New methodology assesses impacts of design on community wellbeing

North American design firm Dialog and The Conference Board of Canada have unveiled the concept behind an emerging methodological approach to measure community wellbeing and offer a standardized industry roadmap for using planning and design to give people, communities, and environments what is required to thrive and reach their potential. The proposed framework will give design professionals an evidence-based mechanism to analyze the implications of urban planning, architectural, interior, engineering, landscape, and sustainable design decision-making based on a measurable set of indicators.

The methodology, whose emerging framework was unveiled at the 2017 World Design Summit in Montreal, seeks to reshape the function of design in city building, allowing urban planners, architects, engineers, and designers to play a critical role in project strategy at the outset, measure the impact of completed projects, guide decision-making throughout a project’s life cycle, and demonstrate a measurable value for community wellbeing.

Community Wellbeing Indicator, Dialog, Conference Board of Canada
A visual representation of the Wellbeing Indicator. Image via Dialog

“We have established a series of recognizable domains, identified their corresponding connection to wellbeing, and suggested indicators that provide measurable quantitative and qualitative data on design decision-making,” says Julia Markovich, senior researcher at The Conference Board of Canada. “Now, we are testing this framework on existing projects to provide a snapshot of how design can positively or negatively affect the wellbeing of people, communities, and their environments.”

To inform case analysis underway, the Conference Board conducted literature review and synthesis, interviews of key informants, practitioners, and stakeholders, and engagement of the DIALOG Steering Committee to define concepts and develop an approach to indicators, measures of community wellbeing, and method to frame indicators.

“The need for empirical evidence that reflects the social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political influence of design to stimulate wellbeing within people and places is industry-wide,” says Antonio Gomez-Palacio, principal at DIALOG. “By measuring the impact of the decisions we make as builders and designers of cities, we can use design as a catalyst for positive change and make community wellbeing the new industry standard.”

The Conference Board of Canada with DIALOG define community wellbeing as “the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions that are essential for individuals and communities to flourish and fulfill their potential.” The indicators for community wellbeing, as expressed in the visual graphic above, have been developed and are being tested on case projects based on five established challenges:

1. Social: Absence or breakdown of community support networks

2. Environmental: Erosion of environments that sustain life at a local and global scale

3. Economic: Life cycle value creation comprising affordability and deepening polarization

4. Cultural: Sense of identity and belonging compromised through displacement and discrimination

5. Political: ignoring key voices and perspectives doom projects to fail and can result in undue burdens (long-term costs) to the project or a group of people

Research and findings from the DIALOG-Conference Board Wellbeing Indicator Framework will be published in early 2018. The framework will be publicly accessible for any individual or organization to contribute to, participate in, and use as a tool with the intent to make city building for community wellbeing an industry standard.