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Intro to Integrative Design

It's a Mindset AND a Process


Integrative Design is a decision making process that seeks to marry optimum strategies together in a synergistic, holistic and integrated way for excellence in outcome.

Typically, this approach seeks to create whole systems that meet environmental and social goals, while remaining within budgetary and time constraints. Its hallmark is a multidisciplinary team whose collaborative approach brings team members together to make shared decisions, following a project through its life, from early conception, through ongoing operation and assessment.

To clarify, a number of practitioners refer to this process as the ‘Integrated Design Process,’ a definition that assumes that the process is already integrated. ‘Integrative’ is more appropriate as it reflects the process of integration.

The Integrative Design process is commonly associated with the design of buildings, products, and related programs although it can be utilized in any given scenario where a holistic outcome and team decision-making are primary indicators of the success of the project.

The design intent of a particular project helps to shape the steps and strategies taken throughout the process of Integrative Design, which will differ by project and by industry, and will continue to evolve with practice, over time.

Primary features of the Integrative Design Process are:

  • An iterative, group process, not a silo-based or linear approach
  • A flexible method, not a formula or a recipe
  • Differs by project and by team, not pre-determined
  • An ongoing learning process for all practitioners, not a pre-determined, strict sequence of exact events, or know it all attitudes.

The 6 C’s of Integrative Design

Einstein once said that, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Provided that we as a society are seeking a sustainable outcome, it’s likely that the thinking that got us into this mess is not the thinking that will get us out. We need to shift our mindset to get a different result, and the following principles are key:

Collaborative, Diverse Team
In a perfect world, the team would include all the disciplines and stakeholders relevant to the project. These people would approach the work with an attitude of optimism and excitement to contribute their skills, perspectives, resources and knowledge to the group.

Clarity of Vision, Clarity of Goals, Clarity of Objectives
Questioning the underlying assumptions surrounding the project is the first step in determining a collective vision and achieving clarity in the scope of the project and its outcomes. A skilled facilitator that can lead this process during a visioning or eco-charrette will help create the roadmap for the complete project, with measurable targets that can guide the process.

Communication: Open and Candid
Transparency and clarity will build trust, give ownership to all of the stakeholders, and inspire contribution from members of the group. This means providing open and continuous communication in multiple formats throughout the life of the project. Collaboration software can help to achieve this, as can the antiquated act of picking up the phone! In all seriousness, frequency of communication needs to occur not just from meeting to meeting, but in between as well. Again, a skilled facilitator or project manager can tease even the shyest contributors out into the open, fostering trust among team members.

Creative, Innovative Thinking
Dropping notions of the perceived outcome of any project is just as important as dropping perceived notions of the process. An effective team will trust each other enough to do thinkstorming, where ideas flow freely and imaginations run wild. To be clear, this process is not about business as usual, but about creating a preferred, innovative and sustainable future.

Continuous Feedback Loops
A mindset of continuous learning and exploration are a key element of sustainability thinking. With that, decisions cannot be made in silos, but in groups where all members openly learn, engage, make collective decisions, question assumptions, provide feedback, study, collect more information, and then do it all over again! The iterative process of decision-making reflects the broader team’s collective knowledge and these interactions create steps to higher optimization and wholeness.

Collective Decision-Making
Using the tools relevant to your field, sustainability related metrics can assist in the collective decision making that will signal to the team when the project is ‘done’, otherwise the process could keep going and going with no end in sight. Agree early on how decisions will be made, and a process for re-examining decisions if necessary.

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