Post written by Nima Ranawana.
Nima Ranawana is a current ELN Executive Committee Member and Consultant of Corporate and Financial Practice at Environics Communications. Nima also serves as a Volunteer Advisor to the non-profit organization Sri Lankans Without Borders. A food enthusiast who is curious about anything cultural, Nima loves discovering new restaurants in Toronto. Catch up with her on twitter at @NimaRanawana.
A large part of civic engagement focuses on finding answers to the pressing issues facing our city, region and communities. But the big issues facing our region—whether it’s housing, equal opportunity to jobs or transit—are multi-layered and nuanced. Despite this complexity, one basic yet overwhelming question always remains: How do we create effective, practical solutions to real-world problems?
On May 3, 2017, ELN partnered with design thinking firm Bridgeable for an event focused on design-thinking from a service-design approach. Showing ELNers how to bridge the know-do gap — the chasm between what is known about a complex problem and how it can be solved.
Design thinking is a methodology used to solve complex problems through action-oriented means, and one of the ways in which Bridgeable employs this method is through service design. The general idea behind why service design is effective is because it aims to simplify the complexity of delivering a service, by identifying key points in the problem, and collaborating with stakeholders to find a solution.
So how does this actually work? Well, they say the best way to learn is by doing, and so our friends at Bridgeable divided everyone into groups, and tasked each group to use the approach of service design and tackle transit’s “last mile” issue: how to cut down the time between the last transit stop and final destination of a daily commute. After interviewing a selected participant in each group about their daily commute, teams used an experience map to visualize the participant’s journey, identify every touchpoint, and prioritize areas that matter. Based on this information, teams came up with solutions to address key touchpoints, also known as “pain points”; for example, addressing crowded subways, lengthy bus rides, and limited train time options.
Our key takeaways? The exercise helped understand the importance of approaching a problem from a user perspective, and uncovering gaps in service delivery to find areas of opportunity. Most importantly, each group had the opportunity to collaborate with diverse users. All learnings that can be emulated when it comes to city-building work.
ELN also caught up with Joshua Nelson, Principal Designer and co-owner of JNKM Design, and one of the attendees whose daily commute was examined, to get his thoughts on design thinking and of course, city- building:
What are your thoughts on design thinking?
Design thinking is essential in every field the same way that the scientific method was to the last century. Design thinking reflects the state of society which we are in, taking what we learned during modernism and adding another level to it that is more human, emotional and of course aesthetically pleasing. Design is more of a human-focused practice where our previous methods are cold, data driven, and often overlook the parts of the city that cannot be measured, analysed and documented such (for example the benefits of active sidewalk culture, or 24 hours streets). Design thinking exposes these moments and reorganises them to make these issues front and centre.
What did you enjoy most about the event?
Best part of the event was working with other ELN members and seeing how each of us from such diverse fields approached the same problem. I’ve always found that just diving into work or a project is the best way to get to know someone. You experience entirely different methods, but more interestingly, you see where people in different fields assign value.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle facing city builders in the GTHA today?
City Builder is and isn’t a thing, so one of the major obstacles would be defining what is city building. Is it the artists, musicians, fashion designers, chefs and promoters who create amazing experiences for the residents of a city? Or is it the corporations who pay and employ the citizens or the small start-ups, who add that flavour and culture that defines the city? Of course, all of these are city builders and significant to the success of the city.
We have so many values, invested partners and stakeholders, and sometimes things may seem to not move as fast in a city as we feel they should in an advanced region like ours. We need to have a strong government capable of providing high quality public projects that best serve the city while still having the appreciation for existing residents and the issues they care about today.
Thanks to Bridgeable – a phenomenal team – for hosting! See all the pictures of the event here, and find what ELNers had to say in tweets below.