video of co-design

I can’t emphasize enough that it was done collaboratively: each of us were interacting both with the drawing and with each other, and often with each other through the drawing.

-Karen Fung, participant, UBC SCARP demonstration, 2009

Co-Design goes way beyond Graphic Facilitation
Co-design is more than just drawing ideas, visions, and site features.  it is drawing a divergent group of people inhabiting their ideas, living their preferred way of life, within the context of their site designed to their satisfaction. What is the difference between this and other types of facilitated discussion? Here is a hypothetical situation where a group of citizens wish to envision a plan for an empty lot.  The participants are all neighbours: a community garden activist, a teacher, a senior and a teenager.   In a more commonly held design workshop, the facilitator/writer might ask:  What would you like to see?           

Discussion ensues:             

Activist:  I want to see a community garden!
Teacher:  Gardening classes might be good in this spot
Senior:  I think a fruit and vegetable stand might be better
Teenager:  (But don’t you think we should be growing wild berries too?)
This last thought is not even expressed out loud because this participant is very shy.

The hired artist draws, making three rendering of a vegetable garden, a class and a fruit stand..  The writer writes:  COMMUNITY GARDEN OR FRUIT STAND CLASSROOM. Berries are left out of the drawing and the writing.

In contrast, the co-design facilitator will ask:  What would you be doing?           
Activist:  I am gardening
Where are you?  What is around you?                       
Activist: There is corn around me, I am harvesting it to make cornbread in the cob oven
Really?  Where is this cob oven? 
Senior:  It is beside the fruit stand. Someone is making pizza in the cob oven right now
 And where is the fruit stand?
Senior:  The fruit stand is here, near the corn.
How tall is this corn?
Activist: about my height, here.
OK, what do you see yourself doing?
Teacher:  I see some children using this garden as a classroom, they are around some garden beds of tomato
And where are you in this picture? 
Teen: I am near the corn, I’m with my friends, we’re picking berries from some berry bushes, blackberries. 
That sounds yummy, tell me where to put those…
Teen:  They are around the outside of the garden, for security.  Berries are sold in the fruit stand too. 
The co-design artist draws as they talk, taking precise directions from participants.  In the end, a rich drawing emerges with all the ideas converging into one illustration.  The senior, who wanted the fruit stand,  sees how it can fit with the vision of the activist.  Furthermore, the teacher sees herself with students in this picture.  And the shy participant has a voice.  The drawing is a collaborative vision of many participants who live their future life in context of their community.  By inviting the participants to use their senses to experience their site, artists can get to the heart of what participants really want.

Beyond Graphic Facilitation, Artist as facilitator
The artists go beyond taking visual minutes of the discussion.  They do not draw abstract, conflicting ideas, for later evaluation. Nor is it their job to draw ideas unless the participants can imagine themselves in the picture.  The artist does not draw a café, a park, a square. She draws a person sipping coffee, reading their favourite novel in a café, or someone walking a dog in a park, a couple arm in arm in a square.  Or he draws you, to your dictation.  Then he draws what is around you. 

The artist is a facilitator: a listener. She will draw each person living their round of life as they inhabit their preferred space.  She will ensure that all participant voices are heard.  The participants get so involved that they feel as though they are doing the drawing.  In the end, the participants will sign the drawing, because they are the authors.  The artist is only the hand and the pen.

Designing in community precedes living in community
What difference does this make?  If the participant talks about ideas, they may not really know what it is that they are wishing for unless they can visualize themselves living the site.  If we have six people visualizing their site at the same time, then the visions of people doing real activities intertwine, just like how their real activities will merge in life. In the end, people must live together, in community, within the built environment.  Co-design enables them to design together, in community, as well. 

Advantages of Collaborative Drawing

The drawings communicate questions and ideas rapidly. People can imagine themselves experiencing the activities and settings, and say if they wish to do these things.  The drawings focus the discussion. All eyes are on the point of the pen, all thoughts on guiding it. All statements are positive - the artist cannot draw negatives.  Creating the drawings clarifies thought. One workshop participant said, “I know what I think when I see what I say.”

Creating the drawings harmonizes and unifies the community, calming conflict, dissolving dissent. One workshop participant said, “You should call yourselves social therapists.”

The drawings relate precisely to the lives and environments of the residents, because they created the drawings. Residents know how they wish to spend their days, and they know their environments. They know what their community can achieve so the ideas are practicable. They know they will pay for the changes, so their ideas are affordable.

We can reach a large population through traveling galleries of drawings.  Those who created the drawings through our hands encourage others do the survey, saying, ‘Look at my drawings”. Drawings by youth have particular appeal, particularly to parents and other youth. Youth prompt concern for sustainability.

Residents indicate their individual priorities by rating the features of the ideas. Their responses typically show community consensus in the region of 90%.  Planners and decision-makers use the drawings to prepare the plans. One planner said, “The drawings are a reality check. When our heads are down into technicalities we can look up at the drawings to check that we are on target.”

When planners present the plans they surround them with the co-design drawings to show residents how and where their ideas have been accommodated. Residents regard the plans as their own; objections to the plans are rare.

Co-Design Legacy
Drawings remain as a vision of the future; residents use them to raise funds for their projects and help to recruit volunteers. Planners tell us that a Co-Design workshop lengthens the list of volunteers who work in support of the improvements.  We build local capacity. We train local artists to be co-design artists who can help to continue dialogue for the improvements after we have gone.