Case study

Using AI to tackle the housing crisis


the challenge

Kelowna is experiencing unprecedented growth across the board, and its’ municipal resources are feeling the pressure. City staff wanted to explore innovative ideas for dealing with this new reality and partnered with (n)Design to design the best outcome for their unique situation and particular needs of their residents.
As municipalities wrestle with the housing crisis in Canada, the need for efficient, streamlined services is vital to this struggle, particularly in those areas under intense pressure: property and infrastructure development.
An innovative approach, such as the integration of AI and digital technologies, can significantly enhance the efficiency and accessibility of these services, allowing the municipality to handle a higher volume of applications and inquiries without the need for proportional increases in resources.
Questions around which technologies should be integrated and how, need to be answered definitively to proceed effectively to ensure precious resources aren’t wasted on the wrong solutions and will help those who need it most – the municipal service front lines and property owners.
"Innovation is essential to effectively support our expanding community with current resources."

solving the right problem

Accurately identifying and framing the problem to be solved prevents wasting time and resources on solving the wrong problems, enhances the effectiveness of the design solutions, and increases the likelihood of meeting or exceeding user expectations.

Guiding Questions

  1. Who applies for Building Permits? What are their unique needs, background, experience, and context?

  2. Where are the delays, obstacles, and barriers in the existing service experience?

  3. What are the other important factors we need to consider?

People applying for small projects often have little to no experience with the process and face a high barrier to entry.

Even though there are several online resources, most people rely on front-line staff to help complete their applications, understand what they are allowed to do on their property, and navigate the process.

With limited staff resources, these smaller permits and inexperienced applicants were taking up a lot of staff resources.


Many companies have their front-line staff apply for permits on their behalf, with a wide variety of experience and expertisethat could have serious consequences for timelines.

Analysis revealed that overall, nearly 70% of all initial applications were incomplete, incorrect, or both, resulting in significant delays and requiring considerable front-line staff support to provide a complete application to start the process.

This was identified as a key bottleneck in the process.

We also discovered that the language used in the application itself was highly technical and filled with policy jargon which made it difficult to understand to many applicants,especially those new to property development or unfamiliar with Kelowna’s processes, or both.

Key Insight

The online resources supporting building permit applications were written in policy jargon, disconnected, not user-friendly, and sometimes contradictory.

solving the problem RIGHT

Once we confidently understood the problems we needed to solve, it was clear that AI was the right solution:

  • to connect people to needed resources from several disjointed sources in one single, user-friendly interface;

  • to help interpret policy jargon and respond accurately to questions phrased in normal language;

  • to guide new applicants through the process and answer questions to reduce the impact on staff.

Mapping the User Journey

We created Journey Maps & User Experience Blueprints to capture how this AI chatbot would solve user needs and handed this off to the City team for development with their technology partners.
 The Intended Change
That Was Achieved
The chatbot has been immensely popular since its launch in 2023, with over 70,000 interactions in the first 8 months of use. It has reduced the application failure rate dramatically and resulted in 100s of hours of staff time freed up to spend on more high value customer service efforts.

Tools & Methods

Service Mapping
User Research
Journey Mapping
User Experience Blueprinting
Service Design
User Testing
User Experience Design
Conversational UX Design
AI Design

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We acknowledge that we reside and operate on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Sqilx’w/Syilx (Okanagan) peoples. We are grateful to all Indigenous communities for their stewardship of this land and for sharing it with us.