Beyond Participation: 10 Reasons to talk about participation in design and community

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Beyond Participation was an International Conference hosted by the Irish Architecture Foundation to explore the concept and possibilities of participation as a practice for social change. The day started with the question ‘why’; why discuss participation, why now?

Across the day, presentations were set out describing the issues and benefits of participation led approaches in crisis contexts, in contexts of political uncertainty, in contexts of curating city experiences to connect communities, in contexts of re-making architecture for people. The reason to discuss participation as a practice is the complexity of contemporary problems, and the need for innovative approaches. Innovation needs new conversations, new relationships, new approaches. And participation is at the heart of including people as partners in this process of change.

International contributions

The conference brought together over 100 people across community, practice and public policy. The international contributors included Hana Loftus of HAT projects who spoke about the importance of authenticity and embedded practice; Lilet Breddels of Archis who spoke about the role of communication in activating change; Stefan Laxness of Forensic Architecture who spoke about the use of design processes and participation in holding institutions to account using architectures of data; Killian Doherty of the Architectural (Field) Office who spoke about the nature of identities and the politics of place; Ana Jara and Lucinda Correia of Artéria who spoke of reclaiming and rehabilitating the city, making more of what we have and Alex de Rijke of dRMM who used Hastings pier as a case study of participation led design in action, and the challenges of sustaining ideas over time.

Chaired by Diarmaid Lawlor of Architecture and Design Scotland, a series of principles emerged across the discussions at the conference. In broad terms, they group into two parts. The first explores the behaviours, influences and channels of communication needed to better support participation driven change. The second explores accountability and participation practices in the frontier space that is innovation.

Different behaviours, more influence, many channels

  1. We need to talk about the kind City of the Future we need.
  2. Aim to build ‘the good system[s]’
  3. Reclaim spaces of human focused, embedded practices with communities
  4. Be present in shaping change, own a duty of care
  5. Work on invitations to engage with people and influence decision makers. Talk.

Truth in evidence, new practices, new frontiers

  1. Focus on the architecture of the issue/problem, helicopter and deep dig
  2. Use design and participation as the ‘art of the possible’
  3. Extend languages and tools of visual and spatial practices to complex problems
  4. Use data, human and scientific
  5. Build the design of accountability


To deliver on these principles, we need:

  • Empathy in design
  • Being authentic to participative processes, and choosing how to translate the outcomes to influence others
  • Platforms to connect people
  • Methods to communicate complexity clearly, and simply

Opportunities and Ambitions

Design offers opportunities to support these ambitions by:

  • Validating the experience and evidence of different people as data and knowledge
  • Visualizing the world as it is, from different perspectives, and how it could be
  • Translating stories into action
  • Building up tools, targets and techniques to sustain action across time


Read a reflection on the Beyond Participation conference here.

Carbon Conscious Towns Case Studies

These Case Studies identify two towns in Scotland working on the ground to deliver on the 8 Principles of a Carbon Conscious Place: Dumfries and Leven

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