Training the local team

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

Having adopted a design-thinking approach and structured a model that we had outlined in the previous post, we embarked on to executing it in the Ranganatha Nagara area of Srirangapatna.

One of the crucial decisions that we had to take was in identifying and training a team that, in consultation with us, would carry out the model on the ground. The choice of the team and how they are trained and whether they are able to understand the process well were, in hindsight, very important considerations that subsequent posts will elucidate.


Earlier as part of our data generation process for the overall city we had engaged a group of local students. This earlier interaction resulted in the “State of Srirangapatna” report which was a result of a comprehensive data-generation process, that provided detailed spatial maps of Srirangapatna’s infrastructure both at the city level, and more granularly, at the ward level. Having worked with the same team earlier, we had developed a sense of familiarity with them and this made us choose a sub-set of the same group for the execution of the model this time.

As part of Design Thinking’s initial stage where we endeavoured to deeply empathise with the community, we had deployed the local team to conduct a household survey of the area to understand details like demographics, occupation, income, infrastructure quality and access – housing, sanitation, garbage, water supply, daily routines and activity mapping. We had earlier covered this initial survey process and the training provided for the survey stage here and the results of the survey here.

Unlike the initial survey stage where the team had to largely stick to a set of pre-defined questions on their Android tablets, the build-up stage of the model required them to build a sense of familiarity with the whole process and mandated that they have informed interactions with the residents. This step was critical since it would pave the way for rich, meaningful discussions that would enable people to look beyond their everyday chores and visualise their community’s future.

One of the critical barriers that we had as part of our interaction with the local team was language. We weren’t familiar with Kannada and being local students their grasp of English wasn’t perfect. Hence we had to be careful in our communications with them and had to ensure that nothing was lost in translation. Keeping this in mind we had prepared training material copies that we handed out to each of them and had allotted a couple of days to go through the training material in detail and familiarize them with the objectives and desired outcomes of the whole process.

Our team

As a pre-cursor to training on the Model, we had dwelled on the initial results from the survey that we had conducted earlier. This was to familiarize them with the problems and the current state of infrastructure of the area. We felt that this information was necessary in enabling the team to have meaningful conversations with the residents

The training material detailed each step of the process and was reinforced with a set of expectations from the team at each stage. The training revolved around preparing the team for largely two stages of the Model – Build-up & Workshops.

Build-Up & Workshop Training

The Build-up Process

The build-up, stages of which we will detail further in the next post, was a crucial step in empathising with the community, as it gave a chance to visit the households at their doorstep and understand their aspirations better especially in the context of what the residents would like to change, preserve and create in their community going forward.

We had the local team take turns in delivering the presentation – which we planned to give to each household with the objective of informing them about the whole process and how it could benefit them. Along with this, we conducted mock workshop sessions with the team so as to acquaint them with the mechanics of conducting an effective workshop and to reinforce how equally important the behavioural aspects in managing and interacting with people are.

In a group training exercise

While the focus was on preparing the team to execute the model well and generate meaningful discussions among the residents, we realised, that being students they were facing a challenge in understanding some of the concepts and desired outcomes that we were expecting. In this regard we had to undertake a few sessions that were not related to the Model. Like for instance we had two team members interview each other about their families and future dreams and aspirations. Then we had each of them present to a larger group about what the other person had said. Sessions like these, though unconnected, did help in breaking the monotony and allowed the group to refocus on the task at hand.

Interviewing each other about their goals

The training sessions had its fair share of curious onlookers from the nearby areas

In the next post we detail the build-up process and outline our experiences from it.


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.


A Design Thinking Approach to Urban Infrastructure Planning

By Vishnu Prasad & Ajay Kumar, Intern, IFMR Finance Foundation

The previous posts in this series summarized our efforts to collect granular data on the quality of infrastructure services provision in Ranganatha Nagara. Our objective now was to use this data as a platform to initiate a conversation with the residents of Ranganatha Nagara on building a collective vision for the future of the neighborhood. In this process, we are guided by the framework of design thinking.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking refers to the application of a discipline that tries to understand human behaviour in order to develop or improve products or services. As opposed to customary approaches that rely excessively on analyzing and answering questions by working out the last detail, the design thinking paradigm is centered on collaborative experimentation and rapid prototyping. This approach has traditionally been applied to the realm of product development, as the example below tries to illustrate.

IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm, pioneered the practice of design thinking through the creation of a new shopping cart concept. First, a team of designers interviewed a wide range of stakeholders including customers, cart movers and shop keepers to understand their shopping experience, usage patterns, and actively probed their problems and invited suggestions. Second, after ‘empathizing’ extensively with the users in this manner, the team members were able to collectively define and ideate on solutions to the most pressing problems- maneuverability of the shopping kart, child safety, theft and maintenance cost. Third, using this shared understanding, the team then designed four initial prototypes. The team then coalesced best elements from each prototype into a single design and took this back to users for a round of testing. Fourth, the users reviewed the prototype and provided the team with feedback. For instance, the design of steerable back wheels that enables the cart to be turned sideways with ease was praised. However, some shopkeepers felt that the prototype lacked adequate features for deterring theft. Finally, this feedback was fed into another round of ideation and prototyping before the design of the cart was finalized. The design thinking process, thus, involves five stages as illustrated in the figure and table below- Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test (EDIPT).



As is evident from the example, there are three key features that characterize design thinking. First, it is a human centric process in that it puts the users or customers, and their needs at the heart of the process. Second, as illustrated in the example above, design thinking is an iterative process that motivates teams to transition between problem defining, ideating, prototyping and testing (feedback from user). This iterative process is at the core of what leads to a better final outcome. Third, by empathizing and rapidly creating and testing prototypes, the process allows end-users to participate in the process right from the initial stages.

How can Design Thinking be applied to urban infrastructure planning?

Traditional planning methodologies rely heavily on top-down approaches- the plans are first made and strategized, and only then are the citizens informed about it. These plans are usually made without involving the citizens in the process, and as a result, often fail to reflect the problems faced by citizens on the ground. Consequently, citizens naturally have a lesser degree of ownership of these top-down plans and responsibility towards maintenance of public infrastructure. While participatory planning approaches seek to address these gaps by working with the citizens in understanding their problems, they rarely ‘close the loop’ by seeking feedback from the citizens after the plan is prepared. Thus, the ownership of the plan by the citizens is not guaranteed. Additionally, this also precludes any further refinement of the existing plan.

Design Thinking provides us a framework to overcome the flaws of the traditional participatory planning approaches in the following ways- first, design thinking enables the creation of an infrastructure plan that places citizens at the heart of the process. A process of deep empathising (through household surveys, interviews, and charettes) will enable the development of a granular understanding of the problems faced by citizens. Second, the design thinking method also facilitates a process of refinement of the plan through continuous prototyping and testing.

We are using the EDIPT process to collaboratively ideate and iteratively develop an urban infrastructure plan for one neighbourhood in Srirangapatna, namely Ranganatha Nagara which is the largest slum in the town.

1. http://zurb.com/word/design-thinking
2. http://dthsg.com/what-is-design-thinking/
3. http://www.ideo.com/work/shopping-cart-concept


Understanding survey data

By Ajay Kumar, Intern, IFMR Finance Foundation

The data collection exercise that we had covered in an earlier post as part of the slum engagement process was the first in a series of steps that we would embark on in envisioning the future of Ranganatha Nagara 2 Slum in Srirangapatna.

The survey questions which spanned capturing details like demographics, occupation, income, infrastructure quality and access to basic services were meant to help us understand the community better and equip us in having more informed conversations with the residents about their future needs.

The uniqueness of the survey was that the data was collected using an open source tool called Open Data Kit (ODK). We designed an excel sheet using ODK’s XLSForm and uploaded the form into our Android devices. Our volunteers then went on the field with the devices and recorded the answers from each household. The collected data was stored on our local server which we then downloaded as a single excel file for analysis. A lot of time was saved in the process because we did not have to manually fill the answers in excel; also it helped eliminate the need for paper.

In a span of two days we undertook a total of 75 household surveys, which covered almost the entire slum. Below we present a summary infograph of the survey results:


Based on the analysis of the survey data we identified the areas of strength and opportunity for the slum:

Areas of Strength:

  • Ranganatha Nagara 2 seems to be strong in electricity coverage, healthcare availability, and school enrolment of kids aged between 5-18.
  • 83% of the households are satisfied with water supply services and 85% consider the water they consume to be safe.

Areas of Opportunity:

  • Sanitation is clearly an area of opportunity as only 7% of the houses have toilets while the rest defecate in the open.
  • Housing seems to be an issue since 56% of households have reported a leakage through the roof.
  • Currently the slum has an open drainage network and 83% of households reported being not satisfied with it.
  • There is also an opportunity to increase the availability/usage of designated garbage cans as 81% reported not using or not having access to them.

In subsequent posts we will lay out an introduction to “Design Thinking” philosophy that will drive our approach to the slum engagement process.


Envisioning a Slum’s Future

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

State of Srirangapatna & Slum Development

We have been working with the town of Srirangapatna, a town with a population of about 25,000 people, to create a long term plan for infrastructure development. This work is predicated on the realisation that small and medium cities should be able to plan for and sustainably finance their future in a manner that makes urban development evenly spread out and not concentrated to large urban hubs – which are witnessing tremendous strain on their already crumbling infrastructure.

Towards this end we had prepared a State of Srirangapatna Report, which captures the current state of public infrastructure and service delivery in the city. The report provides a ward-by-ward analysis of infrastructure and also attempts to rank wards based on the state of their public infrastructure. The Ward ranking exercise made it apparent that wards with slums in them ranked much poorly compared to the wards without. Additionally it became clear that the conditions and challenges that prevailed in a slum are different from the non-slum parts of the ward around it, and therefore the development of any sustainable plan for the city had to be nuanced enough to cater to the uniqueness that slums represented.

In order to achieve this understanding we embarked on creating a sustainable slum development framework that we believe will be capable in catering to the needs and aspirations of slum-dwellers and allows them a stake in designing the city’s future. In this regard we worked with the local municipal office and identified the least developed slum in the city to work with. The slum, Ranganatha Nagara 2, is the poorest of all the slums in the city. The slum has 75 households with a population of 283 people.

Slum map

As a first step to working with the slum we decided to conduct a thorough household survey of the slum residents, spanning details like demographics, occupation, income, infrastructure quality and access – housing, sanitation, garbage, water supply, and household daily routines and activity mapping.

Unlike our previous household survey of the city that involved usage of good old pen and paper, this time we used technology for data collection. Our tools of choice happened to be Android powered tablets equipped with the ODK (Open Data Kit) app. The intent was to make the whole process seamless and save on the lead-time that it takes to convert physical surveys into digital format for analysis.

On the first day we set-up a local team of students and undertook a training exercise that covered:

  • Briefing them about the slum engagement process that we had planned and how the data collection exercise they would be embarking on is a first and vital step towards that.
  • Handing each of them a physical copy of the questionnaire and a slum map that they could familiarize themselves with and carry along.
  • As the survey questions were in English, it was essential that we ensured that surveyors understood them well. We had a local resident, who is well versed in both English & Kannada, accompany us through the training session. She translated the questions and the options and acted as a valuable interface in clearing any queries that the surveyors had.
  • This was followed-up by conducting a group mock survey on the ODK app with selection of various yes/no scenarios.
  • We then handed each of the surveyors their designated Android tablets with their name labelled at the back of the device and let them conduct a mock survey as if they were doing their own household survey. While we handed over the tablets with the ODK app pre-loaded, we also trained them in basic navigation of the tablet in case they accidentally came out of the app.
  • We later accompanied the surveyors on a physical walk-through of the slum so that they could orient the landscape to the slum map. Also the intent was to allocate them the designated sections that they would be covering.
  • Later we let the surveyors conduct a few household surveys that we closely monitored and later reviewed to give specific feedback.

Field Surveys

In the next couple of days a team of total 5 surveyors covered the entire slum ensuring no household was left out of the survey.




While undertaking the surveys we realized that a lot of houses in the slum were locked in the morning and the residents usually got back in the night. This was usually because most of these were daily wage labourers and left their houses early. To capture these households we revisited the slum in the night to capture them.

(Streetlights didn’t turn on until around 7:30 in the night, hence some surveys had to be done without them on.)

(And then the lights showed up)


During the span of the surveys, our initial sense about the challenges of a slum being different from that of the ward in general, were reinforced through some of the stories that emerged. Like that of Mr. Suresh, whose life’s aim is to get a patram (title deed) of his about 100 sq.ft house that he lives on along with his wife and two daughters aged 2 & 4. For this he has been scrambling for the past 3 years from pillar to post but with little progress. Or the story of Ms. Shobha, a labourer, whose husband, a leprosy patient, is a beggar outside a church in Bangalore. Earning about Rs. 3000 a month doing odd jobs, she struggles to make ends meet but still somehow manages to send her two daughters and a son to school.

Beyond the data collection, these were stories of hope and helplessness that cropped up time and again. This data collection process is the first step in the slum engagement process and will be followed up in the coming months with workshops with the slum residents to collectively envision and plan the slum’s future. We will share the progress on these workshops and the visioning tools deployed in subsequent posts.