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July 13, 2017

talk, act, make | Providence City Hall | Sophie Weston Chien, BArch ‘20

by sophiechien


Constituent outreach at Sankofa Farms Market on Elmwood with my co-worker Zainab!

talk, act, make is a super simple way to explain my process of understanding and destabilizing conditions for change (which is what I invariably want to do with everything). For complete disclosure, I stole this off a precollege kid’s t-shirt yesterday so jokes on you.

For my Maharam so far, I focused on the talking. Talking during meetings with Department of Planning and Development, talking to constituents when answering the phones (and trying not to drop the call when transferring them), talking to my coworkers to understand where they come from and what lovely people they are, and talking to people outside of the process (mainly my roommates as we make family dinners) to make sense of what I do every day.

At this point, talking has lead me to a ton of interesting places. One of the most unexpected topics is considering the impact of unionized workers in the context of innovation. How do you reframe unions and job positions to create the best conditions for people? Honestly, I don’t expect to tackle that problem, but it would be a cool project! Talking has also lead me to reach out to some of RISD’s past Maharam Fellows for insight into how they utilized design thinking within their organizations.


Reading sent to me by Leah Erica Chung (former Maharam Fellow)

At this point in my Maharam, I am approaching a pivot, where I transition from talking to action! I’m very excited to actually start doing things and not just absorbing. I have a couple of small projects I’m doing for MCCS, but I have two big ones in the works. My first project is creating and facilitating a Design Thinking Workshop with my team. My goals are to explain what I do as a ~designer~, show them a bit of how to think through things from a design perspective, expose them to jargon-less communication, and get their ideas on how to make MCCS a better system.

My second project beings to address another goal of my Maharam. I was drawn to 311 because fundamentally it is a medium for people to communicate with their government. In that vein, I am researching how the ‘conversations’ (reporting cases) can be expanded to be included in the Department of Planning and Development’s process. This is a department removed from day to day services, responding to longer-term problems, and so they haven’t had conversations about 311 yet.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.48.40 AMProject by 3×3 Design Firm, encouraging consistent engagement through data-driven outreach

As I look towards the end of the summer I am excited for the final stages of my Maharam, and for the possibility of integrating actual making. At this point, it might take the form of programmatic or structural design, but we will see!

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