Session 19

The Role of interactions between scholars and stakeholders in creating rigorous and relevant research for urban sustainability

Research is increasingly expected to be rigorous as well as relevant to policy and practice, especially for social and spatial disciplines that are meant to contribute towards urban sustainability through evidence-based policy and practice. Yet, to what extent is current research both rigorous and relevant to policy and practice, and what are the factors that appear to contribute towards research being both rigorous and relevant? The field of research evaluation proposes various models to help explain research relevance, particularly in terms of utilisation and social impact. The interaction model, for example, suggests that relevance is largely influenced by various interactions between researchers and stakeholders throughout the research process. Such interactions are termed ‘productive’ if they lead to research having some form of social impact.

The focus of this session is to present examples of research from social and spatial disciplines that proved to be both (1) rigorous i.e. the research has been accepted by peers, typically through publications, and (2) relevant, i.e. the research has had some form of social impact beyond academia and policy, particularly in terms of helping to bring about tangible examples of sustainable or low-impact urban development. Presentations should focus on the various factors that have possibly contributed towards rigour and relevance, especially through ‘productive interactions’ that took place between researchers and stakeholders during the research process. For example, what role did the following factors play: the context of the research (different organisational needs and interests), the processes followed (linkages between researchers and stakeholders), the methods used (quantitative, qualitative, or participatory), and the dissemination strategies? The idea is to facilitate a dialogue around and a more nuanced understanding of the role of productive interactions between researchers and stakeholders in creating research that proved to be both rigorous and relevant for urban sustainability.




1.Productive interactions mapping as a method for evaluating the social impact of planning research

Amy Pieterse  (University of Pretoria & Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa)

Jacques du Toit  (University of Pretoria, South Africa)

Historically, the dominant school of thought on evidence-based planning was rooted in positivism. Over the last decade, however, there is an emerging body of literature that recognises that real-world planning and policymaking happens in a complex system of interactive relationships between different actors within research and practice. These actors fulfil multiple roles, hold different values, and need to navigate dynamic power relations. The relationship between researchers and stakeholders during the research process occurs along a spectrum of interactions with varied degrees of engagement that may influence the extent to which research is taken up. Research is more likely to be used when there is close collaboration between researchers and stakeholders, such as planning practitioners, in both the formulation and the execution of the research. The relationship between researchers and practitioners as the users, are circular and complex, and research, its use, and potential impacts should be identified by analyzing the process and the interactions that may result in impact. The types of interactions may overlap, occur simultaneously, and involve multiple actors, fulfilling multiple roles. This presentation will explore ‘productive interactions mapping’ as a method to illustrate and describe the aim and context of interactions between different agents in the planning research process. The purpose of ‘productive interactions mapping’ as a research method will be to make sense of the patterns of interactions between agents in research and practice, throughout the knowledge production or research process in the field of planning and planning support. Methodological suggestions are made for dealing with the challenge of complex interactions and causal relationships. In this presentation, the authors argue that the application of ‘productive interactions mapping’ as a method, can lead to the understanding and development of a more considered and nuanced planning research process that may involve better facilitated research uptake.


2.Looking for Democracy in Open Space Planning: An analysis of the transformation of Park am Gleisdreieck in Germany’s capital Berlin

Flavia Mameli  (University of Kassel, Germany)

These abstract addresses landscape architecture in urban areas of contemporary Germany, criticizing institutionalized modes of participation as inadequate to guarantee a productive cooperation between planning professionals and civil society. Looking at the transformation of a very specific territory in the inner-city of Germany’s capital Berlin, the Park am Gleisdreieck, I point out why even projects with a supposedly successful integration of civil society might lack truly democratic decision making. The debate about the design and planning of the park serves as a case study for the analysis of the balance of power between civil society, landscape architecture and administration. My presentation focusses on results derived from my doctoral research concerned with the influence of civic activism on the planning initiated by the Berlin municipality and the design of today’s Gleisdreieck Park carried out by landscape architects. Within a detailed analysis of the events inspired by the discourse analysis toolbox (Foucault, 1966; Keller, 2011) and additional narrative interviews (Schütze, 1977) with relevant stakeholders, I analyze how those involved negotiated this central new open space for Berlin. I will portray which participation tools where used, whose voices where heard and how specific claims materialized in space. Based on my detailed analysis, statements can be deducted about the limits and the potential chances of democratic planning practices. Although this green open space would not exist without civil activism and although the planning and realization of the park was framed by a multi-layered and lengthy civil participation process, the question of democratic planning practice cannot be answered easily, when taking a closer look at the debate.


3.Beyond community representation by including vulnerable groups in housing research

Ulrike Fettke  (Technical University of Munich, Germany)

There is hardly a country in Europe whereas many people live in rented accommodations as in Germany. In the last years and especially in agglomerations like Munich, the rents increased about 36%. Nevertheless, there are studies that show significant vacancies even when there is a high demand of rented accommodations. The project Wohnungsleerstand wandeln, i.e. transform housing vacancies, aims to identify and discuss possibilities for improving the housing supply besides building houses and land designation. Since owner behaviour causes a lot of vacancies in agglomerations (Schmidt et. al. 2017: 20), municipalities of a district in the region of Munich and a research group of the Technical University of Munich work together to study causes and motivations around housing vacancies and underutilized potential living spaces in a participatory action research design that aims to identify customized solutions to the coexistence of housing needs and vacancies. With the democratic participation of mayors and community administration personnel we suppose to ensure that research results are practice-oriented and fit to community norms (vgl. von Unger 2007). To include the perspectives of marginalized community members like migrants, single parents, big families and those with lower incomes who are especially vulnerable regarding housing questions (Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy 2018) is a challenge to the research design. For most cases, Bavarian mayors do not come from vulnerable groups. Although the problem of community definition and representation is well known to participatory researchers (Israel et al. 1998: 185), there is no standard way to balance theoretical knowledge and analysis with cultural and local perspectives and social desirability. We do not think that it is the right way to confront municipal research partners with what may be prejudices about limited perspectives. Therefore, we try to approach the problem by taking local theory into account (Israel et al. 1998: 177) and stimulating local reflection (Fricke et al. 2014: 214 f.) about marginalization.


4.Mobile Autoethnography: Reframing Interdisciplinary Methodological Toolkit of Urban Design

Mohammad Nazarpoor (Tarbiat Modares University, Iran)

Lived experiences of the city and its aspects are at the center of attention of urban design. The qualitative methodology provides various methods and tools to understand these lived dimensions. However, the researchers have neglected a substantial part of the lifeworld of participants due to ignorance of the spatial dimensions in using the mentioned methods. On the other side, the “place experience” has been transformed profoundly due to extensive changes on the local and global scales. In this regard, “mobility” plays a vital role in changing lived experiences of places. The new methods, used to understand these mobile lived experiences, on the one hand, should be able methodologically, epistemologically, and ontologically to understand the profound layers of meaning-making processes of mobile participants through their lived experiences. On the other hand, they should redefine the researcher’s role in a new research setting, which is based upon a fluid, complex, and mobile characteristic. Therefore, urban design requires a methodological interdisciplinary toolbox to grasp the mobile lived experiences. My presentation will discuss this methodological gap by introducing “mobile autoethnography”, which borrows “cultural context” from “ethnography”, “spatial dimensions” from “urban design”, “mobile experiences” from “new mobility paradigm”, and “research reflexivity” from “reflective turn”. Mobile autoethnography aims to understand the lived meanings of mobility (influenced by mobility turn in social sciences) in everyday life environments which construct the cultural identities (influenced by cultural turn in urban studies) through spatial social experience (influenced by spatial turn in social sciences) in which the lived narratives (influenced by narrative turn in humanities) of participants and researcher in the research setting (influenced by reflective turn in qualitative methodology) play a vital role.