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A day in the life of a one-day 'design sprint'

12 February 2019

Anna Plodowski and George Kalathil discuss the ICE/Wavin design sprint and how the innovative use of ‘design thinking’ could potentially lead to new solutions that allow for better management of surface water.

A day in the life of a one-day 'design sprint'
Delegates are challenged to create blueprints of better management of surface water.

For those in the dark, a ‘design sprint’ is a workshop method designed to stimulate frank and collaborative discussions with the aim of generating innovative ideas and proposals.

Design sprints use ‘design thinking’, an approach where the needs of stakeholders and end-users are used as key inputs to trigger productive insights.

Collective thinking

On 5 December, ICE and Wavin brought together 35 sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) professionals at Wallace Space – an art deco, ocean liner-themed, creative space with supplies of retro candy.

Delegates represented a diverse range of organisations, including local authorities, housing developers, engineering firms, water companies and supply chain partners.

These delegates were challenged to break from the cycle of endless discussion and create four blueprints of projects that would allow better management of surface water.

Working in four teams, the participants whittled over 80 ideas down to four proposition blueprints on better management of surface water according to SuDs principles.

ICE and Wavin will now circulate the results of these sprint sessions and gather more input from the SuDS community, as well as generating more ideas on surface water management.

What is a design sprint?

Design sprints can be as short as a day or as long as several months. Whatever their length, there are three key ingredients:

  • A broad range of participants.
  • A clear structure that enables frank and collaborative discussion, along with the production of innovative proposals.
  • A strong focus on generating clear results – a design sprint should not just be a talking shop.

Design sprints are a particularly good way of re-invigorating domains where people have become bogged down by apparently insurmountable obstacles with the way forward seemingly difficult to plot.

What happened at the ICE-Wavin SuDS Design Sprint?

The day’s activities were in three parts:

    1. Establishing teams and discussion
    2. Brainstorming
    3. Fine tuning

1. Establishing teams and discussion

After a welcome from ICE’s Head of Knowledge, Nathan Baker, and David Balmforth, Technical Director at MWH and ICE Past President, the 40 participants were divided into four teams of 10.

Within teams, participants then shared their hopes and fears about addressing the challenge of improved surface water management.

2. Brainstorming

This happened in two phases. In the first, teams focused on the particular ‘persona’ or ‘end user’ they had been given to work on. Examples included an LLFA [Lead Local Flood Authority], a WaSC (water and sewerage company), a homeowner, or a firm that leases property.

In the second, teams were given 25 examples from different industries where new insights had resulted in the development of innovative solutions. This triggered flexible discussions as participants discussed their favourites within their teams.

3. Fine tuning

Finally, teams elaborated on their own proposals within sub-teams, and then selected one for the whole team to work on.

This included sketching out the aspects of a proposal, using storytelling methods to make links with relevant audiences, and then reporting back the final proposal to all delegates.

The day ended with a discussion of what the next steps would be and what content would be produced after the event.

Related links

To find out more and view content from the ICE-Wavin SuDS Design Sprint, visit the ICE Water page.

  • Anna Plodowski, knowledge content producer at ICE
  • George Kalathil, Communications and insights manager at Apolitical