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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Charrettes

A charrette is an intensive, multi-disciplinary workshop with the aim of developing a design or vision for a project or planning activity. Charrettes are often conducted to design such things as parks and buildings, or to plan communities or transportation systems. A team of design experts meets with community groups, developers, and neighbors over a period lasting from one day to a couple of weeks, gathering information on the issues that face the community. Charrette participants then work together to find design solutions that will address the issues that stakeholders have identified as priorities and result in a clear, detailed, realistic vision for future development.

Advantages

  • Facilitates collaborative design of visible projects that will have high impact on people’s lives
  • Brings project stakeholders together to facilitate fast and interactive decision making
  • Creates partnerships and positive working relationships with the public
  • Especially useful for land-use planning or other issues that require speculation about the future
  • Can save money where many drawings are needed in a short time; rather than commissioning expensive design drawings without input from the community, a charrette offers an inclusive, less expensive process

Challenges to Consider

  • This specialized tool is only applicable to scenarios where a high level of public awareness and input is needed and welcomed
  • The process is intensive and can be expensive, usually lasting several days and involving experts and specialists, including a trained charrette facilitator
  • A compressed time period and multi-day requirement means some stakeholders may not be able to attend
  • Charrettes may not provide adequate time provided for reflection and design refinement
  • Take care to make sure that participants are seen as fully representative of the larger public

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Design tailored, participant-appropriate approaches to the charrette process
  • Begin as early as possible and bring people face-to-face
  • Invite broad participation – all those directly impacted, all those indirectly impacted, and all the decision-makers
  • Set attainable charrette goals and identify future milestones, as appropriate
  • Brief the participants on the charrette process, which aims at delivering feasible and creative solutions within a short period of time
  • Hire a trained design charrette facilitator, who can help form teams and small groups, obtain quick agreement on desired outcomes, and keep everyone involved in the process
  • Plan for a workshop that provides sufficient time for the participants to work intensively on a problem and then present their findings
  • If possible, have the top decision maker present to welcome participants and validate the importance of their participation
  • Provide – and use - high-quality, legitimate information; high-quality information provides a basis for meaningful participation. Legitimate information is that which all participants view as valid and pertinent
  • Address participants’ information needs promptly and as comprehensively as possible
  • Form small working groups; groups may discuss one general topic at a time or may be assigned differing topics
  • The process operates with general sessions, small work groups, report backs to the large group, and feedback sessions with, or presentations from technical staff or decision makers
  • Decision makers work with participants to achieve reasonable and feasible decisions, by identifying reasonable constraints, teaching relevant design principles, and offering professionals insights to the ramifications of different design approaches
  • Groups address issues or topics by focusing on how to meet different interests and creating joint criteria for successful designs
  • The highest-ranking decision maker closes the event by stating how the charrette’s outcomes will be incorporated into the final decision

Resources Needed

Staffing
  • A leader experienced in the charrette technique
  • Staff who have worked on the problem or with applicable policy and can provide needed technical information
  • A planner, landscape designer, and/or architect, depending on the design issue being discussed
  • Interpreters, if necessary
Materials
  • Large maps
  • Overlays to allow sketching on maps
  • Boards to display applicable data
  • Large newsprint pads and markers to record ideas
  • Photographs of sites
  • Handouts of basic goals/time limits/meeting ground rules
  • Printed background information with background data
Planning Time
  • May require several months of planning and preparation

Implementation Time

  • Requires at least one-half day for modest issue and up to several days for complex issues

Group Size

  • Can accommodate groups of varying sizes. A medium size group is 10 – 50 persons, and a large group is 50-100 persons

Cost

  • High, generally requires outside expertise and development of myriad materials

Most relevant participation levels:

  • Most relevant to Involve, Collaborate, Empower

For More Information

Charrettes 101: Dynamic Planning for Community Change Exit

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.


Contacts

For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:

Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
E-mail: kandil.shereen@epa.gov