Engaging the Public in Community Projects
SHP dedicates significant effort and resources to understanding our clients and the end users for each project. When it comes to community buildings, reaching beyond our clients to understand the needs and desires of community members is especially important.
Since area residents are the end users for projects like libraries, parks and community centers, we take special care to understand how the design can best support how the community plans to use the space. We engage in these activities before we begin the design process because we believe community input should inform the design.
For example, SHP worked on two branches of the Lane Library in Oxford, OH and Hamilton, OH. The Oxford Lane Library is located near Miami University, so a high percentage of users are college students. As a result, the design includes more individual, small group and large group work spaces to accommodate how students using the space. However, the Hamilton Lane Library is not located near the university, so it features a more traditional library design with fewer study and group work spaces.
What engagement looks like
Community engagement isn’t a one size fits all approach—engagement tactics are tailored to fit the project and the community’s composition and needs. As a firm, we have a variety of engagement approaches at our disposal. In some cases, we deploy all our options. For other projects, we opt to use fewer engagement tactics, depending on the client and the community.
Among our many engagement efforts are tried-and-true strategies to connect with community members, including:
- Public meetings: We host multiple public meetings to present ideas and receive community input. These are larger gatherings where community members have an opportunity to ask questions or provide feedback on initial design ideas.
- Surveys: We have three different types of surveys designed to reach different segments of the community—leave-behind surveys in community locations (e.g. barbershop, library, etc.), online surveys, and in-person app-based real-time surveys during public meetings. We may use all three or a combination, depending on the project.
- Small group sessions: This is a hybrid approach to public engagement sessions with smaller groups of six to 10 people. These sessions offer opportunities for more conversation and team-based work.
- Community action teams: In partnership with the client, we assemble community action teams comprised of community and business leaders who provide input on the project’s design throughout the design process.
- Informal community events: We attend community gatherings like fish fries, brewery openings, and other events to meet people where they are. This gives us an opportunity to connect with community members in a more relaxed setting and reach people who may not be comfortable attending a larger public meeting to express their opinion.
These tactics are specifically geared towards gaining a better understanding of the community’s needs and receiving community input on the project’s design. However, SHP has engaged in activities that are not directly related to the project in the past. For example, some members of our team participated in the Deer Park Cake Walk, a large community event that was significant to the people who lived in the area, even though it did not provide opportunities for project input. The goal was simply to gain a better understanding of the community as a whole.
Impact of community engagement efforts
Following our community engagement efforts, we gather feedback and present it to our client and design team, so the community’s input can help inform design decisions. We often develop key planning principles to guide the project’s design and the types of organizations who use the space based on what the community will support.
In the end, we want to develop solutions that work for the community. As a design firm, we always strive to create innovative, aesthetically-pleasing and on-trend designs, but we believe it’s most important for the space to be functional and effective now and in the future.
While some of these strategies are specific to community buildings, we engage in similar client and end-user engagement and research for all SHP projects, including education and workplace design. Dedicating time and resources to understanding our client and their needs is a priority for SHP no matter the project, leading to better, more unique and more functional designs.
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