Planning a Visioning Charrette

A visioning charrette is a technique for consulting with some of the most interested community stakeholders early in a project. It typically involves full-day, intensive meetings, whereby municipal officials, developers, organizational leaders, community members and potential tenants are invited to gather and discuss issues, challenges and desires related to the project.
A successful visioning charrette achieves a shared vision and helps to defuse potential confrontational attitudes between different community stakeholders by providing a common understanding of issues, opportunities and challenges. This process is also extremely useful for identifying potential threats that could arise later in the project. A charrette can also help the project team understand the steps required to arrive at the shared vision.

You can organize and facilitate the charette yourself or hire professional consultants to take some or all of this on for you. You will need to make sure that you have enough help available on the day to welcome and greet participants and to record the charette process, preferably both visually (using film, photography or even cartoons/images) and by noting the discussions on flip charts, on a digital screen linked to a computer or by notetaking.

A charrette usually follows a typical format. The following is a brief summary of how to set up and host a charrette:

  • Prepare: Organize the logistics of the charrette such as the venue, number of people, refreshments, and equipment such as flip charts, drawings, pens, markers, name tags, etc. Set an agenda that sets the pace of the meeting, and designate a moderator to ensure that time limits are adhered to and everyone’s contributions are channelled into productive results. When searching for a location to host the charrette, take wall space into consideration. Ideally, you should have enough wall space to display all the paper containing participants’ thoughts. This space must be visible to everyone in the room with its collection of various sheets of paper showing ideas in words, pictures and diagrams.
     
  • Invite: A charrette is usually comprised of a group of 8 to 20 people. Choosing the right people with divergent areas of expertise will help to ensure a charrette’s success. Having the right people in the room will ensure that relevant and well-planned ideas are translated into your project vision.
     
  • Provide Background Information: Once you have established who will attend, as well as where and when the charrette will take place, be sure to provide the participants with a packet of helpful information, including the purpose and desired outcome of the charrette. This lets everyone know what to expect with a clear agenda, background materials on similar, comparable, or competing projects and basic contextual facts surrounding the project.
     
  • Moderate/Facilitate: Start the meeting with introductions and background information on the project. Set the goals of the session, as well as the parameters and limitations of the project in order to keep the session focused and clear. Include a frank discussion of issues, opportunities and challenges, and allow time for questions and answers.  
     
  • Facilitate Brainstorming: After the issues are understood, goals have been set and parameters have been reviewed, begin generating ideas, either in a roundtable format if the group is small, or in break-out groups with a facilitator at each table. During this phase, the sky is the limit. Get as many ideas out on the table as possible, and then narrow them down to what is actually feasible. If necessary, ideas can be conveyed visually. The facilitator should try to capture as many ideas as possible and ensure that they are displayed and visible to everyone.
     
  • Narrow Your Ideas: When the brainstorming component is complete, facilitate testing the ideas by reviewing the limitations of each idea. This step should leave the group left with a few concrete and achievable ideas.
     
  • Develop the Vision: Reconvene any break-out groups and report back on each group’s top ideas. You will often find a surprising amount of concurrence and similarity between groups discussing the same topic. Discuss the best ideas as a large group and select the most compatible and most achievable to form your vision. Often your vision will read as a “mission statement” with some specific points to guide its implementation.
     
  • Provide feedback: As soon as possible after the charette, put together a record of the event, with a summary of the key themes, issues and outcomes. It is important to ensure that the participants agree with the balance of this report before it is circulated more widely. Send it to participants for feedback and comments and incorporate any changes before making the document public.
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