Two schools at the forefront of Human-centered Community Visioning

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by Phillip Daffara

Recently, I collaborated with two different schools to help their respective communities envision their preferred futures. This is an overview of some of the strategic foresight practices used with Jabiru Community College (JCC) and Montessori International College (MIC), particularly focussing on those moments in the process that integrate futures and human-centered design thinking.

Client contexts

Since 2009, I have co-created with MIC to complete various projects, firstly facilitating their new place vision (2011) for the master planning of their new campus, secondly the formulation of their Vision and Strategic Plan (2012); and mostly recently the renewal of their Strategic Plan (2017).

Based on my experience of assisting MIC to relocate and establish a new campus, JCC sought my advice to help them navigate change and also help them find a permanent site for their school. Co-creating a shared place vision for their new campus was the priority, which would then establish the design qualities, principles and site selection criteria for the land search.

Through the place visioning process, I was happily reminded about the capacity of our students to influence us and contribute significantly to the process. The process didn’t just create a space for students to ‘have their say’ – rather it sparked a dialogue amongst the whole community and lead to our students’ insights and ideas influencing those of staff. ” David Powell, Principal JCC

Use Mind mapping to design the process

I find mind mapping invaluable to reframe the key questions raised by the client (purpose) and begin the design of the strategic foresight process to meet their needs. Mind mapping, from experience keeps my mind looking outwards, for connections and for alignment between purpose of the project (outcomes) and methods that will help achieve them. For example, I attach a diagram showing the proposed process of place visioning for JCC generated through mind mapping and then assembled using post-it notes. The psychological advantage of using post-it notes to illustrate a journey map is that the process “feels” impermanent, allowing the client to get involved and make changes to refine the process.

Design a template for your field notes (Stakeholder Interviews)

This technique works for me and it might work for you. Create a field notes template that works to capture the tacit knowledge and stories of participants and that will keep stakeholder conversations on track. It also provides a roadmap for the interviewer and interviewee. Below, there is an example of one designed for use by JCC’s parent community liaison.

In this interview design, multi-dimensional ideas were sought by changing the interviewee’s frame of reference from inner and outer worlds (cultural values and environmental/place qualities) across physical, bio-ecological, socio-cultural and spiritual layers of reality, borrowing from Ken Wilber’s (2000) integral model of the Kosmos. Ensure that questions capture multi-sensory qualities. Qualities that we would like to see, feel/touch, smell, and hear.

Explore metaphors to deepen the place vision

“Metaphor is primarily a form of cognition rather than a trope or figure of speech. Further, metaphor as a cognitive tool can operate unconsciously, so that a metaphoric process is one aspect of the unconscious mind.” Arnold H Modell, Imagination and the Meaningful Brain (2006) in Pallasma (2011).

In each school community, the power of metaphor was used to capture:

  1. images of the future and organisational agency (based on Polack’s Images of the Future: a roller coaster, an endless ocean, a dice game and a big river);
  2. the place essence of their respective emerging vision, and
  3. explore multi-layered place-making implications – tapping into the unconscious spirit of place.

Being a cognitive tool, metaphors can be used as design thinking and futures thinking multi-sensory images simultaneously – providing a “bridge” of integration towards place-based solutions.

For MIC, the Montessori Migration Story provided the defining cultural change metaphor that aligned with their vision of becoming a “village of inclusive learners and practitioners”. This metaphor made the task of explaining the vision to youth (6yrs – 17yrs) much easier and provided a sense of the future they could relate to and imagine. Through modelling with playdough, 6-9yr olds developed an appreciation of what it means for MIC to become a blended family of communities (Refer Figure and the photos of child group work, modelling the metaphor). These models were shown to older student cohorts as a way of communicating the emerging preferred image of the future college.

For JCC, the search for a place metaphor, deepened the understanding of how sense of place reflects cultural values and then affects the learning experience. Inspired by Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space (1969), we presented different forms of shelter from the natural world, from which workshop participants chose the one(s) that best captured the spatial ambience they desired in their future campus.

Most JCC staff chose the metaphor of the coral reef to illustrate their place vision.

Metaphors also tell the meta-story of the chosen culural transformation process from the old metaphor to the new metaphor. For example, JCC staff described the place metaphor of the current campus as part nest, hive and cave – reflecting its poor design, whilst the future place metaphor for the campus is to be like a coral reef: “Our place is like a coral reef, a diverse place of productive, collaborative, knowledge sharing and community building. There is individual freedom to connect to other communities and return to a protective, sustaining place.” (JCC Guiding metaphor for placemaking, 2017).

Embodied simulation (or creative visualization) to sense multi-sensory place qualities

“The embodied image is a spatialised, materialised and multi-sensory lived experience. Poetic images simultaneously evoke an imaginative reality and become part of our existential experience and sense of self.” Pallasma (2011, p.11)

A guiding place metaphor provides a true north compass direction for future actions and design strategies. But to capture desired multi-sensory place qualities another method is needed such as embodied simulation. Embodied simulation recognises that our bodies store memories about space and place and that we have “Three Brains” – the head brain, heart brain and gut brain to draw out these experiences.

For example, through a narrated simulation, JCC students and staff were invited to daydream about how their new college might represent their hopes and design values. The narration inspired participants to imagine multi-sensory place qualities that might shape the built environment and reflect their place vision. They walked through their future place in their mind’s eye (a virtual reality without the VR goggles). I suggest that you give participants the time to record their embodied simulation by a means they feel most comfortable with. Some ways include:

  • writing a “postcard from the future” to themselves,
  • drawing the place, they experienced,
  • re-telling the simulation and creating an audio recording on a smart phone.

With individual simulations recorded, group discussions may then start to share place qualities and identify the most important to the users. The PlaceSense[1] deck of cards proved useful to both JCC and MIC to prioritise their user group’s desired place qualities through the Card Storming method[2].

Below is the snapshot of the place values prioritised by MIC staff for the Senior Primary (9-12yrs old) community which is different for the place values prioritised for the Adolescent community (12-15yrs old), showing that the spatial and place-based learning needs of students vary as they develop into young adults.

The Strategic Foresight process, facilitated by Phillip Daffara continues to add value and inform strategy development for our school. Workshops, designed and facilitated by Phillip invited creativity and insights from the children and adolescents while ‘testing’ their understanding and appetite for a new and emerging vision. The staff ‘Enablers Workshop’ provided a practical platform to challenge current ways of thinking and working and helped us to begin to clarify future directions and future identity. I can’t recommend this process highly enough. ” Chiray Fitton, Principal MIC

Summary

This post gives a taste of the strategic foresight processes used within the JCC and MIC communities to articulate their respective place and community visions. What works for us might work for you, so I offer the following practice tips:

  • use mind mapping to design the process,
  • tailor field notes that are designed to mirror the journey map for the stakeholder interview,
  • explore metaphors to deepen the place vision and communicate values and qualities;
  • use embodied simulation in workshops to imagine desired future places and capture multi-sensory qualities.

Footnote

[1] The PlaceSense deck of cards currently contain 43 design values in 4 suits each corresponding to a level of reality – physical, bio-ecological, socio-cultural and spiritual design values

[2] Card storming is a Card sorting is a participatory, user-centered technique used to discuss and sort the attitudes, values, desires and/or behaviours of participants as they relate to the topic being examined.

References

Bahelard, G. (1969). The Poetics of Space. Boston. Beacon Press.

Pallasmaa, J. (2011). The Embodied Image, Imagination and Imagery in Architecture. West Sussex. Wiley.

Polak, F. (1973). The Image of the Future (E. Boulding, Trans.). San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Wilber, K. (2000). A Theory of Everything – An integral vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality. Boston, Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2000). Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. Boston, Shambhala Publications.

This article was republished with permission of the author.

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