Building Consensus: A Reflection on NACWAA

October 12, 2012 / Sherri Privitera


Kansas City was fortunate to host The National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) annual convention October 7-9. At this years’ conference, I had the opportunity to present on consensus building as part of the design process, along with Dawn Rogers, the Senior Associate Athletic Director at Arizona State University, and Ann Oatman, the Associate Athletic Director at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

An important part of the dialogue throughout the conference revolved around providing women in athletics with the appropriate tools to succeed. Consensus building, or the process of getting a group of diverse stakeholders (in our case, athletic directors, coaches, university leadership) to arrive at the same conclusion, is an integral tool and something we felt was applicable to all attendees.  We work daily with multiple client contacts from each university, each of whom has their own desires, vision and expectations of a project. The consensus building process includes getting each of these stakeholders in the same room to create a shared vision, one that results in every person involved being proud of the end product and feeling that it is truly reflective of their vision. At the most basic level, we listen to everyone, set goals with the team, assess the logistics of the project and ultimately, as a group, come to a conclusion about what the facility should become. This collaborative approach can be tricky, but is crucial to the process. While our presentation focused on the steps to building consensus among a group of diverse stakeholders, we didn’t address the challenges in depth, which are equally important to acknowledge. Among the challenges designers face when building consensus:

  • Establishing a unified set of goals.
    This is one of the earliest challenges of consensus building. Ultimately, we aim to get everyone to arrive at the same set of goals as a group. That means brainstorming with the stakeholders, listening to their suggestions and then offering some logistical feedback to shape the goals that are decided upon. With a variety of personalities at the table, it isn’t an easy process but it’s a step that sets the tone for the remainder of the project.
  • Working without the majority of stakeholders present.
    Often times, architects are quick to move without ensuring that every voice is heard and everyone has a seat at the table. Our priority is always gathering the entire group at one time, because if we don’t, the project can easily get off track. By ensuring all the stakeholders involved are present and heard, we can design a more authentic facility that is true to the University at hand.
  • Managing the timeline.
    Consensus building is key, but it has to be done in a timely manner. Postponing the process or not working quickly as a group when decisions need to be made can ultimately impact the bottom line. There is a tendency to want to go back and revisit decisions made months, even years before, and in the fast-paced world of construction, this isn’t always an option. When a group together makes a decision, there is less back and forth and ultimately, greater satisfaction.

What people forget is that as architects, we don’t just conceptualize a building. We at Populous specialize in providing services beyond a traditional design team. We often find ourselves in the role of facilitator, listening to various ideas in order to help a group arrive at a unified vision of which everyone can be proud.

Consensus building allows everyone at the table to have a voice, ultimately resulting in a stronger end project. NACWAA has an important mission that parallels this- ensuring that women are given a voice in athletics in order to create a stronger, more unified industry. Women in sports are here to stay and we must continue to foster young talent, encourage women of all ages to take risks and ultimately, drive women to continue to unabashedly lead in the sports field. Consensus building is a powerful leadership tool that can be influential and effective for women leaders in athletics everywhere from the design studio to the boardroom.

Meet the author

Sherri Privitera

Senior Principal, Senior Architect / Kansas City


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