Participatory City
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New systems are needed in our societies

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This idea is neither new nor controversial. 

The negative side effects of the current ways of organising our societies and economies have led us to the set of complex problems we now face collectively around the world.

We live in an era in which global threats of environmental degradation and climate change, growing structural inequality, social isolation and declining public trust are becoming clearer, yet are more complex to address. Many of the societal institutions and systems that we have built are no longer fit for purpose. 

If we are to rise to the challenges, we need new models that can shift culture for the long term. The mounting challenges require system-scale solutions as well as bold and robust short-term actions that model alternate ways for us to collectively build a healthier planet and more caring societies. And while there are many decades of research and thousands of great initiatives that work on different aspects of the planetary crises, our current structures can make changing systems very difficult. 



Many ideas for a whole new system already exist

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Research and innovations exist across the world. But they are dispersed and seldom connected. 

Many decades of research has revealed how we work as humans and how we organise our societies. Teams of people have spent years researching, understanding and re-designing elements within our societies, from economics to social neuroscience, from technology to health. 

These detailed and precise elements have helped us to understand the urgent need for building new systems.  Importantly these creative and intelligent insights across a diverse range of challenges show us also how to re-design these systems.

However they fall far short of their potential if they are not connected and designed to fit together.

The idea that we have developed all the pieces of a new system and simply need to bring them together is an exciting and tantalising one. This is a complex process is challenging intellectually and technically.

This is why place is so important.

Places are the ultimate real-world context for the fusion of these insights and innovations.

Without a real world anchor their application frequently become fragmented and siloed outside organisations in the same way they are siloed within them.

Many innovations are already being prototyped and tested in real the world. However the majority are being tested in different places, and are often seen as single innovations that can be simply plugged into existing systems. The astonishing potential that exists to combine many insights and ideas to build a whole new system is not being realised successfully anywhere in the world today.

If research is to be useful and practical in supporting the re-design of the world’s human and natural systems, we need to create opportunities to connect ideas, theories, principles and practices of single disciplines into new fusions of effective strategies in the real world, in the same places. In this way we can create structures and processes that enable the emergence of new transdisciplinary fields of practice.

The creation of a new transdisciplinary field of practice, with people and participation at the every centre, is the aim of the Transdisciplinary Research Project.




Openness unlocks our collective potential

We believe that ambitions to shape new systems depends on openness.

We are determined to share our ideas, collaborate and to connect our work to yours.

We think this is the only way we will be successful together in re-designing and re-organising how we live and work together for a sustainable, happy and healthy future.

There are a lot of people working in fields today that think this way too, and it is to the people who believe in open collaboration that we send this invitation.

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Over the last 9 years Participatory City Foundation has been developing a new research-based approach to building new systems for Practical Participation and societal Co-production. 

The methods and infrastructures being developed in this systems approach originate in the first instance from a study of citizen innovations in neighbourhoods across the world and have been designed and redesigned through several research cycles - with citizens, their ideas and talents at the very centre of this new Participatory Ecosystem.

Following the action research cycles Participatory City Foundation is now building a large scale prototype in Barking and Dagenham, East London, through the Every One Every Day initiative.

The project can be described in many different ways, using individual theoretical lenses and experiences and specialist terminology to interpret how this approach can be understood. 

The knowledge required to fully understand what has been developed so far and its impacts is distributed amongst multiple fields and schools of thought and a process of surfacing and connecting these insights is required in order to provide the most robust evaluation possible.

Through this process the potential exists to create a network of researchers that could become the future faculty of this new and connected transdisciplinary field.

The initial study aims to draw together insights from across disciplines in order to better understand the application of these disciplines, to introduce new thinking, to question the assumptions and to make connections between bodies of work, schools of thinking and new practices.

Participatory City is inviting you to participate in the building of this new transdisciplinary field. This work will start with a small transdisciplinary study of the project in Barking and Dagenham for interested researchers, with the potential to extend and grow over a number of years into a Global Faculty of Practice.

“In order to grasp the transformative potential of real-world laboratories, it is essential to understand them as a large-scale research infrastructure. Unlike single transdisciplinary projects and processes, real-world labs are not only about temporary interventions or knowledge integration. They are also about establishing long-lasting spaces for transformation and reflexive learning.”

Uwe Schneidewind, Karoline Augenstein, Franziska Stelzer, Matthias Wanner, 2018






Are you an academic, student and practitioner that would like to take part in this study of the Every One Every Day initiative over the next 6 months?




Are you part of a research institution or other organisation that would like to help us review and synthesise the study over the the next 3 years?




Are you creating a new ecosystem approach in a neighbourhood somewhere in the world and would like to understand and share your ideas, challenges and models with other initiatives? Please email



Every One Every Day, above all else, is local citizens transforming their neighbourhoods through their everyday lives. The technical challenges of creating the platform that encourages and supports this ability to act has drawn on many disciplines, ideas and ways of thinking during its development, below a sample listing.

Research has inspired and guided us in establishing why we would be motivated to design new practical participation systems. Innovations, ideas and ways of thinking have assisted us in working out the practicalities of how to design and re-design these systems with 1000s of people in the live context of Barking and Dagenham over a period of 5 years.

We have applied some ideas directly, while others have been drawn on or adapted to fit within the larger strategy, looking to establish what works in combination.

We are now seeking to have these disciplines and ideas reflect back, to help describe, analyse, interpret and compare.

Using research and knowledge lenses the Transdisciplinary Research Project aims to bring rigour, care and imagination in the collaborative production of knowledge.

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Multi-disciplinary, Cross-disciplinary, Inter-disciplinary, Transdisciplinary?

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An article by Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer, Associate Professor Design for Social Innovation at Delft University of Technology gives a very helpful description on Transdisciplinary Innovation and Design.

‘Transdisciplinarity’, a word that is becoming popular so quickly that it is not even recognised yet by my word processors’ spelling checker. The term has been around since the early seventies when it was discussed at a seminar on interdisciplinarity in universities in Nice, organised by the OECD (Apostel et al, 1972). More recently, the term has also become popular outside academia. Transdisciplinary research and innovation is about the practises that are required to address complex societal problems. There are many definitions of transdisciplinary research and innovation and how to do it, but a general consensus is that it has the following characteristics:

  • It is action-oriented, focussing on addressing real world complex issues

  • It is participatory, considering not only scientific or academic knowledge, but also forms of practical, local and personal knowledge

  • It is continuously evolving in the “pursuit of a common system purpose.” (Jantsch, 1972)

  • In that process it transforms and transcends individual disciplines

  • It is holistic, building an understanding of whole systems and their complexity

  • It is purposive, building a deeper understanding of a common human and social purpose to direct our efforts, by bringing values and norms into play (Jantsch, 1972)

My work and studies are in design, which is often called a transdisciplinary approach. I think design can indeed be used in transdisciplinary approaches, but it is not transdisciplinary by default. This can be explained by comparing transdisciplinarity to multi-, cross-, and inter-disciplinarity.

Multi-disciplinarity occurs when the solution to a problem makes it necessary to “obtain information from two or more sciences or sectors of knowledge without the disciplines drawn on thereby being changed or enriched” (Piaget, 1972). An example is when an engineer, designer, marketeer, and UX expert come together to develop a product, using the perspectives and knowledge of each of these practices. The individual practitioners do not change or become enriched by this collaboration.

“Transdisciplinarity is transformative, uncomfortable and at times embarrassing: we need to put effort into understanding each other’s approaches and value systems. We need to step towards each other and be courageous enough to leave the ‘safety net’ of our own disciplines. Despite these challenges, working in a transdisciplinary context has so far been an amazing experience. Working in a diverse group of curious and open-minded people, facing complex challenges, the learning curve is very steep. Transdisciplinarity tends not to attract people who are only focused on their own career which means we don’t have many egos in our (still) small faculty. This generates a supportive culture that is required to deal with the challenges and an openness to share knowledge and ideas.

Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer

Cross-disciplinarity is what happens when the goals and concepts of one discipline are imposed on another discipline (Jantsch, 1972). Cross-disciplinary design thinking is what happens when design is ‘imposed’ on business. Design methods such as personas, storyboarding and prototyping are used for business purposes, without adjusting these methods to the business context. Business might be enriched through this interaction (or just confused), but design does not change.

Inter-disciplinarity is where “cooperation among various disciplines or heterogeneous sectors in the same science lead to actual interactions, to a certain reciprocity of exchanges resulting in mutual enrichment” (Piaget, 1972). For example, methods and concepts from biology, chemistry and psychology are integrated in medicine. Biology and chemistry, and psychology ‘enrich’ each other for the shared purpose of medicine. Similarly, design and computer science have enriched each other in the interdisciplinary field of interaction design.

Transdisciplinarity takes this integration of disciplines a step further. It is a holistic approach. It is not just about interactions between specialised fields, but about placing these interactions in a total system with a social purpose.?