Behind the scenes of Enquiry by Design

Deicke Richards is quite a remarkable multi-disciplinary design practice – not just because of the calibre of the team or standard of their work. Their culture drives a focus on end-users that carries the hallmarks of community development principles (yes, you can see why I might be a fan).

Collaboration is key, but rather than endless spinning of wheels, it enables them to get the job done better, faster and with a higher degree of support from the right stakeholders. I talked with Peter Richards and Cameron Davies, two of the Directors, to learn more about their enquiry by design (EbD) process.

Their urban designers and architects are recognised for their expertise in using the EbD process, having participated in more than 50 workshops from Cairns to Melbourne over the past 15 years. It applies to diverse contexts – they’ve used it for large-scale urban expansion and transport projects, to assist regional Queensland communities dealing with growth and change, and to master plan school campuses.

1. What is EbD?

EbD stands for ‘enquiry by design’. It’s a facilitated design workshop that allows us to ‘enquire’ about a problem, using design skills to explore and test alternative solutions. It is also sometimes called a ‘charrette’.

2. How does it work?

An EbD workshop typically takes one and a half to three days. It is intensive, iterative and collaborative. Our facilitators prepare with a client briefing and review of relevant background material. Depending on the project, this material might include base mapping, aerial photography and technical reports (traffic, environment, economics, social impacts).

A typical workshop program involves: team briefing; tour of site and surrounds; several rounds of design sessions in small groups facilitated by design leaders; facilitated review, critique and discussion. In a three-day workshop, the final day will include the production of more resolved design drawings and a presentation of outcomes or a master plan to the stakeholders.

3. Why does it matter?

The EbD process supports high quality, strategic design outcomes, which have the consensus of key stakeholders.

The process is particularly useful where there are complex or conflicting stakeholder interests. It rapidly makes practical use of relevant information and can deliver credible design outcomes in a highly efficient timeframe. We have clients who have been stalled with a project or caught in lengthy consultative processes sometimes for years. With EbD, they begin to see progress in days.

An EbD workshop brings together key stakeholders by invitation (client groups, local councils, government agencies, community interest groups) and a design team. The workshop may be supported by input from other specialists — a quantity surveyor, traffic engineer, social planner etc. The format brings multiple perspectives to the process and, together, the group rigorously tests alternatives. The interactive nature of the EbD enriches and speeds up the critique and resolution process.

The outcomes are documented in a published report and this can support an accelerated development process. The outcomes report also provides an important reference document, especially if the rationale for decisions needs revisiting during subsequent phases of the project.

In some circumstances the EbD will be the beginning or a part of a larger planning and design process.

4. What are some of the benefits you've seen?

Many local and state government departments and authorities have used the EbD process to plan for growth, dealing with urban expansions and new settlements. The process has also been used to support planning for entirely new cities. The Northern Territory Government hosted an invitation only EbD in 2010 which progressed planning for the future city of Weddell, expected to house between 40,000 and 60,000 people by 2030.

In the education sector, we’ve used the process to assist independent and Catholic schools to develop campus master plans to shape informed decisions and guide a strategic approach to prioritised capital expenditure. The EbD workshop contributes to creating adaptable, cost-efficient and sustainable facilities within well-planned campuses.

(As an aside, here is what one of their clients had to say about the process: “In the most amazing collaborative process over only four days we were able to develop a comprehensive master plan for the next ten years… It had ownership from all, including students, staff, parish and Catholic Education. In less than five weeks we were able to make a detailed submission to the Block Grant Authority which successfully obtained approval for more than $2.1million in 2010, $2million in 2011 and $2.1million in trade training centre funding from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The process is robust, collaborative, efficient, stimulating, inclusive and most assuredly cost effective.” – Jeff Schneider, Principal, Good Counsel College, Innisfail, North Queensland)

For local authority or state government agency clients, EbD workshops may be used to assist with the development of local area plans and planning schemes. The process can assist with planning for:

  • The location of centres within plans for growth or intensification

  • Appropriate land use transitions, by type and density

  • Preferred locations for new community infrastructure

  • The relationships of development to key public transport infrastructure

  • Movement networks for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians

5. Are there non-negotiable principles that make a process a true EbD process?

Defining elements of an EbD include:

  • The direct involvement of stakeholders in the design workshop

  • The involvement of multiple designers; each lead working groups within the workshop

  • Testing of alternative scenarios

Generally people are energised by the opportunity to contribute, to engage with input from other stakeholders and specialists, and to share in the process of evaluation and resolution.

6. Is it only suited to fairly creative thinkers?

It is a creative process and our facilitators bring their skills as designers and visual communicators. The design leaders need to be highly skilled at analysis and at synthesising constraints and opportunities to reveal the most strategic opportunities. The workshops also rely on the designers being skilled at drawing in the workshop environment. Sometimes we also involve an architectural illustrator to create perspectives during the process. However, the stakeholder participants don’t need to be creative; they just need to bring their knowledge and a willingness to contribute.

7. Why is it such an emphasis at Deicke Richards?

As an engaging and consultative process, it sits very comfortably with our values. Across each of the disciplines within the firm, we aim to create appropriate, responsive places. We want to help clients and drive strong community outcomes.

8. How is it different to other design processes?

Clients might sometimes expect the designers to drive a pre-determined agenda. The EbD process genuinely draws on the knowledge and insights that all kinds of stakeholders and other specialists bring to a given scenario.

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Imagine if these principles were applied to other contexts such as program development or even business planning. It’s proof that consultation isn’t the death of a deadline but rather, with the right process, it’s a dynamic way to achieve sustainable results that have value to a broader range of people.

Marketry supported Deicke Richards in developing the strategy and managing the process of redeveloping their website in 2011, together with web designers and developers Silver Pistol.

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