SDN Team
Author - SDN Team

LaMA is short for Laboratoria Mobiele Alternatieven. It is a co-creative design process developed to find cheap and simple solutions with great impact on local mobility issues.

Service Design Award 2019 WINNER

Laboratoria Mobiele Alternatieven - by Twisted Studio

Category: Professional Non-Profit/Public Sector

Client: Netwerk Duurzame Mobiliteit / Komimo

Location: Belgium


LaMA is short for Laboratoria Mobiele Alternatieven. It is a cocreative design process developed to find creative and simple solutions with great impact on mobility issues in small cities. LaMA results in regulations and interventions created from the bottom-up and consequently have large local support.

We were involved in the project since its start in 2016 until this year. Our briefing was to develop a model trajectory for facilitators with minimal experience in service design. It needs to lead to simple and affordable solutions with great potential for safety for children, for alternative means of transportation, and for a healthier environment. In addition, solutions need to be acceptable to all stakeholders.

The project’s underlying challenge is to infuse local administrations with a design thinking mind-set and to open up their decision-making process. Our client realizes that it is less and less an option to design solutions for mobility from the top down. Citizens are the central users in public space. However, they are all too often not consulted when looking for solutions and they are demanding to be heard.

Photos by: Koen Van Overmeiren, Karen Nachtergaele, Brecht Boelens, Michiel Devijver, Marlies Deforche, Elizabeth Verhetsel


The entire project is run to research how design thinking may support citizen participation in local decision making on mobility. To do this we ran an entire, though light, design process in each city that joined the LaMA-program. In the first year the design team consisted of two designers from our agency and three staff members from the client. In the following years, we took on a coaching role from the sideline. From then on,

the design process was executed by the client. We trained their staff members to be able to facilitate a LaMA-process themselves. Recently we identified insights and design challenges for a training program on a bigger scale and helped formulate the framework for a training program prototype. This illustrates how our partner and client also takes a step back in favour of cities taking the lead themselves.

The small budget pushed us to be efficient and keep things simple. For sustainability reasons we designed our process and tools so our client is able to continue without us. The process is lean and all developed tools are easy to use and customize.

The model trajectory consists of:

  • A research phase
  • Two co-design sessions
  •  A phase to build high fidelity prototypes
  • A test phase in real time
  • An evaluation session

The research phase starts by collecting relevant data from the city. They identify a problem zone in terms of mobility. On average 10 to 15 local stakeholders are interviewed and we experience traffic by immersion using different means of transportation. All data is then brought together on a research wall. The design team uncovers patterns and insights. Challenges are defined and phrased as ‘How might we’- questions.

Photos by Koen Van Overmeiren, Karen Nachtergaele, Brecht Boelens, Michiel Devijver, Marlies Deforche, Elizabeth Verhetsel

Next step is to organize two co-design workshops. On average 30 people participate per workshop. Mostly adults, but our methods were used successfully with children as well. The number of participants depends on how well the invitation is shared, how clear the challenge is, and the sense of urgency experienced by stakeholders.

One workshop focusses on ideation and one on rapid prototyping. We chose to split this over two workshops so that ideas can be developed into depth. Two workshops also allow for different people to participate and to build on ideas. And it allows for growing support among stakeholders. About a month in between the workshops is ideal, so word of mouth may spread and more people can be mobilized. Finally, the time between the workshops allows for input from experts and a mandate from the city council to continue or leave behind ideas.

In the second workshop, feedback from the experts and the city council is clearly communicated to participants through a ‘briefing’. This way, we are able to manage expectations and stay within the boundaries of what was technically, legally and politically feasible. The design of the workshop works well to create space for stakeholders to create wild and self-owned ideas while being guided within the boundaries needed to keep the support of the city council.

Helpful methods to create this space are flexible facilitation rules, voting criteria and a set of design principles. These principles are based on mobility research and design thinking:

  • Play with the mobility aspect you can influence yourself
  • Simplicity is boss
  • Safety for children above all else
  • Every car driver is part of the solution
  • Build on each other’s ideas

The final ideas are brought to the city council for a ‘go ahead’ to start building high fidelity prototypes. We seek participation from citizens during the building phase as well. Citizens built prototypes such as little gardens in parking spaces, public furniture in streets, or route indicators. Their participation brings experiential and technical expertise, creates ambassadors for the project as well as word of mouth communication.

The high fidelity prototypes are then tested in real time. Depending on the time needed to learn about their impact and desirability, they are tested over a timeframe ranging from one day to several months. The prototypes range from awareness campaigns, neighbourhood festivals to interventions in infrastructure.

In the end, there is an evaluation phase with a session to which all stakeholders were invited. This session proved to be extremely important in keeping the public’s support. In the city of Beveren a live prototype had cut a street in the middle. This caused a lot of opposition from shopkeepers and residents. There were 80 people present at the evaluation session. All of them were invited to first criticize, and in the next step, to find solutions. The solution they came up with was traffic barriers at both ends of the street to control traffic. These would go down at the start and end of a school day. It was far more radical than what the city would have dared to implement. The process was able to turn tension into support.


On a city level, most LaMA processes resulted in the type of solutions and dynamics we were looking for, though some were more impactful than others.

Examples of implemented solutions:

  • Waregem: walking routes starting from car parks at the edge of the city. Locals looking to shop or drop children at school take the routes to avoid the often car-clogged streets.
  • Beveren: the earlier mentioned traffic barriers at both ends of a street with two schools was eventually implemented accompanied by one way traffic in two streets and a ‘bikestreet’ (where bikes have priority over cars).
  • Tienen: a parking lot near a large school, a cultural centre and an office building was rearranged with kiss and ride zones, walking routes and a ‘schoolstreet’ (only walking children and parents allowed).

On a project level, the outputs consisted of a set of ‘good practice’ tools based on our own iterations in the three pilot cities in the first year. We drew a timeline detailing steps to take in each design process for each city with indications for the duration of each phase.

For the research phase, we provided:

  • A guide on interviewing and observations including a standard protocol for interviews
  • A guide on finding insights and writing design challenges.

We drafted a list of all challenges developed in the pilot cities. We learned that several challenges are common in most Flemish cities, such as ‘How might we make maximal use of cars bringing kids to school anyway’ or ‘How might we separate slow and fast traffic on busy streets’. The list of challenges also serves as inspiration. We also provided a set of inspiring practices for improving local mobility issues using Google Slides. This can be used in a presentation tailored to the city’s needs.

For the two co-design workshops, we provided:

  • Workshop scenarios with detailed instructions
  • An accompanying Google Slides set, that can be used for visual reporting
  • A series of canvasses to support the facilitation of each workshop (see visual document)

The graphic design of all tools is simple and clean, nearly non-existent, to keep the budget low and to make them easy to understand and familiar looking for participants. We use Google Slides to make most tools with good reason. First, because users are able to customize and fill in the blanks easily, at no extra cost. Secondly, les can be easily shared, allowing collaborative work and learning from other team members.

Our most important canvas is our Ideation Canvas. For each design challenge, a canvas is filled with supporting insights and citizen’s quotes, as a summary of the research. There is space for participants to draw their idea and to write a title. Four personas can be printed on the back. The personas are provided in a standard version and need to be customized.

Photos by Koen Van Overmeiren, Karen Nachtergaele, Brecht Boelens, Michiel Devijver, Marlies Deforche, Elizabeth Verhetsel

Other tools supporting the co-design workshops are:

  • Develop your idea: template with guiding questions to explain the idea into detail
  • User scenario: template for describing a possible user story before, during and after using the new solution.
  • Think to build: template to help build a rapid prototype with reflection questions on what exactly to test.
  • Rapid Feedback: template to use when testing a rapid prototype with others, containing four questions: What worked? What didn’t work? What questions were asked? Did new inspiration come up?
  • Darts Canvas: template to vote on an idea on four criteria: originality, viability, desirability and impact.

For the test phase, we provided:

  • A list of items to watch out for and tips for keeping the needed mindset.
  • A tool to support street interviews: a journey map inviting to make graphic notes as a way to document the tested experience

For the evaluation phase, we provided:

  • A method for evaluating the prototypes
  • A method for evaluating the LaMA-process

The most recent output is a training program. We helped our client develop a training program for local civil servants and citizens. It aims to be self-sustaining, by generating an income independent of government funding. The target is 30 trainees in the first year. The trainers will be not be us, but the people who were trained by us or who learned from the LaMA-process and training program. Our role becomes less and less important, just as we want it.


On the city level, there was an impact from the interventions. A few documented cases:

  • Beveren: the traffic barriers and accompanying regulations resulted in about 70% less traffic in the neighbourhood. This result was very welcome since many interventions in the past failed.
  • Tienen: the rearranged parking lot resulted in a huge reduction in conflicts between pedestrians and bikes and no more cars driving all the way to the school gate. The feeling of safety improved a lot.

More than half of the processes had a good result, meaning that what was learned in the test phase lead to actual implementation and further iteration. When this didn’t happen, it was usually due to external factors such as work on certain roads that fall outside the city’s jurisdiction. A few times the city council didn’t follow up on the project’s conclusions, often following a few complaints of local shopkeepers worried about access to their stores. Another important reason for failure was when a group of citizens didn’t feel included. When this occurs, they tend to refuse a change in behaviour or may block the process.

On a project level, we see an impact on city politics. We observed that the design thinking mindset, which emphasizes including citizens and stakeholders and learning from testing early on, is a real eye-opener for city councils. We see that they learn from this, not only for their mobility challenges but for their entire way of governing. Tienen, for example, is now including citizens in the decision making for other themes than mobility, and is supporting citizen initiatives.

Photos by Koen Van Overmeiren, Karen Nachtergaele, Brecht Boelens, Michiel Devijver, Marlies Deforche, Elizabeth Verhetsel

In the second year of the project, our client launched a call to join LaMA to all sixty small Flemish cities. Thirty wanted to participate based on the results of the first year. That is 50% of the cities and triple the amount we had in the first year. In that year we were hired for parallel projects by cities and organizations that couldn’t join a LaMA-program. Design thinking was on demand.

In the third year, the tools were published online while more LaMA’s were run, lead by our client. Without much promotion, the landing page was viewed 2300 times between its launch in 2018 and March 2019. All LaMA-pages together were viewed 8550 times.

Our client reported to have adopted the design thinking mindset in their day to day work and in how they organize meetings. Cocreation, prototyping and taking a user’s perspective has become the norm.

Our client is a network of 8 organizations, of which one is a network of 104 member associations. Even among these member associations, we see that design thinking is trickling down. Some have become a client with us themselves.

On a human level, our client reports more collaboration and trust among their member associations. This effect was also noticed between the politicians, civil servants and other stakeholders in the cities.

The impact did match our initial expectations. Furthermore, the belief in the importance of citizens participation in finding solutions is strengthened and supported by the evidence that the project gathered. The collaboration with a design thinking agency allowed our client to transform their beliefs into action.


LaMA serves as inspiration for a new form of democracy on a local level.

What we learned:

  1. Avoid hierarchy in the city’s administration. It’s counterproductive for creating solutions bottom-up.
  2. Don’t design on your own: involve key stakeholders and look out for a good mix of people.
  3. Keep the process accessible to everyone.
  4. Stay true to the design thinking mindset: a positive process with early on testing and iterations towards viable solutions.
  5. The more extensive the research phase, the better.
  6. Make sure the challenge and the way of working are crystal clear.
  7. Open and clear communication at every step with lots of visuals. A fantastic process is worth nothing when nobody on the outside knows about it.
  8. Integrate expertise at the right time to find out what is viable and according to regulations. To do this too early on will kill the stakeholders’ sense of ownership.
  9. Allow all stakeholders to be involved in decisions in every phase of the process.

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