Designing Policy: Turning Frustration into Collaboration
By Josh Budiongan, Kristen Chin and Allan Co
The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship is cultivating a generation of architects committed to bringing the benefits of quality design to low-income communities. By partnering emerging designers with community developers, the fellowship provides socially-engaged designers with a career path in community development.
As part of the fellowship, Rose Fellows collaborate on projects that address national issues in community development and design. They identify topics of interest and engage in meaningful projects that share what they are learning on the ground through research, writing and creative projects.
As trained architects and designers with an interest in social impact, we often float the question, how will my design decisions affect the community I’m working in? How will I make a difference? For some projects, that difference may be as targeted as providing a specific service to an individual community member. Or, it may be as far-reaching as creating a shared community space that will serve generations to come. But in our work, we also understand that our design decisions do not exist in a bubble. We work with developers, community organizers, construction workers, city agencies and a whole host of other parties.
In our effort to increase social cohesion in our host communities through design, and to provide needed spaces and opportunities for community members, we encounter significant roadblocks. Local and state regulations often represent the most cumbersome of those roadblocks. Public policy influences whom a project can serve, what can be installed, when we can take action, and where we can build. So naturally, design and policy often butt heads, or worse, don’t acknowledge the important roles each party plays in implementing successful projects.
This gap between the worlds of design and policy discourages designers to think about how their projects can influence and improve local regulations. We get stuck thinking design can only do so much. At the end of the day, a policy is a policy and there’s nothing we can do to change that, right?
A Tool to Guide How We Interact With Policy
But what if that’s wrong? What if design could demonstrate the need for policy change? And, what if strategic decisions in the design process could lead to policy change and, in turn, safer, healthier communities? With this thinking in mind, we set out to create a tool that would encourage designers, urban planners and community organizers to come together and think about a project and the ways in which it can interact with and even shape local or state policy.
This tool went through many iterations. We wanted it to be simple to use and accessible to designers across the country. We also wanted it to encourage participants to think critically about how their project may or may not conflict with policy and at what point in the design process they may be able to collaborate at the policy level. But policy is not always an easily digestible or fun topic, so we felt strongly about including an element of play in our project.
The Designing Policy Game
And thus, Designing Policy was born! Designing Policy is a card game that allows designers and other stakeholders to identify how a project may be impacted by policy at various stages. It poses questions like ‘Who are key individuals and organizations that you need on your side? How can you lobby them?’ and ‘Can resource allocation be funneled towards your project? How would this process work and what do you need to do?’ The questions cover issues such as cost, stakeholder support, and safety. It even introduces wild cards such as ‘State government is at odds with the city government and your proposal is shut down. How do you proceed?’
Designing Policy is intended to be played near the beginning of a project, during the planning phase. It enables players to identify potential roadblocks or opportunities for collaboration throughout the project’s timeline. It aims to map out the project, allowing participants to see the potential steps and road blocks at once and uncover connections or opportunities that may not automatically come to mind. The game also supports shared ownership of the conversation and forces players to consider how other stakeholders may approach a challenge.
When we as designers see a problem in our communities, we think of a design intervention for it. We hope that Designing Policy will encourage others to think more broadly about the work they are doing and the impact they can have, not just on individuals or on the built environment, but on the policies that will shape the city for decades.
Learn more about the Rose Fellowship or bringing a fellow to your community or organization.