Deputy Executive Director with Spring Branch Management District began the session by going over how management districts function and talked about the role he has played in the process of the Spring Branch transformation. Josh explained that the Spring Branch transformation started out as a 15 year plan with a focus on creating a hike and bike trail, transforming Long Point Road, and revitalization of Hayden Park. Josh discussed various obstacles he has faced with the mentioned projects and talked about the importance of community engagement in all three. 

Next, Michael Robinson with SWA Group presented on SWA’s history with community engagement and shared his framework for how to engage with the community. Michael worked closely with Josh on the Spring Branch transformation projects and throughout his presentation, he referenced the specific projects and how they utilized various engagement strategies for each one. Michael described his framework for community engagement is balancing rules versus expectations, balancing power versus interest, and balancing scope versus cost. Evaluating these pillars will help inform your community engagement strategy. Michael also focused on the idea of appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry is an approach that focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses. Michael emphasized that discussions with the community should always be led with appreciative inquiry and as facilitators, we should focus on the positive and try to amplify that. Lastly, Michael revealed that his community engagement strategy can be broken down into four steps: educate the community, encourage the community and promote participatory design exercises, listen to input and use all of this to inform the design, and unveiling the design to the community. Overall, Michael stressed that the most important aspect of community engagement is to meet people on their terms and make them feel concluded. 

Activity: Community Engagement Plan

After a brief Q&A with Josh and Michael, Scholars were split into groups challenged to analyze a specific demographic type within Spring Branch. Scholars received information on Hayden Park in Spring Branch and were tasked to develop a community engagement plan that targets their assigned group demographic that is designed to gain support for Hayden Park redevelopment project. The four demographic groups were the existing Korean community, millennials, families, and empty nesters. Each group researched these community groups and utilized the skills previously discussed by Josh and Michael, to present on their specific community engagement plan.

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Presentation: Big Brothers Big Sisters

After a short break, Big Brothers Big Sisters representative, Carlee Morgan, presented on the history of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and the impact the organization has had on the Houston Community. She explained all the different ways someone can get involved with Bid Brothers Big Sisters and explained the areas where the program has the largest needs. Carlee then took the Scholars on a tour of the Houston Big Brothers Big Sisters facility.

Presentation: Open Architecture Collaborative

The final speaker for the Session was Kim Hanschen with Open Architecture Collaborative. Kim started her presentation by discussing the history of Architecture for Humanity and how it evolved into Open Architecture Collaborative (OAC). Kim shared some of the local Houston projects OAC has worked on in the Near Northside and Fifth Ward.  She noted some of the challenges and successes of these community based projects. Kim then went on to review the three pillars of OAC: inclusivity, collaboration, and volunteers. The first pillar she discussed was inclusivity. Kim talked about the importance of inclusivity and allyship when engaging with the community. She stressed the importance of self-examination and recognizing your own bias. This type of self-evaluation can aid in creating an inclusive, safe space for the community.  Next, Kim touched on the topic of communication. 

She emphasized the value of listening and advised that when communicating with the community, you should be listening more than you are speaking. The ability to listen is a vital part of effective communication and allows you to build trust within the community. Kim then discussed the volunteers that OAC depends on to run their organization. Lastly, she expressed the idea of being a partner, not an expert when participating in community engagement. Kim accentuated how a diversity of views enriches the solution and as designers, we should always recognize the value the community brings to the table during design. Community members are necessary and they should be empowered. Overall, building a consensus within the community starts with relationship building and gaining the trust of the community members. 

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Activity: Community Meeting and Pocket Park

After Kim completed her presentation, she then handed out community role assignments to each Scholar. Scholars had to represent the views of their community role. Kim then led a mock public community meeting to discuss a new pocket park proposed in the Fifth Ward. Each Scholar had to voice the opinions of their role in the public forum.  After hearing all the various views from the community, Scholars were then assigned to groups to design the pocket park based on the needs of their assigned community member roles. Each group presented their designs addressing common interests across multiple community members, including safety, public performance spaces, community gardens, and dog parks.

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