Spacemaker successfully trialled to help municipalities innovate during DigiGrow pilot

Maria Dantz
Maria Dantz September 1, 2021 6 min read

Executive Summary

DigiGrow was an exploratory pilot project in Sweden that aimed to find the right tools and methods to help municipalities digitalize their building processes. As part of the Smart Built Environment national innovation programme, DigiGrow kicked off in 2019 and ended in early 2021. The participating municipalities were Alingsås, Linköping and Umeå. It started with bootcamps focusing on digital business development and moved on to evaluating the innovation capabilities of the participating municipalities. Then the participating municipalities continued with digital test labs to trial new digital tools, and finally, strategic design sprints were held to develop new, future building processes.

“We can see that we have clearly contributed to Smart Built Environment’s impact goal of faster construction (1), among other things, through the prototypes we have developed for new digital planning and building permit processes.”  

– Agnes Säfvenstedt, project manager DigiGrow.

Purpose and goals

DigiGrow was carried out as an exploratory pilot project which aimed to find which tools and methods work best to establish a more experimental approach that the participating municipalities needed to succeed with more complex tasks. Also, it amed to explore how a silo mentality can be managed and what is required to bring about cultural change within the organizations. The project involved both top level management and specialists. Spacemaker was used as part of the digital testlabs, where cross-functional teams of experts from different parts of the organisations participated. Together, the learning tracks and activities have led to an increase in innovation capacity and the shift from realizing the need to digitalize into knowing how to take action.  

The project goals:

1. Test and implement new working methods in the community building process

2. Increase cooperation with stakeholders in the municipality 

3. Compare current and future working methods with regards to efficiency and cost 

4. Measure the municipality’s and/ or the administration’s innovation capability before and after the pilot

Digital testlabs platforms and software

In the different digital testlabs, data sharing platforms and tools were tested in collaboration with S-Group Solution, Complete 3D and Trimble. Generative, or parametric design was tested with Spacemaker and Sweco Arkitekter. Digitizing of detailed development plans was tested with software from S-Group Solutions and Sokigo. The testlabs were performed online due to the pandemic.

In the digital testlabs, two cities – Umeå and Linköping – tested Spacemaker, potentially to use for their project developments.

City of Umeå

The team from Umeå, situated in the north of Sweden, tested Spacemaker by applying actual data from a detailed development plan that was approved in 2019. Spacemaker was used to experiment with different levels of noise, sunlight, daylight and living spaces in the residential block, with the participants able to view the analysis results directly on the screens. Spacemaker was compared to another software solution and judged as both easier to work with and quick to get started with, as well as being the tool providing artificial intelligence. The assessment concluded that the only elements required for the city to make use of Spacemaker were a digital detailed development plan, a land model and some other relevant data. With that data at hand it would be possible to gather developers and other departments from the city to evaluate aspects such as the scale and volume of buildings, create both transparency and facilitate dialogue between the different stakeholders.   

City of Linköping

The City of Linköping, a fast growing city in central Sweden, gathered an expert team consisting of GIS-engineers, traffic-engineers, building permit officers, local planning architects and landscape architects for their digital test lab. In their investigation of Spacemaker, they concluded that software such as Spacemaker may be an important complement to existing planning tools. For example to make the planning outcomes more accurate and faster using city data to simulate different solutions and the way they perform, and to take advantage of generative design. The group also appreciated Spacemaker’s user friendliness.   

“Generative design is very interesting in the early stages of urban development. Likewise to simulate how different proposals are affected by noise, wind and sunlight. The municipality is today a major purchaser of research and analysis, such as noise investigations. It was exciting to be able to do such things with Spacemaker’s technology and on real data from a Swedish city.” 

– Patrick Maskåll, responsible for the public building administration’s digitalization in Linköping.

Sun analysis on a demo project in the the Digital testlab session

The importance of visualisation in urban planning

The final report for the Digigrow project emphasized the importance of visualization using digital tools, e.g. for noise analysis, which is an important, mandatory and highly complicated part of the detailed development planning process. Spacemaker was highlighted to illustrate how the City of Umeå could decrease the time for noise analysis from months to days, without the decrease of important quality, and especially the possibility to conduct noise analyses for more building alternatives in the early planning stages.

In the final reports, the benefits of introducing data visualization in the early stages of urban planning are summarized as: 

The authors concluded that “digitalization is of most benefit when it is used to visualize”. 

A new way of working

The digital transformation of the participating municipalities in Digigrow has been a journey towards new ways of working, as opposed to digitizing existing ways of working. Most of the project was also done remotely due to the pandemic, and still the participants were able to collaborate efficiently.

“When the rest of the world is digitized, we cannot just stand and watch. Digitalization and sustainability are the biggest driving forces right now in urban development. Through DigiGrow, we have received help to identify the basis for a new working method and collaboration process that we continue to develop during 2021. 

Agnes Sävenstedt, Project Manager for DigiGrow.

Agnes Sävenstedt concludes that in the same way as companies today work with innovation and product development, municipalities need to work faster and more consistently. 

Where to now?

Some of the lessons and insights from DigiGrow are now packaged as training as a pilot in the Smart Built Environment project Micro-learning. Through training courses, more people can take part in the lessons learned and experiences from DigiGrow.  Linköping Municipality, for example, has already used prototypes and lessons learned from DigiGrow for the procurement of a new business platform that supports collaboration and a digital community building process.

DigiGrow was finalized and reported in early 2021. A funding application for a continuation of the project has been made and several municipalities have declared interest in participating.

(1) The DigiGrow process showed a 33% reduction in total time from planning to completion for new construction and renovation.

Main image: A Digital testlab session where Spacemaker was trialled, through a demo project, as a new digital tool

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