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2. Participatory Process

Participatory Design

Climate responsive design is fundamentally a participatory process, requiring collaboration between client, community, and the private and public sectors. A participatory process must be dynamic, integrated and respectful, and attempt to actively involve all stakeholders (students, families, teachers, local community, local authorities etc.) through all project stages, to help ensure that the end result meets their needs. By incorporating a wide variety of views there is greater opportunity for successful outcomes. This bottom-up approach is an effective way to improve sustainable hardware and software, building local capacity through the process of design and construction. Participatory design results in low-carbon, long-lasting buildings that effectively fulfil the needs of users and enhance lives in the local community.

The Role of the Architect

Architects are not makers of things but people who evolve the capacity of places and communities.

Pursuing a democratic approach to design removes control from the architect and redistributes it to end users and members of the local community. To curate such a process requires significantly less ego and more ethos from the architect. Rather than being concerned with the production of beautiful buildings, participatory design prioritises the consequences of architecture over the objects of architecture. Designers must understand not just what buildings are, or how they are made, but what they can do.

In participatory design, the architect is responsible for designing the process by which the potential of a community is manifested. Material things like buildings or streets can be part of that design, but only insofar as they serve a larger purpose. For the process to work, architectural responsibilities must expand from design and construction to visioning through to evaluation, encompassing pre-design services and post-occupancy analysis. This end-to-end participatory process results in high quality, affordable and healthy buildings. Design becomes a tool to empower communities and lead to a stronger, prosperous and more sustainable future.

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Lake Bunyonyi Secondary   An architect leads a visioning workshop for potential new school facilities

The Role of the Architect

Impact Design Methodology

Every project is an opportunity for positive systemic change and the transformation of policy and behaviour.

When commencing a project, the new question for sustainable design should not be how we construct buildings, but why? What is their social, environmental or political value?


Impact Design Methodology is the process by which the unique circumstances surrounding each project are turned into a means for systems transformation. The participatory process begins at the pre-design stage by collectively defining the problem and focussing ideas for solution. This results in a single aligned mission with a shared understanding of stakeholder needs and goals and should encourage broad and realistic expectations of what the project can do. Next, the method or means to achieve the mission must be decided. This is about harnessing unique opportunities for empowerment, creating linkages between stakeholders, engaging suppliers and working with and supporting local organisations. Finally, metrics should be identified by which the mission will be evaluated. This feeds into post- occupancy analysis to decide if a project has been a success, and provides the data that is needed to influence policy and create lasting behavioural change.

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Ilima Primary  Improved facilities led to an increase in student attendance of over 30%

Impact Design Methodology

Immersion in Context

Any built project has the potential to create value, but often projects devalue places. This is because designers often fail to understand that places are unique living organisms. Adding social, environmental or political value to a place requires learning to recognize its potential, through a deep understanding of the local community, ecosystem and political situation. This understanding leads to environments that are more responsive and appropriate to inhabitants’ cultural, emotional and practical needs.

The participatory design process must begin with an immersive pre-design phase, where designers take the time to look, listen and learn without preconceptions by personally engaging members of the local community. It is through total immersion in the context that unique constraints and local opportunities can be identified and turned into a means for empowerment. This human-centred design approach also helps to develop meaningful relationships with end users to better understand their challenges, needs and aspirations, resulting in spaces that are functional, attractive, comfortable, and above all, dignified.

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Ruhehe Primary  ADC fellows studied methods of immersive research to put them in direct proximity with the community

Learn to understand the potential of a place and community through total immersion in the context. Places are unique living organisms.

Participation Tactics

Find out the specific conditions by which community members feel that they can participate in the design and construction process.

After building trust and understanding, the next step is to engage the local community and key stakeholders in active participation. Participation begins with a visioning and planning process, which can take place over three days. This should begin with very general questions, such as ‘what is a school?’. Day two moves into project specific issues – ‘how does this idea of a school apply to the site?’. Day three should result in an agreed site layout that the architect can take away to develop. Various activities can take place over these three days aiming to engage as many participants as possible. These can range from formal meetings to fun questionnaires and children’s drawing sessions.

Once the architect has developed these ideas, community consultation must involve more than just providing information. Designers must regularly iterate the design with the community through presenting drawings and physical models and responding to their feedback. Small community focus groups can be formed to examine and develop specific aspects of the project, giving individuals a sense of ownership and creating a finished product with, not for, the community.

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RLS Dormitory  ASA provided students with physical models to engage and play with in order to gain their feedback

Post-Occupancy Analysis

Quantify and leverage the successes of each project. Acknowledge failures and use them to make improvements

Architects are very good at designing, building and implementing designs, but they often spend very little time evaluating them once they are built. Part of an exemplary design process is expanding the role of the architect to include evaluation, so that designers can learn from their successes and failures and feed this knowledge back into the next project. Architects need to learn to talk about failing; Fail fast and fail often, go back to the drawing board and make improvements. Innovative breakthroughs arise from failure.

Metrics that are identified in the early project stages should be used to measure the success of a project and analyse the role of the built environment on desired project outcomes. In a school building, this may consist of improvements in educational attainment and cognition, student social engagement, or parental and community engagement. The results of this analysis provide policy makers and leaders with valuable information needed to make informed decisions that create lasting systematic change.


NTC Kaliro  Comfort assessment based on qualitative data has helped to evaluate the building's performance.

Post-Occupancy Analysis
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