design, civic engagement, & the challenge of wicked problems
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DESCRIPTIONTogether, in June 2014, the Kettering Foundation & the Community Design Research Center at the University of Virginia convened a group of urban design, planning & architecture researchers that engage directly with their communities to explore the role of design thinking as a civic engagement strategy.
D E S I G N , C I V I C E N G A G E M E N T & THE CHALLENGE OF WICKED PROBLEMS
K E T T E R I N GF O U N D AT I O N
hosted by in collaboration with
JUNE 2, 2014
what is distinctive about civic engagement for the
what civic engagement practices are most promising for increasing the capacity of citizens (including our students) to make decisions & act
together over that issues that affect their lives?
why does engagement
are we asking the right questions?
what do we do in design schools that doesnt
happen other places?
how do you deploy your students on the ground?
why do you think the design profession can
raise the universitys bar in engagement?
how do the design fields encounter wicked
how do the design disciplines clarify,
amplify, or challenge how higher education
institutions engage with community challenges?
what naively am I missing to be anxious
what intuitively do you think design has in particular to take us to the next level?
where is this groundswell
how can you engage with communities & work toward
what are we teaching
students about community
is civic capacity?
Suzanne Morse Moomaw, co-convener John Dedrick, co-convenerAssociate Professor, Urban & Environmental PlanningDirector, Community Design Reseach CenterUniversity of Virginia School of Architectureswm2x@virginia.edu
Vice-President & Program DirectorCharles F. Kettering Foundationjrdedrick@kettering.org
Derek S. Hyra Judith E. InnisAssociate ProfessorDepartment of Public Administration & PolicySchool of Public AffairsAmerican Universityhyra@american.edu
Professor Emerita, City & Regional PlanningCollege of Environmental DesignUniversity of California Berkeleyjinnes@berkeley.edu
Harriett Jameson Michael RiosLecturer & Program DirectorCommunity Design Reseach CenterUniversity of Virginia School of Architectureharriettjameson@virginia.edu
Associate ProfessorLandscape Architecture & Environmental DesignChair, Community Development Graduate GroupDepartment of Human EcologyUniversity of California - Davismxrios@ucdavis.edu
William H. Sherman Rusty SmithProfessor of ArchitectureAssociate Vice President for ResearchUniversity of Virginia School of Architecturewhs2b@virginia.edu
Associate Chair, Program of ArchitectureAssociate Director, Rural StudioSchool of Architecture, Planning, & Landscape Arch.Auburn Universityrustysmith@auburn.edu
Roy Strickland Deborah Witte Professor of ArchitectureDirector, Master of Urban Design ProgramTaubman College of Architecture & Urban PlanningUniversity of Michigan firstname.lastname@example.org
Program OfficerCharles F. Kettering Foundationdwitte@kettering.org
The only difference between a problem & a solution is that people understand the solution.
-Charles F. Kettering
The Kettering Foundation is rooted in the idea that truly collaborative research is the only method
that will catalyze the innovation needed to address todays wicked problems. Likewise, the Community
Design Research Center at the University of Virginia is committed to addressing these issues through
collaborative research around place. By pushing the boundaries of design & planning, the center
pioneers innovative collaboration, design thinking, & tactical solutions.
Together, in June 2014, the Kettering Foundation & the Community Design Research Center at the
University of Virginia convened a group of urban design, planning & architecture researchers that engage
directly with their communities to explore the role of design thinking as a civic engagement strategy.
Held in Washington, DC, the symposium was entitled Design Civic Engagement & the Challenge of
Wicked Problems. The invitation read as follows:
We think the time is ripe for a fresh exploration of the role the design fields can play in
strengthening the connections between university campuses & the larger communities in which
they are located. In brief, while community engagement programs are now well established on
many campuses, the potential for the kind of engagement that is mutually beneficial to both
communities & campuses has not yet been fully developed. As Kettering Foundations President
David Mathews has argued, universities & communities are often ships passing in the night.
We hypothesize that professionals in the design fields are well positioned to advance the theory
& practice of democratic engagement, which is essential to advancing the core responsibilities
of teaching, research, & service.
The two-day conversation sparked many debates around discipline, pedagogy, & systemic issues, & raised
questions about the ways university design schools can most effectively engage in a community. Among the
topics under discussion, for example:
How do the design disciplines challenge & inform how universities engage with communities?
What conditions have created a desire for public interest design?
How do design schools address wicked problems through teaching, research, & practice?
This report synthesizes the key themes, issues, challenges, & opportunities that were explored during this two-day
symposium. While the conversations raised as many questions as they answered, they succeeded in providing a
framework for situating university design schools within their communities as agents of collaborative democracy &
THE DESIGN EDUCATION & CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IMPERATIVEISSUES & CHALLENGES If the second millennium was defined by
dichotomiesurban/rural, first world/third
third millennium will be characterized by
morphologies. Shifts in climate, population,
natural resources, infrastructures, territories,
& economies will yield unprecedented urban
& environmental challenges. These transitions
generate wicked problemsissues difficult to
recognize & to solve because of ever-changing
conditionsfor our communities.
Doctors have an ethical & professional responsibility to act when they see a crisis. Architects need to be the same way. Institutions like the Rural Studio exist because the profession is not fulfilling the need.
-Rusty Smith, Auburn University
The responsibility of higher education
institutions for shaping & preparing future
architects, landscape architects, & urban
designers & environmental planners to meet the
ever-growing, complex, & shifting challenges
of the 21st century has never been greater.
There is a need for current programs in the
built environment to respondto be more
innovative, integrative, responsive, & relevant
both to professional practice & the needs of our
communities. Curriculum & education delivery
must respond by thinking & acting outside the
The question of how these disciplines should
adapt remains a matter of debate. Several
tensions arise. First, academic programs are
required to develop both theoretical & skill-
based competencies related to socio-spatial
issues, open-minded inquiry & research, &
problem solving skills via either critical analysis
(planners) or an iterative design process
(designers). Secondly, professionals/employers
expect these programs to provide students with
a tool-box of basic skillssuch as GIS analysis,
3D modeling, & graphic representation
needed in the professional setting. Lastly,
community organizations, activists, & citizens
want their universities (especially public higher
education institutions) to engage disadvantaged
citizens, advocate for community needs, &
contribute to issues of environmental & social
Beyond this plethora of expectations for what
programs should be doing, there are also
questions of when these expectations must
be met. Academic institutions operate on a
very different time-scale than do communities.
Course work & student involvement rely on
a semester or quarter cycle. The academic
calendar usually spans nine months, with a four-
week break for the holidays. Often, grants must
be completed & outcomes delivered within one
fiscal year. Tenure-track faculty members must
complete a project that is meaningful, impactful,
& relevant in a designated timeframe.
At the community level, change happens much
more slowly. It can take five, seven, or ten years
for a community to successfully execute a new
comprehensive plan or realize a newly designed
public space. Communities are subject to the
fluctuating tides brought about by elections,
budget appropriation changes, & shifting
priorities, making cultural change difficult. And,
while a citizen may live in a community where he
or she can be affected by a design proposal for
an entire lifetime, a student is in & out