Designing for Inclusion: Understanding People in Order to Make Better Places
Designing for Inclusion: Understanding People in Order to Make Better Places

Designing for Inclusion: Understanding People in Order to Make Better Places

At RATIO, we design for impact. We are always striving to make a positive impact on people, on the environment, and on our communities. We cannot design for impact unless we fully understand the people who are impacted by our work. ALL people. We must understand individual motivations, values, cultural influences, and feelings. This isn’t easy.

True understanding requires emotional intelligence and empathy. That’s why we facilitate workshops and training programs around strengths-based teamwork and inclusive leadership. Here’s a look at how we approach designing for impact—and inclusion.

We invite diverse perspectives.

To be effective, design must empower everyone. Internally, that means having a dialog with all team members. Externally, that means everyone in the room—every stakeholder in a project, from the investor or developer to the student or employee. This process is quickly gaining traction with our public-sector clients, such as Higher Education and K12 schools, government entities or non-profits, for whom public engagement is critical. Increasingly, private sector companies are taking notice too. Creating a sense of community can’t be achieved unless the whole community is represented, respected, and heard.

We also leverage tools like Gallup’s Clifton Strengths assessment as a way to understand what people bring to the table—their natural talents and strengths, including those that they might not be able to articulate directly. These tools often help them find their voice. This not only leads to greater team performance for the benefit of our firm and our clients. It also empowers individuals to feel a greater sense of pride and participation, confident in their ability to contribute, and trusted to do what they do (and enjoy doing) best.

We share (multiple) stories.

In her TED Talk, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes “the danger of a single story,” and suggests that the consequences of the single story are erroneous assumptions and stereotypes about people and places rather than true understanding. “It robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult.”

For better or worse, the single story is often so deeply embedded in a society or culture that it takes real intention and attention to become open to new and different narratives and understand the origins of our own story. Creating change requires getting curious about ourselves and others—a mindset that helps us appreciate that we’re always growing and learning. Then, as Maya Angelou put it, “when you know better, do better.”

We push boundaries.

Change is uncomfortable, but we must stretch beyond rote behaviors, constructs, and routine project teams if we really want to make an impact. Leaving our comfort zones creates opportunity.

As leaders, we can encourage people to pause and reflect when feeling discomfort, frustration or other (often negative) emotions—to look within to understand where this emotion is coming from—and to feel safe when they do so. The way we respond can drive a completely different experience for both parties, especially when we respond with respect and curiosity.

We create together.

Like improvisational actors we can choose to respond with “yes, and…” in order to build on others’ ideas and keep a story going, rather than rejecting ideas or closing things off with “no, but…” We might be pushing into uncharted waters, even improvising, but we’re also communicating to our colleagues that we’re invested in collaboration.

Adopting a growth mindset and embracing diverse points of view can transform the experience for every stakeholder in a project. Through learning and training, we broaden our individual perspectives and begin to see others’ perspectives too. We start to recognize that this wider view empowers us to think bigger, act bolder, and generate more innovative ideas.

Relationships become stronger, more fulfilling, and more fruitful when we put empathy and understanding at the top of the agenda. We choose to operate this way because we know the outcome is better—and the impact is greater.

Ready to make your own impact?

If you’re ready to change the way your own teams work, or if you’d like to collaborate with us to make your space work better for more people, reach out. We’d love to hear your story; email Brock Roseberry, AIA, Director of Talent.