When the Westchase District’s Board of Directors met last fall for their annual retreat, they convened in an innovative 4,000-square-foot solution design center at Houston Community College’s West Houston Institute, located at 2811 Hayes Road. The space is called the Collaboratorium and in it trained facilitators conduct workshops using an interactive touchscreen that resembles something from the sci-fi movie Minority Report. It’s a unique facility that employs the latest technology in the service of inspiring fresh thinking and creative solutions for tackling tough tasks.
Leveling the field
Laura Williamson, Ph.D., is the Collaboratorium’s program director. She said the space was intentionally designed to bring people out of their familiar surroundings and facilitate and support creative problem solving. “It’s a hub for creative design thinking,” she said. “We have a research-based process for helping people work collaboratively to address the wicked challenges they face. We focus on what groups want to accomplish and how we can help them work together to achieve that.”
A typical session begins with people mingling informally in an entry foyer before moving to one of two large group spaces, either a roundtable room designed for presentations and discussions or a theater presentation room which houses a futuristic visual collaboration system. Let by a trained facilitator, participants contribute comments via provided tablet computers or through an app on their own smartphones. The comments are projected onto a 21-foot-wide touchscreen where facilitators can manually manipulate and rearrange comments within the digital space.
“Research shows that people often self-censor for fear of voicing unpopular or untested opinions,” Williamson said. “One of the key benefits of using this technology is that it’s anonymous and everyone has an equal voice. It encourages people to offer thoughts in a group setting and levels the field when it comes to submitting ideas and opinions. It also allows users from remote locations to participate.”
For any size
Once participants reach consensus on the big picture, they may adjourn to one of six glass-enclosed conference rooms equipped with flat screen monitors. “These rooms are designed for small group sessions of six to eight participants to further discuss the aspects or details of possible solutions,” Williamson said. “That could be for developing a new product line, a new way of serving customers or a new way of working internally or with partners.”
Williamson said the process works best with a minimum of six people and, while the Collaboratorium holds a maximum of 36 people, she can easily scale up to accommodate as many as 450 participants using the Institute’s adjacent auditorium. “This summer, we’re hosting a regional conference in the auditorium, but are bringing the organization’s top people into the Collaboratorium for a special session,” she said.
Since it opened last year, Williamson has hosted events for professionals in the fields of education, energy and economic development. “We’re best suited for entrepreneurs, established businesses, professional organizations, and collaborative groups from different companies,” she said. “We’ve also had outside facilitation consultants use the Collaboratorium for organizational development sessions with their clients.”
Rental fees for the Collaboratorium include what Williamson calls “wraparound services” such as pre-meeting consultations, planning agendas and a follow-up meeting presenting content produced during the day. Educational and nonprofit discounts are available. For more information contact Williamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collaboratorium Solution Design Center at the West Houston Institute
2811 Hayes Road 713-718-6462