This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.
At this time last year what's become known as the "SXSW Team" was just forming.
Fifteen Richland County leaders, myself included, were still being chosen for this adventure, airline tickets were being purchased and the “what happens after we return” from the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, well, that was only starting to come into focus.
Now, we are solidly into the “what happens after we return” piece, which I've been referring to as the “sausage-making process."
We had the excitement of SXSW and the big-city immersion that is Austin, Texas, with 40,000 other people in March. We have followed the Design Thinking Process Heather Tsavaris of Idea Works taught us about over the summer, and now we are making sausage -- putting everything we’ve heard, seen, been exposed to and learned together into one neatly-wrapped plan.
This summer we scheduled Listening Tour events with various groups to garner feedback from the community. We all conducted empathy interviews. They are a key piece to the Design Thinking Process.
The goal with empathy interviews is to identify extreme users of downtown. These are people who live, work and play in downtown Mansfield.
I had the pleasure of speaking with people who utilize the gathering spaces in downtown Mansfield who are looking for more events and spaces to engage kids.
Others spoke with business owners who are desiring more foot-traffic into their businesses. Yet others spoke with individuals who reside downtown and more who want to live downtown looking for affordable living spaces.
By conducting empathy interviews we were able to identify the needs and wants of the individuals who use downtown the most.
According to Heather Tsavaris who has been trained at Stanford University in Design Thinking, if we can solve for the extreme user, we can improve the outcomes for the occasional user. Meaning, if we can improve the experience for the person who is downtown at the coffee shop and Central Park and walking the sidewalks everyday then we will improve the experience for that person who only comes downtown for one Final Friday per year.
Okay, back to the sausage. We’ve established guiding principles, teams and themes through this process. We’ve made lists, brainstormed and compiled ideas -- everything from a zipline starting at the top of the Chase Building to a multi-use structure in the municipal parking lot.
Now, we’re at the sausage-making portion where we will compile these lists into a plan. The team of 15 SXSW attendees are working with the 26 advisers to whittle down and prioritize ideas into a cohesive plan that will be presented to the Richland County Foundation board at their December board meeting.
This plan will not only determine how the Richland County Foundation will invest in the downtown community but will also provide a road map for other funders to see the bigger picture of what the Central Business District can become.