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Ideas from diverse lenses: Facilitating an ideation workshop for OpenCity

December 08, 2020 Deepthi Chand

“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it’s the only one we have .” — Émile Chartier

Just like in many areas of life, this famous quote by French philosopher Émile Chartier holds a lot of truth when it comes to the design and development of technology. While ideas are the life-breath of any innovative work that we do, it’s important to consider a number of ideas coming from diverse perspectives to widen our perspective and reach more holistic solutions.

We tried embarking on such an exploration in OpenCity redesign project that we are doing. OpenCity is a city-level data repository hosted and developed by Oorvani Foundation and Data Meet.

After gaining many insights about the users in the research, we moved towards ideation. Ideation is a crucial part of the design thinking process and we attempted to follow a more participatory approach to this phase. For this, we conducted an ideation workshop with participants who fall under the user buckets that we had identified earlier during research.

How are ideation sessions with stakeholders/users beneficial in the design process?

An ideation workshop is a dedicated session for creative thought facilitated for different stakeholders or a diverse set of users. Ideation sessions are conducted after a considerable amount of design research (“Empathise” phase in design thinking process) is done and when the team has identified key questions for the project that needs ideas on.

Steps in the design thinking process

A brief (or questions) is given to the participants of the sessions as pointers for ideation and they are encouraged to engage in free creative thought using various ideation techniques.

The aim here is to refrain from thinking about the quality of the ideas and focusing on generating a large number of ideas that can later be analyzed and narrowed down. Thus the team gets a whole bunch of fresh perspectives to proceed within the project rather than following a constraint path. An added advantage is that these ideas are coming from a diverse set of users or stakeholders; having these ideas from the people who face the problems that we are trying to solve always fosters human-centeredness.

It is also highly possible that some of the ideas generated by participants in these sessions could have great value. While some ideas may seem impossible from a practical point of view, they might potentially help pave stepping stones on the future scope of the project.

How did we conduct the ideation workshop?

Towards the end of the design research, we got many insights which needed explorations for solutions. We framed these insights into pointers for ideation as ‘How might we’ questions, an ideation technique that lets us frame a problem into a brief for which ideas can be thought of.

Some of the How-might -we question that we generated

For example, one of the insights that we gained in the research was that for users, knowing that the data is reliable and authentic is a prime need.

We framed this insight into a pointer for ideation as:

“How might we help the users be ensured about the reliability of data hosted on OpenCity?”

To get ideas from different points of view, we further mapped these questions into themes like:

  • Community engagement
  • Data and its accessibility
  • Values of OpenCity
  • Information dissemination
  • Visual representation of data and aesthetics
  • Sustainability

Ideas VS The pandemic!

The picture that usually comes to our mind when we say “ideation workshop” is pretty colorful; filled with sticky notes, markers of varied colors, chart papers, and scissors! But unfortunately, we had to work with a lot of constraints because of the pandemic. The session had to be conducted online and that meant none of the things mentioned above could be used!

The picture that usually comes to our mind when we say “ideation workshop” is pretty colorful; filled with sticky notes, markers of varied colors, chart papers, and scissors! Photo by Frans Van Heerdenon pexels

Compared to in-person sessions, it’s slightly more challenging to facilitate an ideation workshop online and it’s trickier to ensure that the participants are comfortable and having a good time and are not feeling lost in any way. But sticking to basics helped us to overcome that challenge.

Although while planning the workshop, we explored various online tools that allowed facilitating workshops, after a lot of thought we decided to simply make use of Google Docs, mainly because the participants would be already familiar and much more comfortable using docs than any other tool. Using a tool that was really familiar for the participants was really important; it helped prevent any confusion using a new tool, which definitely would have been a blocker in free-flowing creative thought.

Screenshots of some of the ideas participants jotted down during the session

The participants we had for the workshop were members of Oorvani Foundation and CivicDataLab, and they were from diverse expertise fitting our user buckets. Before the session began, we divided the participants whom we had invited into four groups and assigned a member from our team to facilitate the ideation session for each group.

All the participants and our team met on a Google Meet call and after a short ice-breaking session and a briefing about the session, we dispersed into 4 groups. Each group was given a set of How-might we questions from different themes to generate ideas on. The facilitators for each group asked the participants to jot down as many ideas as possible for each question within a set time. We encouraged the participants to be non-judgemental of the ideas that come to their mind and let go of constraints like practicality. In each group, participants created a lot of fascinating ideas for each question. When the time for ideating was up, all of us gathered together again and had a fun discussion before parting.

After the session: Mapping and analysis of the ideas

An important task that followed after the ideation session for the design team was to collate all the ideas and analyze them. If the ideation workshop needed us to wear a creative hat and not be constrained in thought, the mindset needed for the analysis was the complete opposite.

Now, the team had to look at each idea generated in the session with more of an analytical lens, trying to understand the particular perspective the idea came from, what the participant was trying to suggest to us through an idea, and of course the practicality of the idea.

To make this process easier we mapped all the ideas to the earlier themes and together as a team we discussed the possibilities presented in each idea. We marked all the ideas which could fit into the current scope of the project and we mapped the ones which could be interesting to look at in the future scope of the project. A lot of the ideas hold potentially interesting directions and we can revisit them for the future phases of the project.

Mapping and analysis of the ideas received in the session

Looking back

Fast forward some time, we can say these ideas generated by the participants have greatly shaped the design and the outcomes that we are looking at in the project right now. Doing an ideation workshop for OpenCity has helped in shaping the project in a much better way than we would have otherwise. It has helped us look beyond our narrow perspectives and see things from multiple angles before building the final end product. Above all, generating a lot of ideas with the participants who are coming from different expertise and perspectives has helped us to look at things much more holistically.

“Are you interested in ideating or conceptualizing about Better Cities? Come say hi to us at bettercities@civicdatalab.in

About the Authors

Charley Vincent is a Design Researcher at CivicDataLab who is curious about enquiring about the intricacies of human experiences with technology. Specialized in Human-Centered Design, he strives to facilitate social change through thoughtful design of technology, systems, and services, keeping human experiences at the center. In his free time, he enjoys writing fiction and poetry.

Divya Rani is a Designer at CivicDataLab who loves observing the human to human to society behaviours and patterns to design experiences and narrate stories. She’s a graphic designer who loves crafting brands and narrating their stories visually. Having worked with companies of varied sizes and across continents, she’s currently exploring the possibilities of designing and telling stories for change.

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