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Annarose Zelano
Apr 29, 2016

RISD LEADS - Creative Facilitation

Apr 29, 2016 by Annarose Zelano


          On Monday April 25th,  RISD LEADS welcomed Founder and Executive Director of DownCity Design and RISD Alum Adrienne Gagnon for an interactive session about strategies for involving non-designers and community members in your design process. DownCity Design is a nonprofit that helps people create things for their communities, including helping young people create better public spaces that are better for living and learning. Since it’s creation seven years ago, DownCity Design has worked with over 1000 young people on 43 small scale projects through during school, afterschool, and summer programs. When working with these young people, they help them build things for real world situations and clients by bringing them through the design process. Adrienne mentioned that a large part of what they do is problem solving and teaching young people how to be problem solvers. Some examples of projects they have helped create are a community garden, bike racks, and interactive learning structures.

          After explaining a bit about what DownCity Design does, Adrienne had audience members split into partners and talk about both a positive and negative experience they have had while either facilitating or participating in a charrette or design day. Adrienne led a guided conversation on the benefits of bringing non-designers and community members into the conversation. Some of the benefits listed include that it brings outside perspective and fresh eyes to the table that do not have the same preconceptions as designers, that it builds trust, different skillsets, and networks, and that it gives people wide participation, self sovereignty, and ownership about what they are getting involved in.

          Some best practices for facilitating charrettes and design days that were shared out in this conversation were to take people's contact information, following up and thanking them for participating, having food and drink included, and creating constructive ways to share ideas and meet new people. Other things that were noted as important were documentation, products, sharing, assessment, reflection, and closure.

          Adrienne then shared a few stories of successful brainstorming design days that DownCity Design has facilitated. These included one for Community MusicWorks where they wanted to think of new location for their organization so they brought together students, parents, board members, and staff and had them engage in different activities that created a lense where people could come up with ideas for what they wanted and needed in the new location. Adrienne shared with the group a toolkit that DownCity Design has created for brainstorming that can be found at  

The guidelines that DownCity Design likes to abide by for brainstorming are:

  • Quantity over Quality
  • No Judgement
  • Embrace the Unexpected


          The session was ended with the audience members interacting and doing an activity that DownCity Design uses when they facilitate. This activity had two teams that were given the same prompt and had to run across the room, one by one, relay style writing down brainstormed ideas to answer the prompt. The point of the activity was to get people moving, have fun, and get as many ideas out there. Once the time was up and ideas were written down, the groups went over their ideas and had a conversation about what was written down and how useful, creative, and interesting every one was.