Test Workshop and Thoughts on the Process

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

Subsequent to the community engagement workshops that we had written about in the earlier post, the next stage of the design thinking process involved testing the prototypes that we had built based on our interactions with the residents.

Taking the key issues that emanated from the workshops as inputs, we created these prototypes to provide future scenarios of the area to the residents. The prototypes were built on top of the existing layout of the area and provided a visual representation of each model and its features and was also accompanied by a video walkthrough of the models. The models incorporated these issues at different levels keeping the constraints of the geography in mind. Selecting a particular model involved a trade-off that the citizens had to choose from: for instance a choice of wider road would leave out the provision of private water supply in the region or choosing a park facility would leave out provision for a local community center & clinic.

We made 5 models of the region that we have detailed in the presentation below. In addition we made a sixth one that we called the “pre-empathy” model (Model 6) that we had built based on our own understanding of the region and the surveys that we had initially done. The idea was to test whether this pre-empathy model holds good against the one that the citizens eventually select post the engagement workshops. In addition all the models were built such that if the residents participating in the Test Workshop had any feedback or wanted to make any changes, we would be able to rapidly prototype the models and show it to them at the workshop itself.

Results from the Test Workshop

The test workshop had 8 participants who had volunteered to be part of the exercise. Our local team walked the participants through each model and highlighted the trade-offs that each model represents. Largely visual and involving a video walkthrough of the region, the models drew a lot of curiosity amongst the residents and they understandably had many questions about the trade-offs.

Later participants were encouraged to freely walk around the hall that had pictures of each of the model pasted. Subsequent to which they ranked the top 3 models according to each of them and points were allocated based on their rankings.

From amongst the voting, Model 1 emerged as the preferred choice – Single Storey Houses (For thatched houses in the area), Closed Drainage Network, Narrow road, Private water supply, Library, Anganwadi, Clinic, Ration shop, Multi-purpose hall. What was interesting is that the “Pre-empathy” Model (Model 6) emerged as a close second in the voting. The reason when probed turned out that people felt since the model involved an immediate replacement of thatched roofs with roof tiles, the model looked most feasible in the short-term.

Video walkthrough of Model 1

In terms of refining the model per se or having any particular feedback that we could incorporate and rapidly prototype on the go, participants didn’t have any particular suggestions apart from indicating the addition of streetlights in the model.

Towards the end of the workshop we conducted an “exit interview” survey which was aimed at assessing their understanding of the process, their satisfaction as well as their level of ownership over the most popular design alternative. All the eight participants expressed a high level of satisfaction with the design process, out of which six of these expressed a strong willingness to participate in such design efforts in the future. And importantly, all 8 participants expressed a strong willingness to work with the Municipal Corporation to ensure that the final design would be implemented.

The selected model (Model 1 in this case) was supposed to be shown to a second group of residents who had not been part of the entire process. The intent was to show them only one option and get their reactions to it. However none of the residents showed up for the workshop, prompting our local team to visit them at their doorstep. While the second group expressed satisfaction about the selected model, several indicated that they do not believe the Municipal would actually implement the design and also were not willing to take ownership of the project unlike the earlier group.

Thoughts on The Process

A significant amount of time during the process was spent on empathising with the community and that has resulted in a better understanding of the community and its various nuances. Such prolonged period of empathising and later through a series of build-up initiatives aimed at drawing increased participation from the residents has resulted in participants indicating higher levels of satisfaction with the process and expressing their willingness to take responsibility of the final model.

However there are few lessons that we have learnt along the way and believe that they hold important inputs for someone undertaking such a process.

During the course of our process we visited the area at regular intervals and coordinated with our local team to execute the different phases of the process. An approach where we had stayed there for a longer duration and had relied on a more experienced local team, whose members had prior experience in carrying out such community engagement efforts, may have yielded additional insights. Also engaging a few local residents to be part of the local team that is executing the process would have also been helpful.

The iterative approach of the process allows for the residents to suggest suitable changes to the prototypes and rapidly see those changes reflected in a revised model. However in our case the residents had suggested only one change so there was not much iteration, as we would have liked. This though was not entirely unanticipated. Being a small area of 75 households, allowed us to get granular with the needs and aspirations of the community during the empathy phase, thus enabling our initial prototypes to essentially capture the key issues of the community. However in case where the process is implemented in a bigger area where there are large communities, multiple iterations of the prototype would be very crucial.

Additionally the prototypes that we showcased, though were largely visual and appealed to the residents, it would have been interesting to allow for such visualisation techniques where prototypes are more responsive and allow the residents to themselves experiment with the models in real-time.

Overall the design thinking process provides an interesting approach to infrastructure planning where the needs and aspirations of the citizens are the basic starting point upon which solutions are subsequently built and iterated upon through their consultation. The lessons that we have learnt in executing the process in Srirangapatna could act as a valuable guide in applying  the “Design Thinking” process in an urban planning context.