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July 23, 2012

Cooper Hewitt Design Education-Giles Holt, City of Providence


by Giles Holt

My Maharam Fellowship research has focused on effective methods for mid-sized city governments to crowdsource talent and insight around defined planning and policy issues.

During the week of June 11th I was able to participate in the Cooper Hewitt Symposium on Design Education for Teachers sponsored by the Pearson Foundation a (501 c-3 focused on literacy, learning, and ‘great teaching’). Cooper Hewitt’s intent in hosting the symposium was to take great teachers from across the US and show them how to teach design education. While this seems out of the realm of City Planning and Policy, there is an incredible gap between our ability to conceptualize of cities as a system of systems that starts with education.

The workshop took participants through the standard design phases from scoping to user interaction within the Harlem community. Two aspects became key-takeaways. Project based education and experiential learning. Both of which represent a larger trend in education, which when taken at a systemic scale can mean the difference between ownership and dismissal. For resident engagement to be effective, such as the UK’s opening of government data (see:, it requires ownership on the part of an individual. A process that starts with education.

Speaking with Tobias Shepherd in Providnence City Hall brings up the fact that the city doesn’t lack talent, it lacks systems to crowd-source talent. I have  been fortunate enough to be able to bridge my work with the larger goals of STEM to STEAM education by collaborating with technologists to start initial iterations of an open city government application that will enable public officials to create defined digital spaces dedicated to a single problems.

Existing methods deal in either superlatives or absolutes. Problem solving at either too granular a scale, a single pothole, a building’s energy usage, or issues too systemic to tackle from a macro level, relationships between public spending and resource utilization. The Cooper Hewitt Symposium brought a component of design to education that effectually will result in stronger abilities to work across scales with agile tools for engagement.

Read more from RISD Maharam Fellows

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