Pursuit Fund Vision: Enabling community engagement through design

This August marks my third year living in Raleigh, the city I relocated to from the midwest for graduate school, fell in love with, and chose as the place to begin my career as a User Experience Designer. Over these few years I’ve had an opportunity to witness the continual change and development that is associated with rapidly growing cities. Raleigh today feels quite different than it did three years ago to me, and I’m sure the Raleigh I know in three years will feel different too.

Even at the scale of a few blocks in my own neighborhood, I’ve recently seen how small changes and developments can impact our everyday experiences. I’m also fascinated by how easy it is after these small changes occur to forget that a space used to be different than it is in the present. I see the way that cities change and develop as something that is vital to the lives of the people that live in them, and this is something I’ve chosen to dedicate my design ability to. Last Fall I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to start developing a vision in hopes of engaging citizens with city-provided information about city planning.


In the last year, small changes and developments in my neighborhood have affected it’s identity, appearance, and surroundings.

Choosing a path to pursue

When I applied for the Pursuit Fund, I started by reflecting on a few of the most memorable design-related experiences I’ve had and tried to distill parts of them into an idea that would benefit the local community, be achievable by myself, and demonstrate the value of design. I had recently finished my Master’s thesis in Graphic Design at NC State University, titled CityPlan: Towards the design of digital tools to encourage and facilitate citizen participation in city planning. Focusing on mobile interaction design, I looked at how citizens could access planning-related studies and information about nearby areas, communicate with city officials about planning documents, and freely explore anticipated changes in the city’s future. The spirit of this project was largely driven by Raleigh’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan, a lengthy document published by the City of Raleigh that details a twenty year vision of Raleigh touching on topics ranging from transportation to arts and culture.


A few screens from my thesis project showing how citizens could interact with and explore city planning information provided by the city.

In the summer of 2012 I also attended CityCamp Raleigh, a two day “unconference” that encourages citizens and city officials to use technology to solve civic problems. This weekend was transformative for me because it was an opportunity to develop a stronger relationship between the City of Raleigh and citizens, which in a broad sense was the heart of my thesis. Over this weekend I worked with city officials, designers, and public health experts to develop a concept for a digital tool that would use citizen-generated data about public health in their environment to influence planning decisions.

Using these experiences to come up with a project to pursue was challenging because they both are broad and would require many people to successfully develop. After taking some time to consider what I could personally accomplish that could have an impact on the local community, I decided to start by reimagining the city’s Comprehensive Plan by putting it into a format that is more accessible for citizens to read and interact with, including interactive maps that make use of the city’s open data initiative. This web-based project will use the plan as the backbone for a larger vision that will attempt to promote learning about, discussing, and engaging in visions of Raleigh’s future.

Next Steps

Taking on this project by myself has forced me to develop many different iterations and visions of what the project could be, and I’ve finally settled on a strategy to develop the project in phases that build on each other to reach my goal of positively impacting the local community. I’ll be releasing the web-based site with selected sections of the Comprehensive Plan and hints of what is to come in September.

In my next blog post I’ll be covering the iterations I’ve gone through developing and clarifying my pursuit, and a few glimpses of the work I’ll be publishing soon. You can also follow me @mjcarbaugh for updates about the project. Thank you for taking the time to read my first post!

By Michael Carbaugh
Published August 13, 2013