The City Portrait Canvas: A Workshop Tool to Assess City Strategies

August 17, 2020

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries can be turned into a city-scale tool by asking this very 21st-century question:

How can our city be a home
to thriving people in a thriving place,
while respecting the wellbeing of all people
and the health of the whole planet?

It is a question that invites every city to start exploring what it would mean to thrive within the Doughnut, given that particular city’s location, context, culture and global interconnections.

Through the Thriving Cities Initiative, we have worked with pioneering cities to downscale the Doughnut; creating the first City Portraits. The City Portrait has been developed to foster big-picture thinking, and cross-departmental collaboration within the City and with a wider network of changemakers to co-create the city's transformation. The City Portrait uses detailed city-specific data to provide a holistic snapshot of the city and its impact through four lenses – arising from combining social and ecological domains at local and global scales – which together provide a new perspective on what it means for a city to thrive. It appreciates what makes a city unique, while understanding its global influence and responsibility.

Watch the video below of Kate Raworth explaining our approach to 'Downscaling the Doughnut', read more about the City Portrait here.

The City Portrait Canvas is a simplified version of the City Portrait, since it does not begin by creating a statistical overview of the city. Instead, it draws on the portrait's conceptual framework of the four lenses. Even without creating a detailed City Portrait, city changemakers can use the City Portrait Canvas as a thinking tool for exploring and designing city strategies, policies and programmes.

Using the City Portrait Canvas, city changemakers can analyse and refine new and existing city strategies, policies and programmes through four interconnected lenses - social and ecological, local and global. The aim is to design strategies that can generate co-benefits between social and ecological dimensions, both within the city, and for the planet and people worldwide. By using the City Portrait Canvas, city changemakers have the opportunity to apply holistic thinking while developing strategies for thriving cities.


Step 1: Get to know the City Portrait Canvas

Download the City Portrait Canvas and get acquainted with the four lenses of the City Portrait. Watch the 10 minute introductory video. Then read the Why, and What of each lens to familiarise yourself with the different themes related to a city's local aspirations and global responsibilities. For a deep dive into the City Portrait tool and its four lenses, we recommend reading the 'Creating City Portraits' methodological guide.

Step 2: Understand the components of your city strategy

Select a strategy you are working on in your city that you would like to assess for its social and ecological impacts, on both a local and global level. Note down the main components of the strategy on the City Strategy Worksheet. Then, write the name of your strategy inside the diamond shape in the centre of the City Portrait Canvas.

Step 3: Analyse the strategy through the Local-Social and Local-Ecological lenses of the City Portrait Canvas

Now, dive deeper into the local impacts of your strategy.

  • (a) Think about the possible positive impacts that your strategy may have on these lenses. Take a coloured pen and indicate the themes where the strategy may create positive impact.
  • (b) For the same lenses, think about the possible negative impacts of your strategy, both direct and indirect. Use a pen of a different colour to indicate the themes where the strategy may create negative impacts.
  • (c) Ask yourself "how could the strategy be designed and/or implemented to ensure and enhance these positive impacts, and prevent or minimise the possible negative ones?" Note your ideas next to the lenses on the canvas.

Step 4: Analyse the strategy through the Global-Social and Global-Ecological lenses of the City Portrait Canvas

Now explore the global impacts of your strategy. Repeat a), b) and c) from Step 3 for the Global lenses.

Tip: While doing the exercise, you might find yourself alternating between the positive and negative impacts. We recommend that you find your own intuitive way to navigate between steps a) and b).

Step 5: Think about the interconnections between the lenses

  • (a) Think about the interconnections between the four lenses. Draw lines between the lenses to indicate when there is a positive or negative dynamic between issues identified. Use pens of different colours to indicate positive or negative interconnections.
  • (b) Ask yourself: "how could the strategy be designed and/or implemented to reinforce the positive interconnections and minimise the negative?" Note your ideas next to the lenses on the canvas.

Step 6: Summarise your key insights

Summarise your key insights from Steps 3, 4 & 5 on the City Strategy Worksheet. Ask yourself “how would you refine the existing strategy to enhance its social and ecological benefits?”

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