Problem solving public sector issues involves a number of variables, both known and unknown, that complicate efficacy of the implementation and perception of the outcome. Often, the formula presented to the community, either by policymakers or consultants or anyone involved in the administration, highlights a problem with a proposed solution. Debates ensue, especially if the particular problem isn’t viewed as a high priority to some. While many of the topics discussed in the process will be empathetic in nature, a subtle difference in the way we address efforts to make positive change is either in proposing solutions to problems or by finding ways to support the existing capacity of the community. While problem solving isn’t inherently bad, it can lead to disconnect with the intended audience, lead to a lack of ownership (and long term maintenance) of the implementation, or worse an ineffective solution that wastes political, social, and economic capital as well as time. One of the aspects to the Best Week Ever that make it such a departure from typical municipal events is its determination to enhance existing events, taking advantage of critical mass and effort.
The Greater Good Studio and their peers, especially those who uses a human-centered design process within the social sector, employ the following principles in their approach.
- End users are the experts: If the product of design is the process, not just the ideas, it places more emphasis on understanding, rather than theoretic implementations. Not only is this more empathetic, it creates much more nuances solutions that have a greater chance of success.
- Innovation doesn’t have to be fancy: If design and innovation are fancy, they can be confused for luxury. The cost of that distinction, the assumption that design is luxury, causes system problems for implementations across all scales.
- Less is more: Over programming a place limits the effectiveness of the various program elements. Strong solutions are created when we find ways to better reinforce those elements, rather than creating more or new ones.
- Capacity is built through hands-on experience: Taking ownership of implementations creates lasting success. Otherwise, bringing in an expert to espouse disconnected solutions creates planning fatigue within the community and long term dissatisfaction with the results. Creating action and by extension, ownership, leads to greater capacity building and community resiliency.
- Hard is not the same as impossible: Design process should start with the question, “How might we…” instead of putting up obstacles of why we can’t.
One such example of something the community is doing well is the West Side Wednesday (WSW) event. Arising from South Bend’s recent West Side Main Streets‘ Master Plan and Streetscape Improvement projects, WSW seeks to introduce the South Bend Community to the many different amenities on the City’s West Side. With that, we ask, “How can we better support WSW?” It’s both a question of supporting the event itself and the West Side Main Streets implementation projects. A few ideas, that we plan to explore more over the course of the 100 Ideas Project include:
- Chalkboard walls: These temporary structures gave an interactive element to the SB150 event.
- Art Trees: Finding inspiration from the Ken Smith Workshop’s glowing topiary garden, these artistic elements could be used to fill vacant lots until they are developed.
- Vegetated Screens: Could be used to create temporary infill that also provides the functional benefits provided by additional greenspace.
- Greening of Western Avenue: Picture the SB150 bridge, but with Western Avenue as the hub.
Just some initial thoughts that we look forward to exploring more, and that certain embody the capacity building we’re talking about in this first idea.