Collaborative Geodesign

People, Environment, and Tools

Peter Wiringa, University of Minnesota

Some context

Project: New Agricultural Bioeconomy

“…[provides] state-of-the-art technology for exploring new opportunities to enhance economy, environment, and community vitality in agricultural regions of Minnesota.”

AOI: Seven Mile Creek

24,000 acres of fun!

Seven Mile Creek area



“Geodesign is a design and planning method which tightly couples the creation of design proposals with impact simulations informed by geographic contexts.”

— Michael Flaxman

Collaborative geodesign

“…[a] framework for design projects which required iteration, feedback, and collaboration”

— Carl Steinitz

Three core areas

  1. People
  2. Environment
  3. Tool(s)

1. People

Put people first

  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Build community
  • Build trust
  • Work together

People need tasks and goals

There's a reason you need a collaborative geodesign tool, and a reason your stakeholders should be using it. Don't put something in front of them without a clear task or goals, grounded in the real world.

Why belabor this?

Every project is different.

Every team is different.

Do what you need to do.

2. Environment

Plan Ahead

Cramped quarters? Wide open spaces? As with any event, get familiar with the space(s) you'll have to work in ahead of time, if possible.

Comfort zones

  • People may not know each other,
  • they may not even like each other,
  • but they need to be able to collaborate.

What medium?
Or, media?

  • Pencil & paper
  • Whiteboard
  • Tablet
  • Large touchscreen

Our choice

  • 55" touchscreens
  • Rolling cases
  • Windows 8.1 (not by choice?)
  • Chrome
Group of stakeholders working around a 55” touchscreen

3. Tools

The right tool(s)…

  • …support the people (and their task)
  • …work in the environment
  • …allow for iteration, feedback, and collaboration

Support the people

  • Usable tools
  • Accessible tools
  • Tools that support “mistakes”
  • Anticipate (or observe) needs
  • Tools that provide valuable reference data (layers)
  • Scenarios that they can understand and run with

Work in the environment

  • Where are you taking the tool?
  • Can you even get the tool in the door?
  • Power?
  • Network?


  • Results…just like that!
  • Refine the previous design
  • Load older designs


  • Design results
  • Comparative results
  • Not fixed in time (e.g., price)
Results display for a single design
Results display for multiple designs
Price control slider tools


  • You laid the groundwork, right?
  • Keep it simple, but expose a lot
  • Groups should be able to mediate themselves
  • Keep someone from your team available to assist
  • Consider having someone softly shadow each group

Support by testing and observing

  • There's no substitute for actual users
  • They need to iterate, so do you
  • Observe, adjust, repeat
  • Interrogate their needs
  • Be gentle

Bonus ideas

  • Timestamp everything
  • Allow playbacks

Time's up

Thanks for coming. Any questions?