As a firm, I sometimes like to think of ourselves as an Island of Misfit Toys. We are the kind of curious people that might try to make something strong and inflexible, like a glulam beam, act as a flexible and responsive cable. We are the kind of people that might try to foster community by creating a communal, multi-person fleece sweater. We look for opportunities to dip our toes in the water, and if that doesn’t easily exist in our cities, we imagine ways to make it happen.
We believe that building from a foundation of human connection is a critical cornerstone of solving the big issues of our time.
If you’ve delivered a community project recently, or are currently in the middle of one, you’ll understand that the process of realizing community projects is evolving. The systems, strategies, and tactics that enable, reinforce, and establish positive social outcomes are becoming more and more important. Why? Because our facilities and programs are being asked to do more than ever before. Now, they must respond to a wider demographic, be more accessible, be part of the climate emergency response, be centres of climate resilience… all while retaining their roles as incubators of community and individual wellbeing!
Changing social, political, and physical environments make this even more urgent. Conventional project delivery structures are shaped by how municipalities function, and by the responsibilities that staff have to council and to their communities. The structure in itself is just a framework and doesn’t inherently guarantee success, and worse yet, can be part of the problem. Things like too rigid a procurement system, siloed decision making all come at the cost of possible impact.
A cookie-cutter process doesn’t work anymore. It is how we identify and layer critical performance criteria into the structure that delivers success.
- Start early, make the big decisions early
Early decision-making reduces cost implications while maximizing opportunities for impact. Here, we can explore problems in-depth; making the critical decisions that set the foundation for project success. As the project progresses, the program will solidify, more key stakeholders will be invested, and costs will be nailed down. If these big decisions are delayed, or rehashed in later phases, budget and schedule will suffer.
- Check in, and check in again
Engagement is no longer a gatepost but a parallel stream that requires attention the whole way through. Where engagement moments used to be single stops along a project journey, they now occur at each project phase. Checking in frequently will maximize support of the project, while providing a clear idea of what the project must achieve, any potential obstacles, and what will define its success.
- Set hard goals and measure, measure, measure
Define your social, economic, and environmental impact goals and use them to guide every decision you make. By establishing a set of indicators and metrics that reflect your project’s goals, you can confirm whether the facility has maximized positive impact and document key learnings that can be applied on your next project.
In our roles, we have a unique opportunity to shape the legacies of facilities that so many people will grow to know and love. At the outset we rarely have all the answers, but what we do have are lessons learned from past projects that have a central focus: building community.