NCI Charrette Blog Day 2: In a Week, You Can Change the World

As mentioned in our blog post yesterday, the Engage Delaney team is attending the Michigan State University (MSU) National Charrette Institute (NCI) Charrette System™ training this week, and today was our second full day of training. For us, as a team of engagement experts, many of the NCI Charrette principles and processes are very familiar, but after getting into the details of the charrette process yesterday, and especially so today, we have a clearer sense of how a charrette can be used in our projects, and how this process is unique and different from other engagement techniques we have used in the past.

For me, personally, the three key aspects of the NCI Charrette System that I find most interesting because they are unique, can be difficult to achieve, and at same time might be considered as key to the success of a charrette, are the following:

  1. Compressed Timelines

Even though the charrette planning can take months, and preparation for the actual event is very involved (and could consume up to 50% of the charrette total budget), the actual Ccharrette event is most commonly a seven-day, or even a shorter project. The time compression is a significant component of the charrette design and concept, and there are great benefits that come with these compressed timelines – stakeholders, experts, and project team members have a clearly outlined schedule, the team members and subject experts work under pressure, and because the seven-day design has been carefully planned for a very long time, the team is excited see it finally come to life. Also, despite the fact that a charrette is an intense process where key project team members live with it almost 24/7, the intensity and short nature of the process is what makes the charrette different and exciting. Stakeholders know they will quickly receive feedback, team members know they will work hard, but that the process will fly by, and the project sponsors can expect all the exciting outputs of the charrette (including the different plans, reports, and renderings with the stakeholders’ input) produced very quickly. It is impressive that all this exciting work can be produced in such a short amount of time.

  1. Feedback Loops

Another exciting aspect of the charrette system is that all the stakeholders who are involved in the project, see their input implemented in the development of options and the following reports immediately. There are three feedback loops in the process: the first feedback loop occurs right after the first set of stakeholder meetings and before the different options for the project are being developed; the second feedback loop is after the preferred option is selected; and then the third feedback loop is what makes the process bulletproof – yet another opportunity to “get the project right.” Everyone involved in the project has plenty of opportunity to see their input being incorporated into the plans for project site during the seven days of the charrette, and the project team also, in addition, plans a number of hours for the studio space time where people can always come and receive information on the most recent version of the project plan, and provide additional input into the project.

  1. Expertise on Hand

A charrette is not only time-compressed, it is also an expertise-supported process. It is assumed and expected that during the week of charrette, the team will have all the required expertise available, and that the individual subject experts will be able to come in at the right time to produce any plans, drawings, renderings, feasibility studies, etc. that may be required. The expertise at hand might involve an urban planner, a renderer, a transportation planner, an architect, a landscape architect, etc. The seven days of the charrette follows a long-term planning process where a number of different stakeholders and experts have already been consulted, and where the team members including the subject experts lead the carefully-designed process to receive input in stages and design their final products. The expert team members can work on the charrette full-time, or can arrive at required times and work with the team on analyzing input, designing options, doing feasibility studies, and/or writing any other piece of plans or documents that might be planned as final charrette products.

Having participated in this exciting training, I now really hope I get a chance to work on a full charrette, as it is now crystal clear to me that when there is will, a solid plan, a comprehensive involvement of stakeholders, a compressed timeline, and so much expertise in the same room with all eyes on the prize, truly… anything is possible.