Reimagine Ranong is an experimental urban development project under NESDC (Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council of Thailand – a national-level policy making agency)’s Policy Lab, an initiative to explore new approaches of policy making process to be more connected to the real needs of citizens using Design Thinking (DT) as a major tool. Policy Lab has 3 major focuses – Thai future of work, SME protocol reformation, and urban development in Ranong – ‘Reimagine Ranong’.
I have led Reimagine Ranong working group between December 2018 – August 2019. We started from conducting preliminary research on the contexts, challenges, capacities, and opportunities of Ranong through secondary research, formal discussions with the local agencies, as well as informal discussions with the citizens of Ranong from different backgrounds. We found that key urban development aspects of Ranong involve the balance among the 4 following dimensions namely: expat workers (mostly from bordering Myanmar) versus locals, border-crossing versus city-dwelling groups, tourism-dependent versus non-dependent businesses, and government versus local organizations. Based on these dimensions, we developed 8 personas of Ranong’s most important stakeholders. We took these assumptions to discuss and revise with experts of urban planning, landscape architecture, local tourism development, business development, and banking to create the guiding principles for Ranong. Then we used such guiding principles to create two most possible future scenarios. The baseline scenario was the current trajectory of mass tourism, Ranong Mass Tourist City. The alternative scenario Ranong Wellness City made use of its natural resources such as RAMSAR mangrove forest and hot springs for sustainable and medical tourism. To test out our scenarios, we visualized both and presented to 95 local citizens and asked their opinions on a survey. After the surveys, we revised the preferred scenarios and developed city’s development guideline in a technical report.
Quick Points from the Project
- Design Thinking (DT) is not new, but applying DT to policy making, especially national-level policy making is totally new to Thai Bureaucracy. One of the biggest challenge is testing subjective products like policy recommendations.
- The other challenge of applying DT to NESDC work is that the deliverable has to be conformed with NESDC’s scope of work, which is national-level policy recommendation.
- Instead of conventional scenario analysis, usually comes in graphs, diagrams, or write-ups; we interpret and present future scenarios of Ranong into physical structures and changes of cityscapes. It is aimed for more effective communication with people.
- The project helps NESDC Urban Development and Strategy Division (UDSD) to form idea of our position in the world of modern urban development. As we know, urban planning should be done at the smallest scale possible. Hence, NESDC, as a national-level and conventional policy making agency, should act as a bridge between local agencies and the urban development-related central government. We might not be able to change the top-down line of government command in a very short time, but NESDC can shift its position and act as a moderator between agencies on different levels instead of a top executive who command from a war room, hoping the command will go through the lowest level right and fast.
- I was the keynote speaker of the project presentation at NESDC annual internal field trip on September 6, 2019; and the internal Knowledge Management (KM) session on December 24, 2019 at NESDC.
- The final report (in Thai) is published on NESDC’s website on December 24, 2019 and on NESDC’s facebook page on January 3, 2020.
Results from Reimagine Ranong has been used in the Sustainable Future City Initiative (SFCI), an initiative ran by a cooperation between NESDC and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), to enhance local capabilities to prepare their own urban development plans in Ranong. In 2020, the lessons from Reimagine Ranong will be used to improve SFCI method for other model cities.