The 1970 Danish Planning Act required all architecture projects to consult the inhabitants and users of the area at the earliest available opportunity.
It’s a lot easier to change things before you’ve written anything down, sold the idea to your boss, or (god forbid) began building the structure.
This is equally true in communities. When conceptualization errors occur, the error originates from an early, untested, assumption. That assumption seeps through into the research process. It infects the questions you ask prospective members, the unconscious way you respond to their answers to get the outcome you want, and what answers you give priority too.
It’s a lot easier to change your idea for the community before you have one. Often we work with organizations who have a fixed idea of who the community is for, what it should be about, and what should happen within it. Occasionally they’re hoping our research validates these assumptions. When it doesn’t, things can get tricky.
People get emotionally invested in the success of the idea, don’t want to admit their idea was not based on research, or have already told others of the idea.
Before you begin thinking about what platform to use, what kind of audience you’re targeting, what you think people will do in the community, spend some time with the audience. Ask them questions, get to know them, figure out what they do within that topic and where the interesting gaps might be.
Big companies like Unilever and P&G have been known to send employees to stay with families in targeted markets for days and weeks at a time to understand how best to serve that audience. A (less intrusive) community equivalent of this is a good idea.
It’s not just written plans that are difficult to change. It’s your personal mindset. Changing our minds is so fundamentally hard that it’s usually best to get there before our minds are made up.