Structuring a Design Thinking based Visioning Exercise

By Vishnu Prasad, IFMR Finance Foundation

The previous post in this series discussed the design thinking approach and how it can be used to improve traditional urban planning methodologies. Keeping Design Thinking and the EDIPT process (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test) at the core of our methodology, we designed a five-stage consultation or visioning process involving the citizens of Ranganatha Nagara, Srirangapatna. While this post provides an overview of the process, subsequent posts will delve deeper into each stage of the process.

The objectives of this process were the following:

  1. To collaboratively create a common vision for the future of Ranganatha Nagara and to use this common vision as the basis to draw out the long-term public infrastructures required to translate the vision into reality.
  2. To pilot a scalable process of community visioning, that can be deployed on a city-wide level.
  3. To evaluate the efficacy of a design thinking-based approach vis-a-vis traditional participatory planning approaches.

The consultation process had five distinct stages, which we describe below:

1. Household survey: As a first step to working with the residents of Ranganatha Nagara, we decided to conduct a comprehensive household survey. The survey questionnaire comprised questions spanning demographics, occupation, income, infrastructure quality and access – housing, sanitation, garbage, water supply, and mapping of households’ daily routines. The survey enabled us to gather granular data about the current status of infrastructure provision in the slum. Furthermore, it enabled us to initiate a data-based conversation with the residents. (The results of our survey are available here.)

2. Series of build-up activities: This stage involved three steps that aimed to familiarize the residents with the process of community visioning and to encourage them to think critically about the future of their neighborhood. First, we conducted a series of presentations in every household in the slum that clearly articulated who we are, our objectives in working with the residents, and the process of community visioning using examples of successful processes elsewhere. Second, we distributed “vision sheets” to every household. Vision sheets comprised of three questions that were meant to encourage residents to think critically about the future of their neighborhood:

a. What are the things you want to preserve in your community?
b. What are the things you want to change in the community?
c. What are the things you want to create in the community?

Third, we conducted a painting competition on the theme “My future town”, primarily aimed at the children and students in the slum.

3. Visioning charettes: The visioning charettes were structured as two and half hour workshops that would enable the residents to collectively discuss the three questions that were posed in the vision sheet. The charettes aimed to go beyond the findings of the survey and arrive at a truer picture of the needs and aspirations of the community. Additionally, we wanted to arrive at a prioritization of the needs of the community which would be a critical ingredient in the designing of infrastructure plans.

4. Creation of a suite of infrastructure plans: For the purpose of creating a suite of infrastructure plans for the community, we reviewed visualization tools that were commonly used in participatory planning. While traditional visualization tools using paper maps, photographs, and physical models offered simplicity and the ability to engage participants with ease, we decided to use SketchUp, a three-dimensional modelling software, to create infrastructure plans. In this, we were motivated by two primary reasons: one, three dimensional modelling allowed us to create a range of infrastructure plans efficiently and enabled us to visually convey the changes that the community would undergo. For example, by creating custom-made “walk-through” street visualizations for each infrastructure plan, we were able to provide the residents with a powerful and realistic approximation of the future of their community. Second, three-dimensional modelling also presented us the opportunity to actively engage the residents in the designing of the plans. For example, during the evaluation of infrastructure options, we were able to offer the residents the opportunity to suggest changes to existing plans and to instantly see the effect of that change by modelling them during the workshops. This allowed us to gain constructive feedback on the plans and enabled us to undertake further refinement.

5. Evaluation of options and consensus building: At the end of the visioning charettes, we formed a council of volunteers, with whom we could have a more granular discussion on the infrastructure plans. This representative council would provide detailed feedback on the suite of infrastructure plans and help us in improving and finalizing a design solution for the community.

In order to test the efficacy of a design thinking based process, we also created a “pre-empathy” infrastructure plan- a plan that was modelled entirely based on the inputs provided by the household survey. This model was built as a counterfactual to mirror traditional planning approaches that rely less on inputs from the community. By integrating this plan in the suite of options provided, we would be able to measure the preference of the community for a particular model and thereby, test the efficacy of the process. Additionally, we also administered a survey to measure participant satisfaction and ownership of the process.

The table below compares the community visioning process discussed above into the EDIPT process:


In the next post we dwell deeper on how we assembled and trained a local team of students as part of the process.

  • Dr.K.Prabhakar

    Thanks for sharing your research. Apart from demographic data is it possible to add data on frugal practices, cultural practices and sociological data to enrich your design thinking process?

    • Vishnu Prasad

      Thank you for your comment Dr.Prabhakar. Although our survey questionnaire does not capture this data, our detailed conversations during the visioning charettes have helped us understand some of the sociological and cultural facets better. We will be writing about some of these in our future blog posts.

      • Dr.K.Prabhakar

        Dear Vishnu Prasad, Thank you very much for your reply and williness to share information on visioning excercise.

  • Shalini Bisani

    Very interesting blog post. Thank you for sharing your process and findings with us.