The End Is The Beginning

1 November 2017

How can you ensure a meaningful legacy of engagement projects?

It is so easy to get to the end of a project, take lovely photos, have a party and assume everything will work out rosy. Simply getting to an end point where community, client and design team feel positive about the process and results feels like a huge achievement – so it can be hard to find the energy to go back and evaluate what impact it has had six, twelve, or eighteen months down the line.

But legacy and “what happened next” is a big part of our thinking. Those beautiful spaces, exciting plans and new community links have the potential to fizzle and fade if certain structures, processes, commitments
and funding are not there to maintain their success.
Over the years there have been some important lessons in creating project legacy which we’ve tried to distil into five key themes.

 

Letting go early on

We love attention to detail – from colourful props to informative worksheets – but in order to get to the end of a project knowing that activities we have initiated will carry on without us, we need to let go of control over how everything looks and is run. We need to make sure that local people are leading on as much as possible before we leave.

 

Social infrastructure

Often our role is as a central connector through which relationships are made; so who facilitates these relationships after we go is a key question to ask at the beginning of each project. We like to leave some kind of forum through which these relationships can continue to thrive and make great things happen.
This might be as simple as a weekly cup of tea to share ideas or a more formal monthly meeting – but having a mechanism through which people can support each other is vital to legacy.

 

Great stewardship is key

Often, though, just having a forum isn’t enough: there needs to be clear stewardship for the social infrastructure to work. Stewardship is central to the tone and the spirit of the participatory process we aim to deliver. Simple concepts such as reminding people of the bigger goal, resolving conflict and ensuring inclusivity are all part of the steward’s role. A lack of stewardship going forward after a project ends can mean that the best of intentions become internal arguments and power struggles. Finding and coaching the right stewardship, be it by a client or a community leader, can mean that people are focusing their energy on building the communities they want to be a part of.

 

Ownership is both an emotional & physical thing

Whilst we love being creative and getting people to be hands on in thinking about their neighbourhoods and communities, we also value the sense of place ownership this fosters. It is somehow easier for us to foster this emotional connection than it is for us to always find the right balance of physical ownership – but when people have this emotional connection to a place they are more inspired, motivated and committed to look after it. Thinking about maintenance from more than just an economic and logistical perspective – and thinking about emotional connection to places beyond home – means that we have the opportunity to start to create spaces that are loved and manageable without breaking hearts or banks.

 

Planning for change

One of life’s big certainties is that things will change – and therefore we need to help instil an acceptance of this in the community. If we think about the legacy of projects over a significant length of time, there will be lots of unexpected surprises and changes along the way, so we need to make sure we are honest about that from the get go and foster a mentality that allows people to best adapt to these changes.

It is so easy to get caught up in the rush of getting through tasks and completing projects that we all need to take a step back every now and then to think about what we are leaving behind in terms of infrastructure, relationships, attitudes and physical works.