Exhibit Change

design-driven community engagement

Designing Toronto: Creating the Capacity to Convene

Designing Toronto: Creating the Capacity to Convene

The evolution of Designing Toronto as an idea has come a long way since its first inception back in 2013. Originally envisioned as a weekend workshop about navigating the planning system, Howard Tam of ThinkFresh Group and Jennifer Chan of Exhibit Change brought together a community of people to try to figure out how to take this idea to action.

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Originally, the Designing Toronto team was focused on how we could support people to better navigate the planning and unplanning spaces, ultimately helping to get new community projects off the ground. What soon become obvious to the group was that part of the value of Designing Toronto was the ability to bring together some of the diverse and passionate players in the city-building community.

Opportunity in Failure.

As planning for Designing Toronto unfolded, we soon hit conceptual road blocks around whether or not our solution was solving a real problem and what resources we needed to see it through. Through research and conversations, there was no doubt about an interest in seeing more support for citizen-led projects. Our main question was whether or not pushing Designing Toronto to deliver a course on Toronto’s planning system would be the kind of support that citizen-led projects needed. Perhaps it is one part of a more holistic solution. Then there was the issue of generating a sustainable business model to deliver this new service.

Needless to say, our doubt and our collectively stretched resources were starting to wear at our enthusiasm.

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What we soon realized was that many other groups had been in this groan zone that our team had  suddenly found itself in. This realization would be a critical insight into the way forward – it was time for us to pivot instead of charging ahead.

To better understand this phase in the project development, we needed to learn from those who had already been here. We wanted to convene a group of projects that had jumped through and beyond this zone, we wanted to hear about the projects that has been consumed by failing to move beyond this point, and we wanted to speak with those teams that had just arrived with their fresh ideas.  Thus, the dezTO Hackathon was born.

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On March 29th, Designing Toronto convened a room of curious community-builders, planners and serial social entrepreneurs. The full-day event allowed us to hear war stories from the creative minds behind the now defunct Toronto Urban Exchange (TUX), to learn from the experience and expertise of ClearVillage, a London, UK-based nonprofit, to better understand the challenges facing Green Change, a Jane & Finch community space, and to meet the open government guru helping to incubate the Toronto Changes concept.

Since then, we’ve been working hard at digesting and synthesizing the harvest of ideas and actions that came out of the Designing Toronto hackathon. The creative brief on citizen-led projects in Toronto will outline case studies of ideas that had struggled plus highlighting the themes common between each of the citizen projects that were hosted during the dezTO hackathon. Pushing this creative brief into a call to action, we will outline what these projects need, and where you can help, to move these initiatives into their next iteration.

The creative brief will be out very shortly! So make sure to sign up for our newsletter to ensure you get a PDF copy when it comes out, hot off the presses.

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