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Design, Civic Engagement, & The Challenge of Wicked Problems


On June 2-3, 2014, the Community Design Research Center, in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation, held an event in Wasington, DC, entitled Design, Civic Engagement, & The Challenge of Wicked Problems. The purpose of the event was threefold: 1) to explore the potential of civic engagement in the design and planning fields; 2) to examine the possibility of design thinking in solving today’s wicked problems; and 3) to discuss solutions and best practices for preparing architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and design students to engage with communities

11 leaders from 7 public universities gathered over two days to debate and discuss the following questions:

  • In your experience, how do the design fields encounter wicked problems?
  • How do the design disciplines clarify, amplify, or challenge how higher education institutions engage with community challenges?
  • What is distinctive about civic engagement for the design disciplines? Why does engagement matter?
  • What civic engagement practices are most promising for increasing the capacity of citizens (including our students) to make decisions and act together over the issues that affect their lives?

Suggested readings for the event:

  • David Mathews, “Ships Passing in the Night” and “Putting the Public Back into the Public’s Business” (from The Ecology of Democracy)
  • Nadia Anderson, “Public Interest Design as Praxis”
  • Shana Agid, “Worldmaking: Working Through Theory/Practice in Design”
  • Fast Company, “Design Thinking… What is That?”

Suggested Bibliography from Event Participants:

  • Derek Hyra, Virginia Polytechnic University: “Conceptualizing the New Urban Renewal Comparing the Past to the Present,” Urban Affairs Review, 2012.
  • Judith E. Innes, University of California at Berkeley: Planning with Complexity: An Introduction to Collaborative Rationality for Public Policy, with David E. Booher, Routledge, 2010.
  • Roy Strickland, University of Michigan: “Place-Making as an Expression of Teaching and Learning: The Hilltop, Washington, DC,” Places, 2005.
  • Suzanne Morse Moomaw, University of Virginia: Smart Communities: How Citizens and Local Leaders Can Use Strategic Thinking to Build a Brighter Future, Jossey-Bass, 2004.
  • Michael Rios, University of California at Davis:“Toward a Social Ecology of Scale: Collective Action, Design for Health, and Landscape Praxis” in Landscape Journal, 2011, and From the Studio to the Streets, Stylus Publishing, 2006.
  • William E. Sherman, University of Virginia: “Complex Systems, Interdisciplinary Collaboration, and Institutional Renewal” in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning in 2011.