Community Spotlight: Sensing Local

Sensing Local is a think-tank of architects, urbanists, and technologists in Bengaluru, India with a core focus on making cities healthier, safer, and more inclusive. The organization’s work is nested at the intersection of the built and the natural environment, of the government and citizens, and of urban planning and technology. To do this, we collaborate with diverse stakeholders such as municipalities, NGOs, community groups, and private companies.  

Their primary value add within the diverse partnerships tends to be one of building methodology in a project process, system understanding of an issue as well as strategizing to optimize resources and facilitate evidence based decision making. Aside from this, given the inherent complexities and conflicts within urban issues, we also often act as mediators and curators of divergent perspectives, know-how and data points. 

Domain areas: Solid Waste Management, Air and Water Pollution; Systems for Navigation and Wayfinding; Rural-Urban Ecologies

Find Sensing Local on Facebook or Twitter.

Here is a short Q and A with Sensing Local:

Tell us how Sensing Local was started. 

Sensing local was born as a response to three key realizations:

Majority of city making process is happening on ground, in-situ by local communities, NGOs etc, that are shaping the bulk of urban environments of tomorrow. There is a dire need to acknowledge, support and steer these efforts, tackling the deficit between top down and bottom up planning efforts and bringing policy making to the doorstep. 

There is a widespread public health and environmental crisis taking place in cities and rural areas alike; while efforts to make amends remain negligible. The current situation warrants a renewed focus on better understanding and engagement with our ‘local’, that we inhabit and so closely depend on. 

Lastly, in spatial planning practice, most projects and much of consultancy work tends to remain on paper due to a disconnect with implementation agencies and their processes. It points to the need to address the ‘loss in translation’ with respect to understanding of needs on ground, what’s required to be done to ensure impact and how it can be achieved most effectively.

How did the team come together, and what are the team members currently working on? 

Sensing local is a young office, founded by two partners (Ankit Bhargava and Sobia Rafiq) with a background in Architecture and Urban Planning, bringing together professional experience of working closely with government authorities and social sector organizations, local community groups as well as international urban planning and design agencies. The organization was conceived as a multi-disciplinary platform for liked minded individuals to work collaboratively towards pressing urban challenges. The team consists of other young professionals with backgrounds in planning, public policy, civil engineering, journalism, economics etc.

Given the office’s equal commitment to a research based practice and chasing implementation of good ideas on ground, the work we do is split in two wings. 1) Consultancy – which has 3-4 core team members, while others join in for short and long term residencies on a project basis. 2) Public lab – which was created to make room for partnerships to do exploratory research work and knowledge creation.

As a young organization, what has been the most significant challenge ?

Given that Sensing local’s projects have largely been born out of one on one dialogue on critical on-going challenges faced due to breakdown of urban systems or in the workings of agencies such as governmental departments or NGOs etc. Most issues in these cases are either too new and unexplored or need a radically new approach to have success. This kind of work is normally highly exploratory and requires open ended research work. This has led to a cluster of interrelated challenges such as :

1) Quantifying scope of work ahead of a project and justifying funding needed

2) Fitting new areas of work into existing institutional frameworks

3) Ensuring the engagements are financially viable for the company.

How do you see Sensing Local’s work fit with ongoing work in Indian cities?

Given the scale of urbanization taking place, urban planning is both, the cause and solution to the problems we face now, and which will only exacerbate in the next few years. Looking at the future, the exploratory work taking place at the office is likely to fit well with other progress such as new policies being drafted and being ‘action-ready’ as necessary capital and public demand lines up driving need for interventions at scale.

While in the present, the inter-scalar and inter-sectoral work is opening up both latent opportunities and highlighting recurring problem areas. Our ongoing engagements include partnerships such as one with Bengaluru city’s municipality. Here, the work involves strategizing and helping implement the solid waste management (SWM) action plan on ground as well as co-creation of a, one of a kind city policy document for the same. While other engagements include working closely with NGOs on ground to improve effective of their efforts and de-risk initiatives.

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