Communication is at the Heart of Collaboration

Communication is at the heart of collaboration. As we’ve mentioned in Facilitating Detroit’s Sustainability Agenda, our team is managing a two-year leadership process to help the Detroit Environmental Agenda (DEA) focus their collective energy to improve the quality of life for all Detroiters. We’re taking their operational practices to the next level by leading monthly Co-Labs (interactive and outcome-oriented meetings) to activate the wisdom of their diverse perspectives. Our vision is to improve communication in order to set and meet focused and feasible goals. Creating a shared language (set of values or principles) is a critical part of the process to establish the group’s top three priorities. It sets the stage for more effective partnership with the City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability.

Our experience with the DEA’s leadership builds on the leadership team’s previous successes, which date back to 2011 when they formed as the first organized effort to identify the need for an Office of Sustainability. Their collective advocacy efforts are reflected in the group’s voter engagement for Mayor Mike Duggan’s winning mayoral campaign. The realization of this office was also supported in 2016 by consultants from NYC-based Bloomberg Associates who drew from experiences leading change with the NYC Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

While worthwhile and essential, inclusive development takes time. Joel Howrani Heeres, new Director of the Office of Sustainability, summarizes his public service vision as “working to strengthen coordination among Detroit’s municipal departments; build partnerships with neighborhoods, businesses and philanthropic and non-governmental organizations; secure new funding for the city, [and] achieve operational savings for the City.” At The Work Department, we know very well that achieving innovative goals with big impact requires designing smarter communication and coordination. We’re experts at transcending traditional silos to build bridges across diverse interests and agendas. The DEA also intends to build bridges, working with the Office of Sustainability to create an agenda that is clear to and inclusive of the residents, organizations, and policymakers involved.

Good design and sustainability go hand in hand. In Joel’s definition of sustainability he explains that “...[it] impacts every resident of Detroit in myriad ways, through their means of transportation, how they heat their home, their employment situation, or whether the soil and air in their neighborhood is clean.” We’re glad to hear the Office of Sustainability’s values are in line with the DEA’s. It helps ensure that they’ll be effective in co-creating an agenda that’s accessible and puts people first. By improving communication with stakeholders and using a shared language, the DEA and the new Office of Sustainability can build a healthier and more sustainable Detroit together.

Check out previous projects to see how we’ve helped to foster healthier, greener, and more vibrant neighborhoods: NED: participatory neighborhood design and the Field Guide to Working with Lots. (PS the Field Guide recently won an American Society of Landscape Architects award for activating land stewardship and participatory planning in Detroit!)