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Simplifying the planning process with a user-centred approach

If you’re building a house or making renovations to your home in NSW, it’s a requirement that you work your way through mountains of paperwork that are usually so complex you practically need to hire a professional to fill them out. All of this not only hinders you from building your dream home, but also wastes unnecessary amounts of time and money that nobody should need to spend.
Screenshots of website prototype

The New South Wales (NSW) Department of Planning and Environments was looking to update the planning applications process, which has not been significantly updated since 1979. The existing system involved disparate processes for receiving, reviewing and making determinations on development applications across local councils. It also incorporated a mixture of basic online and offline processes that were inconsistent in design and that provided limited infrastructural leverage cross-council.

The Department was looking to update and streamline NSW’s development process, so that there was one flexible process that could be adapted to meet the needs of local councils that adopt it without losing whole-of-NSW integrity. In doing so, the updated process capitalised on the opportunity for new efficiencies and more cross-council consistency. It also more fully leveraged modern digital channels, improving the development application experience as a whole, as well creating a fostering a collaborative relationship between State and Local Council.

ThinkPlace conducted a research and blueprint phase where we engaged with a range of councils, end users including a range of professionals and do-it-yourself users, key stakeholders within the Department and software vendors who supply systems directly to councils. Thinkplace's approach to co-design and research gave us a deep understanding of user needs, requirements, capabilities and mental models while fostering a positive and collaborative relationship with all stakeholders. We defined key themes from user stories which formed the foundation of the prototype design with consideration given to the strategic, business and technical contexts.

Thinkplace employed its methodology to agile user experience and prototype development throughout the design phase of the project. We iteratively developed design concepts and which were tested and refined with professional and DIY users, council planning staff and internal stakeholders.

The resultant Planning Portal Prototype has since been used as an example of a new development process which can adopted by the Department with future digital projects. The prototype for statewide online development applications has not only created a simplified user experience for all cohorts, but has removed much of the complexity surrounding the application process. This leads to increased quality, completeness and compliance of applications which will create better planning outcomes across the State that in turn create a better built environment for the greater community.

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