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Design Studio (Video)

A 20 minute video (in 4 parts) introducing Closing the Distance :
(Please right-click on one of the following links and choose "Save Target As...")

Part 1 (4 MB) Part 2 (4 MB) Part 3 (4 MB) Part 4 (5 MB)

The above video on "Mobilizing Communities to Close the Distance" documents a two-day SPNO Design Studio conducted in March 2003 as a reflection and planning session for staff and community leaders from the five local Closing the Distance projects.

The SPNO was inspired to develop the Design Studio as part of its social by studying the work of Donald A. Schön, Ford Professor of Urban Studies and business consultant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. In his seminal work The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (1983), Schön promotes "reflection-in-action" for professional training in the social sciences and other disciplines that combine scientific knowledge with artistic expression.

"Reflection-in-action" brings to bear on any situation or problem the principles and tenets of professional knowledge as well as the insights drawn from the "repertoire" of experience accumulated over time by a practitioner. Schön argues that researchers and practitioners need to experiment with different "hypotheses" (options for action) in "virtual worlds" where the learnings of both disciplinary knowledge and practical experience are applied to specific situations or problems for the development of optimal solutions. Practitioners need a space or a "virtual world" to test the proper formulations and combinations of professional knowledge and experiential learnings.

Schön used the example of the architect's studio to illustrate his meaning of "reflection-in-action". In the architect's studio accomplished project architects develop projects and face design problems encountered when designing a particular house for a specific site. The supervising architect views the problem situation of the project architects and helps them solve their design issues by posing questions that re-frame the problem and allow the project architects to come up with their own solution. The supervising architect does not 'prescribe' solutions, but rather leads the project architect through a problem-solving process.

The SPNO has adapted the concept of the Design Studio in its provision of central and technical support to local projects in the field. In our community planning practice the Design Studio is a facilitated process that brings together leadership teams from different communities to engage in a process of problem solving, strategy development and knowledge creation.

Every three-four months, SPNO convenes the community leaders who are planning and implementing community development strategies in their areas and guides them through a Design Studio process. The process begins by reflecting on local developments in order to derive learnings from previous practice (These meetings are also referred to as "REFLECTIONS" sessions). The process then identifies challenges or problems that impede further local development and questions are framed for participants to struggle with in both small and large group process. A number of tools and popular education techniques are employed to facilitate the process, some of which are included in the Tool Kit on this web site.

SPNO uses the Design Studio method in its All-Region REFLECTIONS sessions for four results:

  1. Helping local leaders achieve their community development objectives through effective strategy and action;
  2. Improving the skill levels of local practitioners and community leaders;
  3. Creating learning about strong and intentional community practice that is applicable to a variety of community issues and challenges; and
  4. Building the capacity of local planning and community development organizations to fulfill their missions and mandates.


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