Engaging Community: Models & Methods for Designers and Planners

Examines the worldwide trends of increasing demographic complexity as it relates to the practice of planning and students’ own capabilities. Students will engage around topics of cultural competency, power analyses, and facilitative leadership through readings, guest speakers, and facilitative leadership training. Students will practice what they learn through “model” planning exercises with fellow students, members of the MIT and/or Boston area communities.

Course Overview:
As professionals, planners all over the world are engaging with increasingly diverse communities in terms of race, class, gender identity, nationality, immigration status and more. This course will explore how this increasing diversity has emerged worldwide and what it means for the practice of planning and related fields. It will also give students the opportunity to review and practice strategies, techniques, and methods for engaging communities in demographically complex societies.

The course will provide students with the opportunity to develop a toolkit of practices that will help to respectfully, responsibly, and strategically engage demographically complex publics. It will also give students the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences and practice several facilitative leadership styles.

Throughout the semester students will engage with a host of active professionals and each other to begin exploring four central questions:

1. Self-reflection: What are our own personal tendencies, values, and capacities for empathy? What are our strengths and weaknesses in this context?
2. True collaboration: How do we meaningfully work with, plan for, and engage with others (especially those different from us)?
3. Reality of changing demographics: What do some of these demographically complex communities and places look like, and how does the complexity impact true collaboration and how we act as planners?
4. Practice: What are the sets of tools we can learn to facilitate a productive, meaningful, and fair planning process, even in situations of conflict?

The course will be structured around a series of topics, including understanding demographic complexity, cultural competency, and power analyses. For each topic, a local expert will visit and give students the opportunity to discuss their work in light of what we read. Finally, students will practice: we will participate in several facilitative leadership training modules and practice the tactics we discuss and learn (strategizing, organizing, etc) on fellow students or other members of MIT and/or Boston area communities.

Course requirements:
Students will be expected to read and journal weekly, participate in all trainings, and submit a final report, paper, or project (discussed and approved by teaching team) surrounding a topic of personal interest related to practicing in a demographically complex community.