Susan Stuart Clark was recently interviewed by Mary Leong for the PlaceSpeak blog. The conversation focused largely on Common Knowledge’s approach to community-driven design. Below are excerpts of the full interview; click here to visit the original.

What’s the difference between user-centered design and community-driven design?

User-centered design is really popular these days, and Common Knowledge is filled with people who come from a market research and consumer marketing background. So this notion of understanding your audience and their worldview, in a culturally competent way, is second nature to us. The premise of respecting and understanding your users or residents is really important. What we find sometimes is that our colleagues will bring in community members (such as at a focus group) as a research subject, not as a partner in solving the problem.

So for us, community-driven design means involving community members, not just as one-off subjects, but as a team. One part is having a cross-section of the community help define the problem, and together, in dialogue, come up with shared meaning around the problem. If you ask any one resident how they’re experiencing the problem, you’re still going to get a lopsided view. The second part is that there are different steps along the way to designing what the decision looks like. The community isn’t just consulted at the start and told at the end – they’re with you all along the way.

What’s an example?

For us, the key issue is in the delivery and the implementation. For example, one of our signature projects was called “Key to Community”. We were working with less-educated, lower-income young adults – those least likely to vote. Instead of just going with surveys where people said, “I don’t vote because I haven’t got time” or “I don’t like politics”, they went through their own user-centered process. The group found that the number one barrier was the perception that going to vote was going to be like a test at the DMV – not a pleasant experience. In understanding that worldview, they collectively defined the problem as performance anxiety, misconceptions of the process, and also the de facto literacy test. It was a multi-dimensional definition that went deeper than the surface answers. They then co-created a program of dialogues, peer-led workshops and the non-partisan Easy Voter Guide, and delivered it. That kind of community-driven design doubled the voting turnout rates among lower-educated, low-income young adults of color in California. The community has an important part of the answer, and has a role to play in delivering it.

Click here to read the full interview.