MFA Thesis: "Designing with Communities: A Framework for a Collaborative Public Engagement Process"

Researcher + Designer  
Stephany Stamatis

Thesis Committee
Terri Wada, Adjunct Professor, Herron School of Art + Design
Youngbok Hong, Program Director + Associate Professor, Herron School of Art + Design
Chad Eby, Assistant Professor, Herron School of Art + Design

I created a conceptual framework as a solution for my thesis. A conceptual framework explains, either graphically or in narrative form, the main things to be studied—the key factors, concepts, or variables—and the presumed relationships amongst them. It  synthesizes concepts of a more general theoretical perspective, related to a specific research context, in order to guide people in their approach to further research or practice.

Urban Planners can use the conceptual framework to better understand the opportunities and challenges of involving Community Members. It is visualized to help them more deeply understand the complexity of their relationship with Community Members. The framework was designed to show which factors and variables correlate to impact the ability for Urban Planners and Community to collaborate, as well as how collaboration relates to the quality of public engagement. It illustrates this for both a prescriptive approach and a collaborative approach to public engagement, while also showing the end result of both approaches. The framework is shown in the last two images on this page.

My research question for my thesis is, "How might Urban Planners understand the opportunities and challenges of involving Community Members through a public engagement process, in order to shift from a prescriptive approach to a collaborative approach?" This work is being done through the lens of Urban Planners as designers. Often times, when Urban Planners use the more prescriptive approaches to public engagement, people feel disenfranchised and like they don't have ownership in the projects that are happening in their community. A collaborative approach would focus on the community members' needs and enable them to take an active part through the design of a project. 

My research proposal was completed in Fall 2017, which included an abstract, justification, research limitations, literature review, methods plan, and schedule. In Spring 2018, I ran my field work methods. I interviewed Urban Planners to find out how they choose the approach they use to engage with communities, as well as their reasons for using those approaches. I also created activities and generative tools that I used to facilitate a participatory design session with a group of Urban Planners, Community Advocates, and Community Members. I facilitated them in generating ideas to help Urban Planners and Community Members work more collaboratively throughout public engagement. Using the data from the literature review, interviews, and participatory design session, I prototyped possible solutions and moved to solution development for a conceptual framework.

The research question and sub-questions I designed to guide my research

A map of the stakeholder groups that are commonly included in a public engagement process

This map shows a spectrum of approaches to public engagement, from strictly informative and prescriptive to fully empowering and collaborative with communities

This is the first portion of my conceptual framework solution, which details a prescriptive approach to public engagement. My thesis proposes moving away from this approach.

This is the second portion of my conceptual framework solution, which details a collaborative approach to public engagement. My thesis proposes moving towards this approach.