That time we brought Design Sprint to the ninth World Urban Forum

WUF n°9

As explained on the UN-Habitat website:

The World Urban Forum is the world’s premier conference on urban issues. It was established in 2001 by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies.

The ninth session of the World Urban Forum (aka WUF9) took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 7th to 13th February 2018, and it was focussed on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda adopted in Habitat III.

Such event had a great relevance since it represented the first opportunity to discuss concrete solutions that can translate into practice the guidelines for urban development for the next twenty years.

One of the web banners presenting WUF9

Short story of PUSH inside the UN

PUSH is a non-for-profit design lab for social and urban innovation, based in Palermo, Sicily. We founded it in 2013 with the aim of adopting human-centred design methodologies to improve the experience of people living in cities.

For this reason, in 2014 PUSH became an associate partner of the World Urban Campaign and, the same year, we attended the first Urban Thinkers Campus in Caserta. From that moment, we organised two Urban Thinkers Campuses in Palermo (City as a Service in 2015 and Right to the Future in 2017), engaging thousands of citizens and hosting many international speakers, and we had also the chance to take part in the Habitat III conference in Quito.

So, when we received an email inviting us to submit a collateral activity to WUF9, we didn’t think twice.

Design Sprint for Urban Innovation: the genesis

The will to constantly experiment something fresh, combined with the intention of making the most of this opportunity (both PUSH’s distinguishing features), convinced us to propose a training event.

The key idea was to offer a short-time and super-intensive experience of the service design process applied to urban challenges.

Design Sprint for Urban Innovation (DS4UI) was born from these assumptions. It’s inspired by the Design Sprint process, developed by Google Ventures, and it aims to trigger creativity and find doable solutions to tackle complex problems.

The keynote slide showing the differences between GV’s Design Sprint and our DS4UI.

The real challenge, in this case, was to compress a five-day process into no more than 3 hours, making all the design steps clear and avoiding moments of confusion or frustration. On the other hand, the change of perspective from business to urban context, as well as the shift from users to citizens, has been way smoother as it’s an essential part of the approach we pursue in PUSH.

On January 14th, we received an email confirming that our proposal for a training event had been accepted. By then, we realised we had to start working on it seriously.

A fragment of the confirmation email we received.

How we designed our DS4UI

Our training event was hence organised into 8 phases. Each phase consists of a series of activities or steps to be completed within a set time-limit.

Each step always starts with a brief explanation (usually accompanied by a practical example) and always ends with a short (1 minute at most) sharing moment in which whoever wanted can tell what he/she has just done.

In this context, timing is essential.

It’s therefore important to emphasise at the beginning of the training event that many activities will seem to be conducted rushing or without giving enough time to reflect, but this is actually part of the process.

The DS4UI artwork.

1. Introduction (20')

After a warm welcoming and a quick ice-breaking activity (5 minutes), which is essential to create a friendly and cosy environment, we briefly present who we are, then we introduce the methodology by providing some key concepts through definitions and diagrams (15 mins).

Designing VS Sprinting.
Following the “double diamond” process through a learning-by-design approach.

Finally, we present the case study, i.e. the urban challenge.
We usually prefer to have participants choose it through a brainstorming session or by proposing various options and then using dot voting to make a quick decision. However, due to the limited time available, the challenge needs to be decided beforehand. It must be sufficiently open but not too general, interesting of course and posed in the form of a question.

In our case, the question chosen was:
How might we shape healthy cities for and with children?

2. Creation of working groups (5')

Creating groups is another important aspect of such events but, depending on the number of participants, it can also be complicated and very time-consuming. There are many ways to manage this: from creative methods to random selections; but, again, the tight time frame convinced us to “preform” groups through a trick.

During the registration phase, each participant is asked to write his/her name on a sticker and put it on, making it visible to others. A symbol is drawn on each of them, indicating the reference group.

Stickers are randomly distributed so when needed, participants are asked to group according to the symbols they got, thus creating teams in few seconds.

Toti and I explaining through a selfie how to recognize your teammate and form a group.

Ideally, DS4UI is designed for 20 to 30 participants. The ideal number of people per group is between 4 and 6.

In our case, since all the WUF events were open to a maximum of 50 participants, we have foreseen a maximum of 8 groups.
Each group also had a facilitator (also chosen randomly and indicated by a red symbol, different from the other blue ones). Once the groups were created, we provided each facilitator with the official event kit, which was made up of: a bunch of post-its, some markers and five posters.

3. Urban challenge discussion (10')

Before attempting to come up with a solution in response to the urban challenge, it must be thoroughly examined and understood.

Hence, the first step is to decompose such question by extrapolating the key concepts, which are essentially three:

1. The topic, namely what we are talking about

2. The context, namely where we are

3. The target, namely who we are dealing with

Once identified, participants have 3 one-minute sessions to detail each of these concepts by using post-its. This activity is carried out individually and aims to define topics, contexts and targets as specific as possible from the initial ones.

Poster n.1 - DISCUSS

In our case, based on the question: the reference topic was HEALTHY, the context was one of CITIES and the target was about CHILDREN.

More specific topics, connected with the key concept, might be: Not polluted (related to cities), Not Obese (related to children) or Playful (related to both).

Talking about cities, some of the contexts to consider may be: Schools (both public and private), Parks (commonly public) or Homes (private).

Lastly, more refined targets in the category of children may be: Female (gender-related), but also Six to eight years old (age) or With disabilities (minority).

4. DISCOVER: map stakeholders and find touchpoints (20')

Once everyone has a better understanding of the problem, the next phase can be introduced.

This process consists of 3 steps, each of which lasts about 5 minutes:

Target-Topic-Context: groups discuss (2') in order to analyse, cluster and select the key concepts to work on. Each team define the target/topic/context on which it intends to focus (1').

Mapping out stakeholders: using post-its, each participant lists relevant stakeholders that should be considered (1'). After this, groups discuss their outputs and cluster them (1'). Finally, people are asked to share what they got in a 60-second popcorn style session.

Listing touchpoints: it deals with the potential interactions among target, topic, context and stakeholders and aims at identifying touchpoints able to link these entities. Using the same process as for stakeholder mapping, participants detect, group and discuss touchpoints.

Poster n.2 - DISCOVER

In our case, we decided to focus on the 3 following key concepts:

Target → 6 to 8 years old

Topic → Not obese

Context → Parks

Some potential stakeholder groups to be involved could be: Parents and Grandparents, Health promotion organisations, Local sports organisations, School refectories, Supermarkets.

On the other hand, there might be several possible touchpoints to be considered, such as: Website/Mobile app (Digital), Posters/ Leaflets (Physical), Media TV/Radio (Digital), Coaches/Trainers (Human), Doctors/Nutritionists (Human).

5. DEFINE: generate idea e provide a value proposition (30')

Now is finally the time to bring out creativity and figure out the idea capable of answering the initial question.

This phase requires 4 steps:

Crazy 5: participants are challenged to provide, individually, 5 ideas in 5 minutes. Ideas don’t have to be great and they should follow the rule: one idea, one post-it.

Ideas clustering: teams quickly (5') review ideas and cluster them, replacing post-its with fewer but more structured ones.

Idea selection: teams assess the final ideas by moving the post-its on the Impact-Effort Matrix. Such tool, in fact, correlates the potential impact of the idea with the effort required to implement it. Once placed on the matrix, teams should discuss and select the most valuable idea from those located in the “High Impact/Low Effort” (HI/LE) quarter. This step takes 6 minutes.

The Impact-Effort Matrix.

Value question: after the best idea has been identified, it has to be precisely described, so that is clearly defined: what it’s about, whom it’s addressed to, what problem it solves and how. All these aspects can be addressed if the idea is translated into a value question, in the form:

What if we develop a __________ that help(s) __________ who want to __________ by __________ and __________ ?

Teams are asked to complete their value questions in 5 minutes.

Poster n.3 - DEFINE

In our case, the ideas originated from the Crazy 5 exercise were: Activity-based videogame; Healthy-food rewards card; Thematic training ground; Sporting events/classes; Gastronomic & cooking events.

By putting the ideas on the Impact-Effort Matrix, we noticed two of them were falling into the HI/LE quarter. So, we merged both into a singe idea, which was: Training camp for superheroes!

The value question was then: What if we develop a thematic sport training camp that helps kids and their parents who want to be active by providing them information and equipment and organising events for being together and have fun?

At this point, all groups should have clear in mind what they will have to design in the second part and approximately 85 minutes should have elapsed. This means that, if everything went smoothly, now is a good time to give a 10-minute break.

6. DEVELOP: before, during & after (15')

It’s now time to to respond to the value question by defining a service.

To do this, it’s necessary to describe the three stages that form the experience of a service from a generic user’s point of view:

  1. Before: how he/she gets in touch with the service
  2. During: how he/she gains value from it
  3. After: how he/she can remain related to it

For each of these moments, participants have to follow a process made up of 3 steps, each of which lasts 1 minute:

Possible interactions generation: participants have to describe user interactions/experiences through post-its.

Clustering: teams discuss the generated outputs, by grouping post-its into macro-categories.

Definition of key points of the service: clusters are finally refined and replaced by new post-its that summarise the stage of the service (before, during or after) to be described.

After each cycle, there is the usual sharing time before moving forward.

Poster n.4 - DEVELOP

In our case, here are some interaction examples for each of the different three stages considered:

Before: attach posters in the park; present the service within schools; place flyers at schools/toy stores; develop a mobile app for parents.

During: a coach masked as a superhero trains kids in the park; sports academies organise events; kids do self-training by following instructions given on the signs; parents train their kids via app.

After: the coach gives kids a gift with the plan of the next events; sports academies organise weekly classes; kids decide together the topic for the next thematic camp; parents give a feedback via app.

7. DELIVER: define your MVS, then sketch the experience (20')

This phase is about synthesis, and it’s centred on the storytelling of the users’ experience that can be tested through the most basic service prototype.

This is called Minimum Valuable Service (MVS) and is defined as the simplest version of the service that can be experienced and provides feedback for future design.

Each service, including the MVS, can be observed from two different points of view: that of the user who experiences with it and that of the provider who must ensure its proper functioning.

There are 3 steps to outline and tell about your Minimum Valuable Service:

MVS definition: groups choose, in 2 minutes, one element per stage (before, during, after) from the previous phase to define their MVS; then move the corresponding post-its to the new poster. The activities composing the MVS should be as basic as possible and able to answer the question: “What should I do if I wanted to launch this service tomorrow?”

User journey’s storyboard: now it’s time to share the user experience by describing five key moments of the so-called user journey. Groups have 2 minutes to decide which scenes sum up their service and 2 more minutes to sketch them out on five post-its.

Back-office’s storyboard: using the same approach as for the user journey, teams identify the 5 key actions to be carried out to enable the service and sketch them out on post-it as well.

At this point, groups completed their process and they are ready to present their final outcomes.

Poster n.5 - DELIVERY

In our case, after selecting the easiest activities on which to base our MVS, we described the user experience as well as the service provider duties imagining we’ve to launch a prototype in 24 hours.

User journey: our story is about a kid, Saro, walking in the park with his grandfather. They see a poster and, shortly after, they meet the coach masked as Spiderman who gives Saro a taste of the training experience, then he gives him a little gift which tells how to join the superhero camp.

Back-office: we need a park and a trainer who wants to be part in the project. We have to involve kids to co-design the first training experience; then it’s all about buying a costume, printing some posters and seeing what happens.

8. CONCLUSION: present your service, getting feedback (40')

Teams take turns in giving a brief (2 mins at most) presentation of their service, showing the steps that describe the user experience as well as the back-office activities to perform in order to activate the MVS in less than 24 hours.

Each presentation is followed by a two-minute feedback session, in which each participant can give his/her opinion on what he/she just heard.

Both these moments in total last about 5 minutes per team.

The duration of this session is therefore linked to the number of teams participating. Assuming a maximum of 30 participants divided into 6 groups of 5 people, the total time for this activity should be half an hour.

In our case, having to manage 47 participants divided into 8 groups, in order to respect the timetable we had to compress the duration of the feedback sessions down to 1 minute. This suggestion can also be useful if you are dealing with a large number of participants (typically for events with more than 7 groups).

At the end of the presentations, the last 5 minutes are dedicated to providing feedback related to the overall experience of the training event. Using the Feedback Wall (appropriately hung before the event starts) participants are asked, before leaving, to write down what in their opinion about what worked and what didn’t, thus helping us to improve future events.

Our real-life chronicle: how things turned out and what we learned

Considering that it was the first training we proposed in a United Nations event and that it was designed especially for the occasion, we have to admit that there was some sort of anxiety around the days preceding our Design Sprint.

The concern that few people would register, after the event went sold out in a few days, gave way to the fear of not being able to manage such a large number of participants.

In the end, however, everything worked out well: the path went smoothly, the timing was well respected and all the people who came had fun.

A total of 47 participants took part in the first DS4UI, they were all curious to explore the topic and animated by goodwill and helpfulness (as testified by the end-event selfie), undoubtedly one of the reasons for the successful implementation of the training event.

The end-event selfie.

We learnt a lot from this experience: now we are truly convinced that Design Thinking and its human-centered approach can be an effective tool for those who will have to implement the New Urban Agenda at local level, that there is a tangible interest in approaching this methodology and developing skills in this area, that a positive impact can be generated even by a simple three-hour long workshop.

It was nice chatting with the people at the end of the event, receiving the compliments and feeling their enthusiasm; it reminded us why we do such things.

However, the best gift we received came from Yan, one of the participants, who sent us this lovely email a few hours later:

The touching email sent by Yan where she also confirms we didn’t have to pay her to write that.

And this is more or less the story of that time we brought the Design Sprint to the ninth World Urban Forum.

Final remark: what do the statistics tell us?

The following day we sent all participants a thank-you email accompanied by a request to fill out a short survey in order to give us a more structured feedback.

We received 8 responses globally, which represents about 17% of participants. For those who love statistics and pie charts (I do), the results of the main questions are shown below.

Question n.1 - Professional category
Question n.2 - Personal interest
Question n.3 - Personal evaluation in comparison with other WUF9 events
Question n.4 - Team working experience
Question n.5 - Interest in attending similar future events
Question n.6 - Interest in organising similar future events
Question n.7 - Facilitators work
Question n.8 - Overall rating