There are a variety of techniques you can use to engage the community in designing your community project. The design process can be as simple as gathering input at a community meeting to provide to the playground vendor's design team, or as elaborate as holding a series of interactive design workshops that engage the community in a variety of ways. The more the community is involved in the over all process, the greater the opportunity to engage future users and to count them as advocates who will help fundraise and assist in bringing the concept to life. Here a few tips to consider when designing your next community project.
1. Identify who should be a part of the design process and actively seek to involve them. Community members, community planners, landscape architects, educators, site staff, potential funders, and children can be a part of the process to maximize support, ownership, and participation. Maintenance, supervision, and management staff should offer input to ensure long-term sustainability of the site. Ultimately, it is important to consider who will be impacted or affected by the project and whose support or involvement is critical to the project's success.
2. No matter how you invite it, input is valuable, so be sure you are getting feedback on your vision, plan, and design proposals through a variety of available means. Develop an "elevator speech" on the purpose of the project and show your genuine interest in the opinions of others to help you engage the community and build up your anecdotal evidence around design needs and budget. as well as other related requirements.
3. Community engagement, in whichever format you choose, builds awareness and credibility for the project, adds value to both the playground and larger play space design, and creates excitement and a strong sense of ownership within the community. It also gives the project leaders and the technical experts the opportunity to publicly acknowledge and champion the community's ideas and recommendations, which further reinforces that this is a community centered and community led project. Public meetings, design workshops with children, design charettes for adults and stakeholders, and surveys are valuable ways to obtain from the community.
Since the design stage occurs early on in the life of the project, you and your team or committee will walk away with input that your prospective partners need for their conceptual designs, and a much better sense of the requirements that must be met by your chosen partner(s). You may wish to have other meetings, gatherings, or perhaps even contests to elicit more feedback from a variety of stakeholders and the public on the design proposals or concepts. These are important opportunities to engage the community, promote advocacy, and move your project closer to the BUILD!