Six Raising Places communities are working hard to develop creative approaches to make their neighborhoods better environments for children and families. Dozens of participating residents across the country spent the fall months mapping community challenges and developing ideas to positively transform issues like housing, youth employment and engagement, and the need for open space – just to name a few. Over winter break, our six design teams went into prototyping mode where they used digital and physical materials to develop initial mockups of their chosen concepts and held events to receive community feedback.

Prototype Feedback in Valley of the Chiefs

The Valley of the Chiefs design team in Montana is committed to creating a thriving “main street” in their town including a number of structures and services – such as a healing center, local arts cooperative and community gathering space. I caught up with design team member and social worker Emerald Parisi during the Action Lab in icy Montana to learn more about their community feedback event held at City Hall. An idea to build a small-scale interactive Valley of the Chiefs Main Street using LEGOs was formed during a coaching call between the design team, convener Megkian Doyle of Bighorn Valley Health Center and Greater Good Studio co-founder Sara Aye.

“I have tons of LEGOs because my kids like them. We set up our vision. I had little signs up that said you could feel free to move or take away anything and yet with those prompts, they still didn’t want to touch anything and make it any different.” – Emerald Parisi, Valley of the Chiefs design team

Emerald observed that in Crow Tribe culture, is it important to respect the work of others. This means during the prototype feedback event, some adults were initially reluctant to change the structures or LEGO landscape pre-made by the design team as a starting point.

“We had a whole space of just plain LEGOs that they could build anything and kids immediately started building recreation centers, swimming pools and park pieces – without hesitation.”

At the event, direct engagement with adults in the community drew them in to envision a new healthier built environment for Valley of the Chiefs. A simple, “What should this look like,” prompted residents to share their ideas on sticky notes or aloud.

A child uses LEGOs to show how they want to see their community improve at the Valley of the Chiefs prototyping feedback event.

It has come up during the work of Raising Places that a significant number of families in Valley of the Chiefs suffer from drug use and abuse, making the need for community health resources quite critical. Knowing this, the design team included a concept for physical space where residents could receive treatment that aligns with Crow Tribe values.

On this matter, Emerald shared another key lesson she walked away with after the prototype feedback event:

“As part of the healing center, I had the detox recovery like way in the corner – by the garden and farm animals. I placed it way out of the main living part of the healing center and someone just came up. I said, ‘What do you think of this? Check this out.’ He just picked up the recovery center and said, ‘What if this was right here?’ And he put it right near the children’s home. He said, ‘What if this was connected to this?'”

Many design team members in Valley of the Chiefs expressed a great deal of gratitude for the participation of their fellow community members in the feedback event. Expression from the community about the significance of healing as a collective activity helped to further the work of Emerald’s group. During the Action Lab, her group created a pilot plan for the ‘Itchik Diiawakaam Family Healing Center,’ a place where children and families receive healing treatments and support rooted in a holistic and loving approach. Itchik Diiawakaam means “it is good to see you” in Crow and emphasizes the community value of returning to spiritual balance through communal strength.

Prototype Feedback in Wilmington

Wilmington’s design team truly hopes to increase youth engagement in their community with a small group of design team members developing concepts focused on that one area. By the end of the Ideas Lab, some of the concepts this group pursued ranged from a youth mentorship program, trade training opportunities for youth to renovate community buildings to one suggestion that youth lead technology training for adults.

In January, some Wilmington design team members met with youth at a local church for a prototype feedback event. Design team member Katie Rispoli Keaotamai is the leader of a youth engagement group in Southern California. Ahead of the upcoming Action Lab in Wilmington, she gave me some insight into her learnings from the feedback event hosted with youth.

The design team members set up rotating stations and met with teens for about ten minutes at a time in small groups about individual concepts. Some of the concepts Katie’s group sought feedback on include the youth-led technology training program for adults and a job trade development program where youths gain skills while renovating local building structures.

As it turns out, the Wilmington design team received some particularly valuable feedback on the concept for a youth-led technology training program for adults. The teens participating in the feedback event shared their concerns about the experience the workshop would create for them. Citing feelings of being unheard by adults in their community, youth expressed angst about taking on teaching roles that would require transformation from traditional relationships between youth and adults into ones of mutual respect.

“As someone who works with youth regularly, I think it's key that we recognize that we as adults conceived this idea and felt it would be a success, and the primary response from youth was that adults don't value their input or understand them.” – Katie Rispoli Keaotamai, Wilmington design team

As a leader of an organization that does youth programming, Katie took these learnings to heart while she and her small group rethought pursuing the concept to prioritize ones with more youth excitement behind them.

Wilmington design team member Ely Fournier takes notes while teens chime in on what they think about his group's prototypes.

The concept for what Katie calls Build Wilmington – an opportunity that equips youth with skills to renovate buildings in the community – similarly revealed surprising insights when the design team invited youth to critique their work.

It turns out, youth in Wilmington find intrinsic value in restoring the built environment of their community that extends into their personal lives.

“While one student said she wants to learn how to be handy because she hasn't really been encouraged to have those abilities to-date, another student said he felt he never really had a strong male role model because his father was not present in his life. He felt participating in this program would teach him the things he needs to know later on when he's a homeowner.”

A few teens even mentioned how participating in construction work with their friends would make for some really cool photos on their social media profiles. This just goes to show how designing feedback processes can illuminate user motivations that were previously unknown to the designers.

Design team members in both Valley of the Chiefs and Wilmington developed concept prototypes and interactive community feedback sessions to help evaluate the ideas. In each instance, residents from their neighborhood brought thoughtful perspectives that the design team needed for them understand how to move forward with designing solutions driven by community members.

What are some ways you gather impactful feedback?