Christie Yuen RGD shares tips for tackling a complex design project with multiple stakeholders

Case Study by Christie Yuen RGD, Urban Strategies Inc.

Working closely with a Task Force of mayors and the Capital Region Board, consisting of 24 member municipalities surrounding Edmonton, the design team was asked to tackle a comprehensive update to the existing growth plan for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. 


The Edmonton Metropolitan Region is one of the fastest growing regions in Canada, and is anticipated to grow to a region of two million people by 2044. The Growth Plan Update outlines preparation for an integrated policy framework to manage growth, integrate land use, build infrastructure and promote the long-term prosperity of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. The Plan sets a path to achieve a balance between the urban and rural nature of the region, determine a compact and responsible growth pattern that preserves natural areas and agricultural lands and also promotes the global economic competitiveness of the region.




In 2010, the Province of Alberta approved the Growth Plan for the Capital Region, the first regional growth plan in twenty years. As part of the five-year mandated review of the Plan in 2014, the Capital Region Board (CRB) retained Urban Strategies and ISL Engineering and Land Services to undertake a review and evaluation of the existing Growth Plan. By Summer 2016 the document was ready to be designed, and in October 2016 the Plan was successfully adopted by the CRB. 





The previous Growth Plan (2010) and similar documents from other cities such as Saskatoon, Melbourne and the Bay area in California, were used as a starting point. It was necessary for the design of the document to appeal to a wide range of audiences, including municipal planning staff, elected officials, other orders of government, stakeholders and the public. The Plan was prepared under a fixed pre-determined budget, with limited funding allocated to graphic design and the layout and production of the report. Therefore, it was important to be resourceful and efficient when working within a limited timeline and budget.



The Growth Plan was executed through the following phases, with the design process introduced for Phases 4 and 5: 

Phase 1 – Regional Vision: Why do we need a Growth Plan? What is the vision for managing growth?

Phase 2 – Analysis and Scenarios: What are different approaches to manage growth? How should the region grow?
Phase 3 – Policy Development: How will we get there? What tools, mechanisms and policies best achieve the outcome?
Phase 4 – Draft Growth Plan: Prepare Draft Growth Plan*
Phase 5 – Final Growth Plan: Refine and finalize Growth Plan*



Key Takeaways


Encourage clients to consider design from the very beginning. Because the design process was only brought in for the last six months of the project, other documents created during the two year process ended up looking different from the final document. Having design involved from the start would have ensured greater consistency in the overall flow of the Plan.


When working as part of an in-house team, make sure everyone involved is on the same page. In-house designers often times are not in direct contact with clients, so if you’re not the client’s main contact, make sure your colleagues understand your design thinking and direction for the project so they can effectively communicate your ideas to the client.    


Establish trust with the client, understand the objectives and check in often during the early stages. It is important to make sure you have a full understanding of the objectives and vision for the design from the start of the project. In this case, not having the full picture meant that the document went through a redesign three times. Even if it’s just snippets of a project, sending your design ideas at early stages will help gather feedback and also ease the client’s nerves, especially if they’re not familiar with your capabilities.


Allocate a project manager. Having one person as the main contact can help everyone on both sides to stay on track and make sure the project is completed in a timely manner. 


Be strategic in setting the project timeline. Understand the project plan and timeline so the team can allocate resources when needed. When establishing this timeline, ask questions and consider potential issues that may come up during the process. For a project at this scale, there are many other consultants involved and if one team doesn’t complete their task on time, it affects the overall work flow.


Stay in touch. Regular communication between client and project team is key for this type of work. Even if it’s just a check-in email on progress, the client will always appreciate updates. As this client was in Edmonton, email and phone were the main tools for communicating on this project and we held bi-monthly meetings with stakeholders and the project team. These meetings allowed everyone to weigh in at specific points of the process to gather meaningful feedback.  


The Edmonton Metropolitan Growth Plan was successfully adopted by the Capital Region Board through a Board vote and was very well received. The graphic design and document layout helped convey the key messages of the Plan and generate buy-in and support.


Going forward, the Growth Plan will be used as a statutory planning document and an educational component to help the Edmonton Metropolitan Region grow in a more compact and sustainable manner into the future.