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What We've Found
Charrettes generate tremendous energy. They bring together professionals who are experts in their fields creating strong partnerships among organizations and special interests. Most importantly this type of event can give community members the chance to see comprehensive plans and designs for an area. Make no mistake, charrettes take a lot of work to organize and orchestrate but we feel the effort is well worth the result. It can give a project a terrific jump-start to completion.

Just the Facts
Charrettes bring together experts in the field to develop ideas on how to improve a project. The outputs of their efforts are maps and designs that offer solutions to such issues as preservation, access and use, interpretation, development, etc. Charrettes can involve a few or many people; they can last a couple hours or extend over several days. It all depends upon the area, the resource, the purpose and goals for the charrette and people’s interest. An example charrette schedule is participants gathering on a Friday, touring the area, and hearing presentations from local experts and citizens. On Saturday, participants are divided into teams each assigned physical design, interpretation, or other relevant topics. Their assignment is to create plans, detail and section drawings, and perspective sketches. Later that night, or the next day, participants present their recommendations to each other and community members. While only a few people might do the actual work, one of the biggest keys to producing a successful charrette is to inform and engage as many people as possible in the community before, during and after the event. Charrettes can be a key public involvement tool.
The term "charrette" is French for cart. In the early 20th century, professors from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris would send a cart to pick up students' work at the submission deadline. Some students, frantic to complete their drawings, would ride on the cart and continue working as it rolled down the street, hence, working "en charrette."

How To Do It

1. Select and Recruit a Core Charrette Planning Team
This committee is ultimately responsible for the entire event and does most of the lead and follow-up work. The planning team should be small (5 - 7 members) and comprised of representatives from community organizations, agencies, and professional societies. If possible, include key project proponent(s). The planning team will share the workload by organizing sub-committees and recruiting additional volunteers. Sub-committees and ad hoc volunteers can work on a variety of tasks such as: transportation; set-up and clean up; newsletters and publicity; research and preparation of background materials for charrette participants; and contact database list maintenance (names, addresses, etc.).

2. Develop a 'Vision and Desired Outcomes' Statement
This is the planning team’s first job. Using a consensus process will help the team understand the products and outcomes the group wants to get from the charrette. The statement will drive all decision making related to planning the charrette.

3. Plan the Charrette Structure and Schedule
Prepare an hourly schedule for how the actual charrette will occur from beginning to end. This will require the planning team to clearly think about the structure of the event (i.e., number of teams and their individual or collective assignments) and to think through the details about the sequence of events and steps participants will go through.

4. Develop a Timeline and Task List
Choose a date for the charrette (approximately 3 - 5 months ahead) and then prepare a timeline targeting dates to accomplish key tasks.

5. Establish a Budget
Prepare a budget showing various partner contributions, projected expenses, fundraising needs, etc.

6. Chose Location and Facility
Typically the best facilities include a large meeting space, smaller breakout rooms, and a kitchen or food service area. The space should be secure and should be available for extended hours (early in the morning until late at night).

7. Identify Charrette Participants and Begin Recruiting
Prepare a list of the desired skills for the participants. Examples include: landscape architects; planners; transportation engineers; park and recreation managers; natural and cultural resource experts; local government officials; business and industry leaders; schoolteachers; students; and nonprofit organizations. Decide on the optimal number and begin to identify actual people to match each category. Then start inviting them to participate in the charrette. Seek diversity in your selection process (i.e., women, men, youth, seniors, ethnic groups, etc.).

8. Implement a Publicity and Community Outreach Strategy
Prior to the event, consider preparing press releases, surveys, newsletters, displays, and mass mailings. When the charrette actually occurs, plan for two public meetings: when the charrette participants are first convened and when charrette participants present their completed work. In order to increase attendance at the final meeting, consider giving out door prizes or holding a raffle.

9. Prepare Orientation Packets for Charrette Participants
A couple of weeks prior to the event, organize and mail an orientation packet to each charrette participant. Included in the orientation packets should be the following: cover letter; background information on the project and goals; information on natural and cultural resources in the area, recreation opportunities, and issues participants should be aware of; historical photos; museum/archive references; aerial photographs; local and regional maps; summary and results of community survey; program information and brochures; agenda and schedule; participant list (with address, phone and email); and copies of advance publicity (newsletters, articles, etc.).

10. Gather Supplies
Prepare a list of needed supplies and make assignments for collection. Label loaned materials with owners name to assure they get returned.

11. Plan the Closing Public Presentation
Provide detailed instructions, supplies and materials to the charrette teams regarding how to prepare for the closing public presentation. Build in opportunities for public comment and feedback on the design ideas/presentations, acknowledge and thank sponsors and volunteers, celebrate afterwards with food (cake, coffee, etc.).

12. Take Lots of Pictures
Assign someone the responsibility of official photographer for the event including good close-up photos of the final display boards and panels.

13. Have Fun and Enjoy the Creative Energy


Intensive brainstorming sessions where volunteer participants sketch and illustrate their ideas for planning and design solutions and present them to the community.

Use It If...
  • You want to quickly generate illustrated design ideas in a cooperative, creative and open atmosphere.
  • You want to energize a constituency. The creative design process helps people visualize possibilities and expand their thinking and commitment to a project.
  • You are trying to draw a lot of attention to a project and its value in the community.
Forget It If...
  • You don’t have a committed pool of volunteers to organize the event or if you cannot recruit skilled professionals to participate.
  • You have yet to define your project.
  • You need a project statement that clearly explains the project and identifies stakeholders in order to give a charrette structure.


Timing is Everything
Use a charrette to launch a project.

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