Design sprints

Design or co-creation sprints are fast paced creative processes. They bring various experts together to ideate on a selected topic or theme. The goal of the sprints is to innovate and find solutions through facilitated co-design activities. Design sprints can be fit to different needs and contexts, and within district innovation labs they have proven to be a useful tool to support multi-sectoral co-creation in urban development projects.

Utilising design thinking methodology, design sprints can support validating ideas, solving problems, and developing products, services or processes. Design sprints have been widely used in the fields of software and product development but the methodology has also found its way to urban development and spatial planning as well as innovation management. The process has proven to be an efficient way to support multi-sectoral collaboration in urban development projects.

The sprint typically lasts 2–5 days and consists of five phases: understand, define, sketch, decide, and prototype. Design sprints start by gathering insights and understanding different perspectives of a specific problem. In the context of urban environment and innovation, the first phase can include e.g. keynote speakers, interviews, empathy mapping, an excursion or a walking tour in relevant areas. Next, the aim is to define the topic or issue together in more detail and make a clear problem statement. After brainstorming and sketching ideas together, the team will select the best ones and develop them further into a prototype that illustrates the possible result or outcome for the challenge. Depending on the nature of the challenge and sprint, the solution can then be tested with the end users.

Depending on the needs and goals of the sprint, the sessions can be open to all interested parties by invitation or to a specific group of professionals. Design sprints can also be used as a way to build an ecosystem and engage relevant stakeholders to a new project, or to support an agile piloting programme.


Virtual Verdure

In the Virtual Verdure project (2019-2020), Design sprints were applied in the context of urban planning, and adjusted to meet the needs of a green infrastructure project. The aim of the project was to co-create an operating model that would holistically consider ecosystem services in the urban planning process. Within the project, three design sprint events were organized to bring experts from different sectors and professional fields together to co-create solutions and deepen their understanding on green infrastructure and its planning.

Each design sprint lasted two full working days and consisted of an introduction and multiple workshops around the design sprint’s theme. The introductions included e.g. discussions, keynote speakers, excursions and walking tours, creating a common ground and starting point for the team’s co-creation process. In the workshops, different approaches were utilised to enhance creative problem solving, such as model blocks, city planning maps and sketching street cross-sections with green infrastructure solutions.

The design sprints created an open forum for sharing thoughts and opinions, and developing ideas across sectors and professional fields. The practical approach for problem solving facilitated discussion around green infrastructure and issues that must be taken into consideration when planning a greener urban environment. It also encouraged participants to raise questions and discuss important topics with other experts that they otherwise would not probably encounter in their work, and to bring the outcomes to real life planning cases.