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The Best of Enemies: Charrette and how to work together

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‘The Best of Enemies’: Charrette and how to work together

‘The Best of Enemies’* is worth a watch; it’s about Civil rights activist Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, in 1971 Durham, North Carolina who differ over the issue of school integration. The community is in uproar after the black children’s school had been burned down.  What should they do, build another school (the black kids would have to wait a year or two for that) or integrate the black and the white schools? How could a decision be made without rioting, bullying or violence and with the buy in of the black and white communities? 

They used a process called Charrette.  I have looked at the handbook ** from which I admit I have copied liberally. (Charrette is often used to resolve building/public/neighbourhood/planning issues by the local people, businesses and builders (stakeholders) most often in the USA.) I thought I’d see how it compared to mediation and collaborative practice used by clients who wish to avoid court when going through a separation or divorce.  What are the similarities and what can we learn from the Charrette process?

What is the Charrette process?

  1. Usually more, but no less than four consecutive days containing three feedback loops.
  2. It’s an open process that includes all interested parties.
  3. A collaborative design process involving all necessary disciplines at key decision points.
  4. A process that produces feasible plan.

It has three phases:

Phase one: Research, Engagement, Charrette Preparation

Collecting all necessary data and information needed to help make a decision. All those affected are treated with respect and assured that their input will have an impact on the outcome. The point of this is to become ‘Charrette’ ready. The prep can take between 6 weeks to 9 months.

Phase two: The Charrette

This is collaborative workshop that lasts for 4 to 7 days or more. The goal is to produce a feasible plan that benefits from the support of all the stakeholders through to its adoption and implementation. A multidisciplinary team assists those making the decision. The team first conducts an open public meeting to solicit the values, vision and needs of the stakeholders. The team then breaks off to create alternative plans, testing and refining them with the goal of producing a preferred plan. The charrette is organised as a series of three feedback loops through which stakeholders are engaged at critical decision- making points.   These feedback loops provide the team with information necessary to create a feasible plan. They allow the stakeholders to become co-authors’ of the plan so they are more likely to support and implement it. 

Phase three: Plan Adoption

Firstly, the plan is refined by testing it to ensure feasibility.  Secondly. the major parties work with the stakeholders to maintain their support for the plan. The conclusion is a post charrette public meeting in which a draft plan is reviewed by the public for review and input.

So what?

In the film we saw the black and white communities use the process to find out what was important to them.  So how does this relate to my work with couples who separate? I’d say we have something to learn from the Charrette process. 

Phase one

  1. We get to know our clients on a one-to-one basis.  We find out what’s happened and acknowledge and reflect on them. We build rapport and trust.  
  2. We collate and find out information. In financial cases we get full financial disclosure; how much is there, where is it, how realisable is it, was it inherited or pre- relationship acquired?   When considering the children, we find out about the current arrangements are what the parents would like them to be.

So far so good.

Phase two and three

Something we do well is generate options for our clients to consider in mediation and collaborative cases. Of course, often clients themselves create these options.  We help them work out what these options will look like; it’s called reality checking or reality testing. We try to future test them; to encourage our clients to get a glimpse of what their future may look like. When we talk about finances, we do lots of number crunching. Should we sell and buy, do we stay as we are, who gets what and when?  It’s a sort of charrette feedback loop.     

I have felt for while is that often we don’t find out what’s really important to our clients. By finding that out we can really help find solutions.  What are their values?  Values can’t actually be changed; once established values are unshakable. So, they are important to list and prioritise.  

The Charrette Handbook focuses on a community in Miami Dade County Florida where Charrette established that pedestrian connectivity was important to the stakeholders. Thus, was weaved in with greater prominence to the plans. Not something that would have emerged if the public simply objected to the plans submitted.  Objection doesn’t really go to the heart of what people actually want or feel is important to them.    

I am so glad to have adopted the One Family in Two Homes © workbook with my clients. My clients are actively self-reflective using the workbook. They list their core values using cards I send them. These are then put in two piles – the ones that are most important in pile one and the rest in pile two.  From pile one – which are the four values that are most important?  What about their partner’s list?  How do they make decisions that affect the other?  We can then discuss those and what emerges is alignment and where there isn’t alignment how to cope and accommodate the differences.

Legally of course our clients’ values are irrelevant. None of the relevant legislation (e.g., Matrimonial Causes Act, the Civil Partnership Act or the Children Act) asks or investigates them.  Values, simply aren’t relevant or even a consideration. The usual legal processes do not encourage our clients to be self-reflective and thereafter to reflect upon their ex’s own self-reflection.

I also think we could learn from the Charette process by working with other disciplines and other professionals; it’s a charrette team. They invite in the experts to explain some of the more complex points.  We also need to do this for our clients’ and it’s something I do routinely. To provide information so they fully understand what they are doing and the significance of their decisions.  This is done in a formal way e.g. pension experts. But we could work with them more informally and helpfully in a team.  How about someone to help with the emotions around money?  The family consultant or a financial coach would help them create strategies and cope with independent living.  A family consultant provides vital information about what is going on for separating couples emotionally. To normalise those feelings and to help in their respective recovery.

How about a financial neutral who can help all of us (especially the financially weaker party) understand complicated assets?  This has often shortened processes and ultimately transformed and uplifted the outcome.

Now if a couple’s situation is legally ‘interesting’ and there are differing views. Why not jointly instruct a neutral evaluator to give a view about what a court might do? Stop wrangling and unpleasantness and help concentrate the minds of both our clients and we as practitioners.

So, lessons learned from Charrette. A deep dive into values and information giving from the relevant experts. Vital in moving things along to positive, transformative settlements.


*Best of Enemies is downloadable on #netflix and #amazonprime and probably others. 

** The Charette Handbook: The Essential Guide to Design Based Public Involvement by Bill Lennertz and Aarin Lutzenhiser