Dealing with pressure to shorten charrettes

Often, first-time charrette sponsors resist holding a charrette for more than three days when a minimum of five to seven days is usually required.

Often, first-time charrette sponsors resist holding a charrette for more than three days when a minimum of five to seven days is usually required. When a sponsor has not been through a complete NCI Charrette System process it is difficult for him/her to understand the benefits of giving it enough time. The sponsors are concerned about the resources necessary (both in terms of money and participant’s time) to complete a lengthy process. However, there are several risks associated with charrettes that are too short.

Remember that the goal of a charrette is to take a project from vision to concept to preferred alternative to developed plan to final presentation. In order to guide a group of stakeholders through this process, at least three feedback loops are required. Simply put, it is impossible to do the physical design and planning work and meet with all of the stakeholders involved in less than five days.

Projects with a high level of complexity — in either the design problem itself or the politics in the community — require extra time. In the charrette there will inevitably be unexpected political and/or engineering changes that will require extra analysis or meetings.

For example, during one charrette there was a group of stakeholders that would not participate in the charrette in good faith until they were assured that increased traffic could be accommodated in any design solution. These people threatened to boycott the charrette, because they could not foresee any feasible solution that would not make traffic in their community unbearable.

In this situation the charrette manager had to stop what he was doing and orchestrate a special transportation meeting just to put that issue to rest before the designing could proceed. Once the stakeholders were satisfied that there were feasible design options that took into consideration their traffic concerns they participated in the rest of the charrette and eventually became proponents of the project.

Another risk is that the design team won’t have enough time to solve the problem and to produce the final documents in an informative and attractive format for the final presentation. It is a disservice to the project sponsor and all involved not to be able to fully test the preferred plan and create the documents necessary to explain it. This final production phase usually takes at least a day if not a day and a half.

In short, a charrette that is less than five days can result in project failure by not having a plan that is fully tested and has received the input of all stakeholders throughout.


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