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Ten Tips for Pro-Bono work in Community Settings

By David Gamble, AIA, AICP, LEED AP

Photos and diagrams courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted.

    1. Design the Process. Spend (almost as much) time designing the process as designing the project. A well considered and intelligent method for engaging clients will build the confidence of the participants and provide for effective means of communication.


Photo courtesy of Alyson Tanguay

    2. Manage expectations. Be realistic about what can be accomplished with the resources available and the perceived commitment of the partners.


    3. Scales of engagement can vary greatly from a single charrette to a series of visioning sessions to a longer planning and review process. Carefully consider the appropriate time needed for viable community input and provide for multiple means of feedback and follow-up.


    4. Eliminate jargon: Like many professions, designers utilize their own language to convey meaning. This language often confounds the general populace and distances the audience or client from understanding what is being said (i.e., propinquity, phenomenal transparency, palimpsest, etc.).


    5. Applied theory: Pro-bono work often provides opportunities to bridge what is learned in school with what is applied in the field. Do not confuse the client with theoretical constructs even if they helped to inform your thinking.


    6. Do due diligence: Strive to identify the key issues and level of conflict before the engagement.


    7. Build confidence and self esteem: Allow participants to share in the joy of creating.


Photo courtesy of Casey Boss

    8. Work collectively: Peer, applied and community-based learning come together when collaboration occurs.


    9. Draw from many fields: Acknowledge the challenges of working at a larger scale and strive to include other professionals that can help to find solutions.


    10. Advocate and Educate: Listen well but also assert your position as someone who thinks creatively and helps to educate others about the benefits of good design.


About the Author: David Gamble is an architect and urban designer at Gamble Associates, located in Boston MA. He teaches part-time in the Urban Planning and Design Department at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and the School of Architecture at Northeastern University. He is current President of the Community Design Resource Center-Boston, which provides pro-bono design assistance to non-profit organizations in the Boston region.


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