Imagining Future Urban Challenges: A Dialogic Design Workshop

A Collaborative Foresight Workshop for Imagining Urbanization Challenges

In late August, OCADU’s Strategic Innovation Lab engaged 18 academics and thought leaders from around Ontario in an intensive one-day panel on Imagining Canada’s Future, to formulate a short list of distinct future challenges that SSHRC should address through future research programs. The panel research continues with an OCADU-led research team involving York, Ryerson, Windsor and UOIT in developing the findings and report.

Affording an opportunity for public knowledge mobilization, the question DwD with an open panel of innovators and students in the DwD and university communities.

The framing of the panel was centred around the question:

“As Southern Ontario faces the effects of global urbanization, what are the highest priority social and systemic challenges, now through 2030?”

To further develop a public inquiry into the same question, a community design workshop was held on this important foresight perspective.  What are the opportunities and possible outcomes for a design-led approach to social sciences challenges?  With over 20 creative and professional participants, the session rapidly engaged (and experimented with) variations of dialogic design methods for problem framing and collective sensemaking in the “open sandbox” of the DwD community:

  • Framing of the Triggering Question
  • Generating Challenges – Individual, Paired, and Round Robin
  • Concurrent Clarification of Challenges
  • Voting on Challenges
  • Challenges Selection – Group Scenario Creation

A single visual map of the workshop goals, activities and scenarios was sketched in concert by Charlotte Young and regular Patricia Kambitsch.

To preserve time, only one well-defined challenge per participant was selected.

Four breakout groups composed scenarios from selected challenges, assembling both a set of related problems from challenges and the proposed solutions.

Scenarios were designed to highlight salience of relationships over a 20 year timeline, with guidance to show Milestones, Headlines, and Solutions.

The Open Equitable Diverse society showed the  transformation of government and citizen engagement, from top-down governance to bottom-up “poll” or pull governance. The concept of a Social GPS was proposed as an advanced global social network enabling this transition.

Socially engaged ownership and new systems of urban design, resource management, equitable housing arrangements and neighbourhood communities was envisioned.

A combination of challenges in a problematic network was envisioned being addressed by a positive scenario involving social health, participatory engagement,education services and considering the renewal of the family as a unit of planning.

Two diverse society scenarios were developed. The Feeling Canadian scenario expressed the possible scenarios of a deeply values-centred view of a socially-designed approach to enhancing diversity and while managing urbanization pressures, considering the impacts of city governance, neighbourhood management, and the preservation of Canadian history. Mediators of good government, an educational mandate, and community engagement were proposed.


Another team constructed a classical 2×2 matrix defining four quadrants against the problems of food security and income inequality led to a timeline and solution focus on the quadrant of significant income inequality and managed local food sources. This may be seen as a “highly likely” scenario approach inspiring immediate social action to address probable effects, rather than farsighted solutions.

We started the workshop with a presentation of the dialogic design approach and an overview of the SSH-sponsored panel from the Imagining Canada’s Future project.


Peter Jones, DwD Community Convener and OCADU professor is guiding the workshop and the trial of experimental approaches (visual, technical) to complement the dialogic design method. The session was co-convened with the team of Strategic Foresight and Innovation graduate student Uma Maharaj and visual recording from Charlotte Young and Patricia Kambitsch.