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Innovation Blog

Vive La Charrette!  Get Your Innovation Process “On the Wagon”


   The Charrette in Paris

      Innovators can profit much from a clever process finding wide use in the United States and abroad in urban planning and development.  The process is known as “charrette”. 

Here is how it works. 

     Charrettes often take place in multiple sessions in which the group divides into sub-groups. Each sub-group then presents its work to the full group as material for future dialogue. Such charrettes serve as a way of quickly generating a design solution while integrating the aptitudes and interests of a diverse group of people. 

   In urban planning, the charrette process is highly visual, with groups posting on walls drawings and pictures that reflect their thinking.  The results are then integrated and combined.  The process is not unlike that of IDEO’s “Deep Dive”.

For example:

 …..the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture unofficially calls the last week before the end of classes Charrette. At the final deadline time (assigned by the school), all students must put their “pencils down” and stop working. Students then present their work to fellow-students and faculty in a critiqued presentation.

    The charrette is employed by municipalities around the world to develop long-term city plans, drawing on a communal process in which ordinary citizens express their views, often by bringing pictures or drawings of neighborhoods they regard as ideal.  The charrette process is time-limited — the goal is to achieve consensus on a master plan within a very short period of time, and it is collaborative, avoiding the adversial legalistic approach that can take years. 

    The term” charrette” comes from the French for chariot.  It is said that French architecture students studying at the famous Parisian Ecole des Beaux Artes scribbled desperately to finish their final designs while riding to school “en charrette” (in a cart).  An alternate explanation is this:   At the end of a class in the studio,  a charrette (cart) would be wheeled among the student artists to pick up their work for review while they, each working furiously to apply the finishing touch, were said to be working en charrette.

    The charrette method ( stresses speed and urgency, overcoming often-fatal inertia and bureaucracy.  It overcomes the political obstacle of individuals pressing their own ideas by making the ultimate solution a collaborative one, to which all have contributed. 

      Can you build a charrette process in your organization?  Why not create an actual ‘charrette’ (wagon, or ‘chariot’)?  Roll it past groups, get them to place their visualizations on it, stick the results up on the wall — and then mobilize the group to integrate the ideas, back off them somewhat and create a final proposal that embodies the best features of all the various ideas.  Encourage wild thinking, because ultimately, “feet-on-the-ground” wisdom will bring the ideas back to reality, in the process of integration.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
March 2010
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