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Innovation for Urban Planning Projects

Actualizado: 26 ago 2020

Learnings from AGUI - Connective Cities Program 2020

Asian Green Urban Infrastructure (AGUI) is one of the projects running under the Connective Cities program that helps municipalities in Southeast Asia to infuse innovation into big scale infrastructure projects. AGUI considers waste management and water management projects from cities in Indonesia, Philipines, and Nepal that need to improve the quality of life of their citizens by developing infrastructure. This infrastructure will impact the lives of all its citizens and transform the way each city works. Green Urban Infrastructure is based on the principles of long term sustainability and human-centered design.

Most urban infrastructure projects have traditionally been conceived by politicians, policymakers and civil engineers centered in the infrastructure itself, available technologies and resources to develop it, and the public funding to be executed in government periods. They are often based on assumptions and not facts becoming costly, irrelevant, inaccurate and even toxic for the sustainable development of cities and human communities. Hundreds of examples not only in Spain (airports without flights, highways with no traffic, empty real estate, etc) but around the world have shown that investment in urban infrastructure needs to be pertinent, accurate, sustainable, and adapted to the local needs and long term development goals of each city.

Our team was invited to participate, designing the whole process for a two-week intensive planning work session where teams from 6 city councils (Bandung, Kendari, Jambi, Dhangadhi, Palembang, and Balikpapan) would transform their initial project infrastructure ideas into innovative, sustainable, and human-centered green urban infrastructure solutions. One key feature was applying Design Thinking as one of the main tools that teams would use for the conceptualization and planning phase of these projects. All projects go through a 3 phase process that includes dialog events, planning workshops, and expert missions that structure the technical, social, and financial aspects to be considered, before being submitted for funding.

During the design of this process, the team had two main challenges: first creating a sequence of contents and methods that include technical, funding and innovation experts to inspire and guide the teams in their transformation processes to grow the projects and second, the design of digital experiences and interactions suitable for these users, their resources and interests. This digital process includes synchronic and asynchronous activities, work sessions, content development, and interactions that build up into a final project planning document.

Participants had space and opportunity to showcase their projects, get inspired and interact with experts like Victor Tenez from AMB Area Metropolitana de Barcelona, Joris van Etten from ADB Asian Development Bank, Brian Capati from CDIA City Development Initiative for Asia and Dr, Sri Maryati from Institut Tecnologi Bandung, among other relevant local and European specialists that shared recommendations for the design and implementation of large scale initiatives.

Design Thinking applied to Green Urban Development Projects brings the human factor to the center of the equation openimg the opportunity to build a solid community dialog before conceptualizing the project and reducing the risk of inadequacy or rejection from leaders and private sector, making it sustainable from initial stages. This articulation is key for high impact projects and public services that thousands of people will use and talk about.

An inclusive public policy in the research phase helps to detect ideas and needs that wouldn´t be discovered by a traditional vertical process, it saves time and money simplifying solutions for all stakeholders (inhabitants, commerce, visitors, service suppliers, etc.) Engaging in local research helped teams understand the full potential of participation from different sectors in each city. It demands more time and deeper analysis but generates reliable KPIs and commitments. This process transforms the initial scope of the project substantially and therefore the future vision and impact of it.

To deploy such a process with remote teams it is necessary to create different types of resources: specific experience design, a process manual, and a final delivery template are key to follow up with the transformation of each project.

Experience and process design need to be adapted to the region, culture, digital literacy, and tech skills of participants. A detailed journey where interactions, times, and resources are carefully coordinated will improve not only the experience of the project but the results and its continuity.

The manual needs to guide the process and support all the journeys being adaptive and available especially for those "self-guided moments" that digital experiences and services always have. Simplicity, directness, and relevant contents are the keys so it becomes the support each participant needs when working on their own or in their teams. Most manuals tend to be instructive instead of practical but in this case, the situation demands the integration of both.

The final and probably more important element to design has been the final deliverable template that helps teams to realize the transformation process, keep track of the milestones and key elements of the new improved project and make decisions before consolidating one or several derived projects. This template needs to guide them to clarify the next steps, gaps, and achievements. Stages and development for each Project are identified from the very beginning and each project requires specific attention and dedication.

Virtual collaboration in a digital environment will replace, in many cases, live interaction with teams. calls, messages, email, and collaboration platforms that help but never replace human interaction. So two types of environments arise here. The full digital environment where you never actually meet and work together and the blended environment where digital and live interaction happens. Each environment requires different planning and will provide different results that depend on the allocated time for the process, number of teams, and resources available to work. Both very powerful formats but a completely different experience design.

Remote Consulting and Training is emerging and as long as technological issues (connection, equipment, software, etc) are properly solved it does not mean less quality. but it does mean a completely different path. Digital enviroments contain dofferent qualities and demand a new of interacting and understanding between teams and consultants. Its main advantage is the fast way in which meetings and work sessions can be implemented and show results.

Urban planning is a long term and big impact area of work, involving public policy, private investment, and community dialog. Beyond the actual buildings and roads, having an articulated vision is the key Advice may come from many sources and multiple decisions have to be made, so consulting is a constant resourc, where technical and strategic assessment and advice are necessary.

Very often urban planning projects are fragmented, executed by different teams in different government periods from diverse political groups, very few of them have a consistent team and policy behind them to achieve long term objectives and monitor impact and transformation, which makes them even more complex at a project management level. Nevertheless, most urban planning projects see the light after many struggles and adjustments, transforming the lives of thousands of people.

In the eyes of the citizens only the final result prevails, the way those infrastructures and plans affect them, serve them, or benefit them. The planning process so far has been often non-participative and mostly a trophy for politicians. But this can change if open policies involve more stakeholders and research that make the citizens and private sectors committed to sustainability and impact.

The Connective Cities environment is an interesting space for this purpose. It promotes the horizontal exchange between cities, encouraging knowledge and expertise exchange and supporting sustainable practices on governance, integrated infrastructure, economic development, and municipal services among other cross-cutting topics. COVID-19 has transformed the formats as it has transformed everything and put us in a challenging position to adapt to new ways of working, collaborating, and evolving. The amazing and resilient teams that carry out the phases and support the city teams and the technical and city specialists that constantly contribute to this complex fabric of good practices, learnings, and experiences. We are very happy and proud to contribute to this program and thankful for all the good people and learnings that in brings.

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