Nipmuc Empowerment by Design
ABSTRACT: Public-interest design pioneers Lisa Abendroth and Bryan Bell have articulated the need for "creatively using and devising strategies to solve problems that often push the boundaries of conventional practice." (Abenroth/Bell, 2016) One of these problems is the persistent "black box" moment between community information-gathering and design production. The focus of this study is about empowering individuals and communities through a design-integrated planning process, so that they become full participants throughout the procedure in their own cultural production. Effective techniques need to be explicitly described and shared at a granular level, with detailed descriptions of and analysis about the multiple roles of design thinking and making in the empowerment process. I have been working with the Nimpuc Native Americans of central Massachusetts to develop such a process as we work towards the dream of establishing a Nipmuc cultural center. We seek not only to create a building/site that embodies their cultural and environmental values in both old and new ways, but to do in a process that will both help bring together the divided Nipmuc community and enabling it to move forward on shared goals. I will argue that design can take on a myriad of manifestations as “instruments” to play an integral role in eliciting hidden information and exciting response, as well as serving to enact narratives and become an engine of collective memory. I will also demonstrate the benefits of tapping into knowledge opportunities outside the design milieu. Methods described are entirely qualitative, relying on non-scientific "experiments" derived through design thinking, and using natural observation, subjective analysis and interpretation to assess their impact. The outcomes include greater confidence to participate and take on ideation and leadership roles, and various workshops getting turned into recurrent annual events.
KEY WORDS: empowerment, design instruments, culture, Nipmuc, body language