Leaders can create this space by signalling a commitment in their own interaction style and choices. In a recent community-centric project with Seattle Public Library, Helen Tapping, Head of Marketing and Online Services, provided an open email address where anyone in the Seattle community could reach her with their input and feedback. Such a move signals not only the leader’s commitment to the community’s perspective, but also communicates freedom to the organizational and project teams to find their own ways to open their work up for community engagement. From policy setting, to team composition and partner selection, leaders can set a tone of seriousness about proactive community involvement.
New tools, new mindsets and new methods introduce a learning curve, but it’s one that can take community organizations into the future at the front of the pack. Seattle Public Library’s decision to craft a radically inclusive and transparent process with community listening, feedback, and dialogue built into each stage of research, design and development, resulted in stronger digital performance. But the benefits didn’t stop there. Applications for library cards, interactions with librarians, and patron engagement with an array of often-overlooked library services have all increased, and the community has taken to social media to praise not only the new site, but also the process involved.
Kevan believes that design professionals and community organizations are just getting started. “Community listening and participatory, collaborative design is a movement that has so much possibility and potential to change the way we collaborate and what we can achieve together,” he says. “It’s kind of the punchline of being alive: learning to work together better.”