Watch: "At the Corner of the Future: Kansas City's World Building Pilot" | 4:59
What if a truly diverse cross-section of people, with a wide range of perspectives, discovered a common set of ideas?
At the corner of Linwood Boulevard and Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri, there is an empty lot. A mural painted in black and white. A Family Dollar store. There is a boarded-up building with a bus stop out front and a discount restaurant equipment warehouse that used to be a showcase Firestone Building in the 1930’s.
There is east of Troost and west of Troost – and there isn’t a city in America that segregation didn’t scar in that same way.
But what if a truly diverse cross-section of people, with a wide range of perspectives, discovered a common set of ideas? If taken together, they could form the basis of a future for all of us – for an inclusive community. What would this intersection, this city, look like in 20 years?
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation organized a two-day workshop focused on capturing local residents’ response to that question. Facilitated by Pigeon Hole Productions, 15 Kansas Citians were asked to shake off perceived limitations, and work with their fellow citizens to "World Build."
World building is a community-collaboration exercise. For a community that formally takes it on, the work of world building takes months. This Kansas City pilot was a two-day test case where facilitators used guided conversation, gamified interactions, and collaboration exercises, that allowed the group of artists, entrepreneurs, citizens, and stakeholders to develop a snapshot of Kansas City’s future through real-time generation of a set of systems and assets.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who attended the exhibit, said that world building is an innovative way to create a discussion on how to build better communities.
"It’s a challenge to the way we normally do things and how we look at things," James said. "It’s always good to be pushed and prodded and challenged on how you look at processes."
Joseph Unger, co-founder of Pigeon Hole Productions, said world building – different from other small group techniques like backcasting or design thinking – can be used to promote a community-wide vision that is open to all voices.
"World building is coming together as a community to imagine a shared world and a shared future and a shared system, together, and agreeing on what should be made out of that and experienced out of that," Unger said.
Faced with two days of intense collaboration, world builder Leo Prieto, former regional director for the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, official advisor to the Mexican Consulate and vice president at Tico Productions overseeing NFL Spanish-language broadcasts, was wary of what the exercise would actually produce.
"I wasn’t sure what to expect," Prieto said. "As the day went on, it started making sense, and I think everyone took a sense of ownership and made sure everyone felt included."
The doors to ideas and vision were wide open to purposefully create a space where all voices were not only welcomed but valued.
"We discussed what could be a possible future for Kansas City within the lenses of inclusion and access," world builder Tamarra Thompson-Price said.
Born and raised in Missouri, Thompson-Price owns Urban Talk radio, which aims to provide the urban core with information for community growth. She said the world building exercise made it possible for her to have a say in her community’s future.
"It made me feel like I have an actual voice to shape the world – how I would like to see it," she said.
Breaking down preconceived notions of success, setting aside expectations or limitations, is one of the strengths of the exercise, according to Kamal Sinclair, the director of New Frontier Lab programs at the Sundance Institute and world build advocate.
"The process of going through critical thinking on 'How do we not think in siloes?' is what’s wonderful about this process," Sinclair said. "You start to break out of your own narrow siloes of thinking. This process lets us see from side-to-side and cross-pollinate ideas."
Participants combed through census, mapping and historical data, and discussed Kansas City’s strengths and challenges, in order to imagine a new future, the community, collectively, could work toward. From there, the group took a rapid prototyping approach to ideas that were put on display two weeks later at an exhibit held at El Torreon, near the intersection of Linwood Boulevard and Troost Avenue.
"In two days, they were able to come up with concepts that were deeply grounded in a future that I would like to live in," Sinclair said. "It shows that with this methodology, there's the potential to kind of mine these kinds of latent gems that are of creativity, of thoughtfulness, within any community."
After a panel discussion, attendees of the exhibit were invited to try a virtual reality experience that synthesized many of their ideas illustrated as it might look when applied to the corner of Linwood and Troost 20 years in the future.
"I am so impressed with what happened here in Kansas City," said Sinclair. "To see how effective this rapid prototype... was in terms of instigating not only a community of thought leaders within the community, but these incredible ideas, these innovative ideas, that are layered with thoughtfulness."
From here, the Foundation, with the community, will evaluate the experience and continue to explore avenues for the community to plan for its future.