Validation and the learning cycle
The learning cycle is the starting point for the Lean Startup for city-making. In business the goal is to make a successful product or service which nurtures a specific business model, while in city-making the goal is to make successful places which make an impact on peoples' lives. A key to the Lean Startup is to admit that every action you take to make an impact in a city has an element of uncertainty. This can be difficult for design professionals and experts who have thrived on their expert knowledge being unquestioned.
The level of uncertainty in a project can vary from inconsequential to extremely high. The effects of uncertainty become magnified with the amount of resources involved in a project and how important a project element is perceived to be. The learning loop focusses on testing the most important assumptions in your project with the minimum resources as quickly as possible. To reduce uncertainty ideas need to be tested and to achieve validated learning the lean startup focuses on three questions:
What do we want to learn?
How do we measure it?
What do we need to build?
The goal of the learning loop (Build - Measure - Learn) is to get through the whole cycle as quickly as possible. This process is called validation. The result of validation is knowing that an idea was worth doing.
Yet, in some placemaking and tactical urbanism projects with communities, the focus drifts directly on to 'what should we build?'. After all, people involved in placemaking projects really want action (the fun part) rather than another talkfest, so, the focus on doing is acceptable for community members.
However, staying disciplined and focussing on learning makes the difference between a scattergun approach with unmeasured benefits and a virtuous cycle which will add increasing value to a community through each iteration. We believe this aspect - focussing on the entire learning loop - is where professional city-makers need to sharpen their skills and be more valuable to their communities.
The bias toward action of the startup approach has helped our clients to reduce risk and cost, and accelerate outcomes and build relationships with place stakeholders and delighted their communities. The startup approach is great for quickly establishing a rhythm of of build-measure-learn for projects when resources are available. Yet cities are not businesses and the regulatory environment in which they operate can cause headaches for city makers. The start-up approach needs to be combined with the traditions of urbanism.