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Community by Design

An exploration on how to activate community agency through community boards.

Sophia Campione


In Fall 2020, I began a quest to understand how might we, as community members, play a more active role in shaping our environment through the initiatives that impact us the most. This journey led me to the world of community boards. During my first experience, I uncovered pain points that I sought to remedy this semester as a way to activate participation and engagement within the Williamsburg-Greenpoint community. With community boards being intrinsically tied to the city government, I felt this was a powerful entryway into eliciting the larger-scale impacts my initial research question asked. This semester, I immersed myself into this world-- embracing the bureaucracy and all-- in order to answer this question of how might we utilize these boards as a way to create wider participation and engagement?


It was naive of me to think I was going to get in contact with the board and have them welcome me with open arms and minds. It was not easy to get connected with board members; but, luckily, I got in-touch with the chair of the outreach committee who welcomed my mission, insights, and collaboration. However, they are not representative of the resistant to change, static mindsets that riddle the board. My insights and ideas faced much backlash from the tenured members and this conversation was short lived. They required me to apply to the committee in order to collaborate but denied my application out of fear that I would tear down their system. This forced a pivot in my direction for the intervention I would design, and I struggled with this until I became reacquainted with my driving goal-- a two-way conversation between the board and the community.


After my dialogue with the BK1 board concluded, the question of how might we set in motion a broader, deeper, and more participatory conversation between the community board and the community was raised. This forged the conception of “The Community Deck: Conversation Starters for Constructive Change”. This deck is composed of over 150 conversation prompts and roles, with the design process grounded in speculative design principles, that require players to suspend their understanding of the present to allow their minds to get creative about what could be in order to design a more-desirable future. Ultimately, it is a design tool intended to promote more inclusive processes and collaborative conversations about change by incorporating wider perspectives in organizational discourse on contested topics framed in a low-stakes format that allows bridges to be built and understanding to be widespread.

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