Enquiry by Design

"A decade of successes for my projects has clearly demonstrated to me the power and cost-effectiveness of ESD's Enquiry by Design processes, which have been instrumental in assisting agencies to set agendas, break log jams, reveal practical solutions to extremely complex urban challenges, and invite broad stakeholder support."

Evan Jones - National Planning Director, Multiplex, and former Director, Planning Implementation, Ministry for Planning, Western Australia and former Director of Sydney Strategy for NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources

Because the factors influencing urban success are highly inter-dependent, Enquiry by Design, as practiced by ESD, integratively responds to all project issues and impacts, including environmental, economic and social matters, and at all scales ranging from architecture to the sub-region.

Recognising that policy alone cannot solve urban problems or reconcile divergent points of view among decision-makers or stakeholders, ESD tests and evolves proposals by indicatively designing them for their particular sites, in response to all known project objectives and parameters.  ESD generally conducts this process at or near the project site and in collaboration with key stakeholders, in order to learn from the site and stakeholders, as well as to determine with them the real place-specific choices available.

The extraordinary value of Enquiry by Design is that its transparent, objective, collaborative, and intensely integrative design-based approach unleashes the power of reason, quite consistently and quickly to inspire a 'culture shift' among stakeholders toward a broadly supported outcome that works for almost everyone.

ESD is widely credited with having introduced Enquiry by Design (particularly Charrettes and Sustainable Design Training Workshops) to both Australia (1992) and New Zealand (1996), and has continued to hone its skills and expand its experience ever since.  This depth of experience is why ESD for over a decade has been involved in preparing for, leading and designing, by means of Enquiry by Design, some of the largest and most complex and controversial projects in Australia, such as the Western Sydney Urban Land Release for a future population of 380,000.

ESD's suite of Enquiry by Design processes includes Charrettes, Design Workshops, Scoping Workshops, and Sustainable Design Training Workshops.  Usually lasting a week or less, the short duration and integrative design-based intensity of Enquiry by Design exercises induce highly creative, cost-effective, holistic and practical outcomes, usually enjoying wide support from participating stakeholders and regulators.  

Enquiry by Design processes generally commence with a project/site briefing and a presentation by workshop leaders Chip Kaufman and/or Wendy Morris, which considers the challenges and opportunities of the specific project, and the objectives of the exercise in a context of achievable urban sustainability. Enquiry by Design processes conclude with an integrated presentation explaining the outcomes of the exercise. Enquiry by Design requires rigorous preparation beforehand and usually requires some sort of outcomes report and follow-through afterwards.

At least initially, Enquiry by Design outcomes are sometimes positioned as non-binding, as no one can know whether the outcomes will be worthy until after they have been produced. Participants are initially only asked to support the process.  Moreover, outcomes are generally recognised to be indicative, (ie. one particular solution for a problem, for which there may be many solutions, so long as they also meet the project objectives).

For public sector projects ESD often forms a joint team with public sector client/s, recognising the pivotal regulatory and implementation role of that government authority and the benefit of involving it deeply in the formative Enquiry by Design process.

The ESD team generally does not commence this process with a design already in hand. While extensive preparation of existing conditions information is necessary beforehand, all designing takes place collaboratively with the participating stakeholders, as they almost always inform the outcome in ways that could not be anticipated.

Recognising the value of 'reflection time', some Enquiries by Design allow for an interim period of weeks or more midway through a two-stage process, during which decision-makers and stakeholders can reflect on what they have learned, outstanding questions can be researched, and designs can 'gestate', prior to advancing project proposals further.

These Enquiry by Design processes have consistently enabled stakeholders with sometimes poorly informed or conflicting points of view at the outset to gain wider perspectives, and to become better informed about specific physical solutions.  Enquiry by Design usually enables political 'log jams' to be broken and a shared vision to ensue, leading to regulatory approval and optimised implementation for all concerned.  Instead of the conventional planning approach of sequentially reacting to issues or stakeholders, Enquiry by Design simultaneously and integratively designs in response to all issues and participating stakeholders, by means of place-based design.

A Range of Enquiry by Design Processes

ESD practices four Enquiry by Design processes, all sharing the similarities of being highly integrative, collaborative, and design-based, but differing in their purposes, durations, degrees of stakeholder involvement, and costs.  ESD always customizes its Enquiry by Design approaches in response to the specifics of each project. ESD continues to evolve its array of Enquiry by Design approaches with each new project, and ESD remains keen to incorporate even better approaches.

See the weblinks in the Services menu for more information on ESD's four Enquiry by Design processes; Charrettes, Design Workshops, Sustainable Design Training Workshops, and Scoping Workshops.