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ACD Conversation Lab 16: Challenges of Time and Capacity

By Srestha Chatterjee

In our 16th conversation lab, ACD members, practitioners, and guest speaker Susanne Mueller, a freelance community engagement practitioner and former Senior Project Officer at Involve and Sustrans, gathered to explore the challenges of time and capacity in co-designing participatory/community engagement projects.

Co-design in such projects involves engaging energetically with participants, the key players, to build or recreate places/spaces through active participation. Our focus areas were participation, resources, engagement, and connections, all of which share common obstacles of time and capacity.

Guest Speaker Susanne Mueller shared examples of how time demands can hinder onboarding stakeholders for digital engagement initiatives. Limited time may restrict understanding of participants' lived experiences and backgrounds. However, community organisations can hold stakeholders accountable and ensure time and resources are used effectively.

Experts, practitioners, and team members discussed various problems and potential solutions related to capacity and time, such as:

  1. Need for more meaningful connections between participants and community leaders.

  2. Challenges in onboarding people into new working methods and managing expectations with limited timelines.

  3. The need for more adequate monetary resources and funding for projects.

  4. Developing self-care spaces to maintain mental and physical capacity for optimal connection with individuals.

  5. Innovating quickly and efficiently while ensuring ethical, thoughtful, and inclusive processes.

  6. Time misalignment affecting trust and in-depth communication with participants.

  7. Positive effects of community engagement, co-creation, and co-design to relieve capacity pressure and demonstrate value.

The major learning was that capacity and time are crucial in community engagement projects. Proactively addressing these challenges is essential to find solutions. Capacity can be developed through knowledge exchange and understanding the community for meaningful engagements. Time can be managed by being transparent and proactive.

The session emphasised the importance of trust, communication, transparency, and aligning workload with capacity. It stressed that public sector time focuses on expert knowledge and participant engagement rather than equating it with money like the private sector.

In conclusion, the session highlighted the significance of ample capacity and time to build community trust and cohesion for successful co-design projects. Key takeaways included trust and reflective leadership, transparent communication, and aligning workload with one's capacity. The insightful inputs and interventions from attendees made this session meaningful and exciting


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