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Master Thesis | How to design a Participatory Citizen Workshop with the Goal to determine Engagement Strategies exemplified on the Topic of Air Pollution

Master Thesis | How to design a Participatory Citizen Workshop with the Goal to determine Engagement Strategies exemplified on the Topic of Air Pollution


The approach of participatory design has been utilised in design processes for decades. As its values are inherently ecological and socially benefiting, it has gained considerable popularity in contem- porary formats. However, the variety and broadness of published resources pose particular challenges for designers wishing to imple- ment it successfully. The key objective of this project is to analyse and summarise commonly occurring obstacles and advantages of participatory design and develop viable strategies of applying it in a multitude of different projects.

A detailed analysis of contemporary participatory design formats was conducted and a case study developed. The case study, a series of workshops on the subject of urban air pollution, engaged local citizens to evaluate effective engagement strategies. In collaboration with the research project “cleanBREATHE”, the current disposition of local citizens towards the subject was investigated and methods to raise awareness applied.

The outcomes of the participatory design workshop series led to a reflection of the design approach, its core values, and application methods for designers on a variety of projects.

Case Study


After analysing the most common approaches of participatory design, a system of multiple workshops was chosen for this particular participatory design project. This format is particularly advantageous due to the relatively low time span available for the preparation as well as the lack of funding. Additionally, the vast amount of reference case studies allow for a more informed design process.

Three workshops were planned in a series to assess different strategies in workshop methods. This allowed for iterations of multiple activities as well as facilitating participants to partake in multiple or separate workshops. An open series of workshops is also favourable due to an increased flexibility while testing and comparing multiple different approaches.

To evaluate different methods of knowledge transfer, all workshops have a different approach in the main exercises. The first workshop included a brainstorming activity with a subse- quent unstructured phase of digital research in which participants were encouraged to research specific questions based on the topic of air pollution in groups. The second workshop was based on a brainstorming activity that emphasised a peer-to-peer education ap- proach. Lastly, the third workshop included an interactive lecture conducted by air quality experts.The methods will be illuminated in more detail in the parts illustrating each of the workshops.

To keep the workshops comparable, the materials, overall workshop structure, location and group size were kept similar throughout the workshop series. All workshops were conducted within a timespan of approximately three hours. They included an icebreaker activity or introduction round, a self-assessment via questionnaires, brain- storming and group exercises as well as an open-ended workshop conclusion.


Workshop One

The first workshop was conducted on a Saturday afternoon in Mid- July and was scheduled to last approximately two and a half hours. The lead facilitator was present, a research member of the clean- BREATHE project that acted as a workshop documenter as well as an undergraduate student as a co-facilitator in the group session. The atmosphere was kept informal, the casual form of address “Du” was used instead of the more formal “Sie” in all three workshops as well as first names or preferred nicknames.

Three main activities were used in the first workshop of the series: a brainstorming phase in groups of three to four participants, a clustering phase in teams of two as well as a dot voting activity.

The materials for the workshops were kept intentionally simple for several reasons. Primarily, the participants should not be overw- helmed and the materials should be flexible enough to be used in other workshop concepts. Additionally, the materials were chosen to create an informal atmosphere, particularly the self made name tags from painters tape. All materials were also chosen to be as recyclable or reusable as possible.


Workshop Two

Similar to the first workshop the second workshop took place on a Saturday afternoon, two weeks after the first. Within this workshop, a peer-to-peer education method was evaluated. The main facilitator and two undergraduate students were present to document and assist.

A setup of three activities similar to the first workshop was roughly recreated. When the participants arrived, a questionnaire and the handout were distributed.


Workshop Three

The third workshop was conducted on a Thursday late afternoon, which was chosen due to the involvement of the LÜSA and their respective schedule. Within the final workshop, the strategy of involving expert input as an indirect engagement strategy was analysed. One air quality expert, the main facilitator and a cleanBREATHE research member were present in addition to the participants.

Due to the involvement of experts in this workshop, the methods varied slightly more than during the first and second workshops. The agenda was still dominated by three main parts: a lecture, an excursion and a reflection exercise, but offered less interaction due to the more traditional lecture in the beginning.



Through the testing of three different strategies to convey knowledge, several conclusions can be drawn. The method of guided digital research is particularly useful to recognise the shortcomings of the current information environment and its effect on the participants. Peer-to-peer education, which was applied in the second workshop, proved to be successful in creating a positive and encouraging atmosphere while still delivering some insight into the subject for most participants. Lastly, the strategy of including expert input provided another perspective by being most educative to the participants, although it reduced the interactiveness in participatory activities significantly. All in all, the strategies applied all proved to offer their own unique value towards the objective and for the participants. All can be effectively utilised within a participatory design project, although the successful peer-to-peer education seems to be particularly undervalued in the current environment.

Developing materials that are applicable to different subjects within a participatory design workshop reduced the viable design options to some degree. Within the case study, the materials developed were primarily based around brainstorming activities as this method is applicable to most subjects due to its adaptability and simplicity. Utilising materials such as paper sheets of different colours and handouts proved particularly effective for several reasons. The materials are easy to obtain and prepare, and offer the most flexibility. They also guide the participants through the process without limiting their options. While the materials may seem rudimentary, small details matter tremendously, such as the choice of colours, adhesives and paper sizes, as this for example influences the amount of information the participants will write on each sheet. Most importantly, the choice of the questions within the brainstorming activities is crucial to ensure the success of the activity. The questions should be limited to two to four, depending on the time available, and relatively specific, while still being formulated broadly enough to encourage participants free thinking.

The objective of creating a workshop as sustainably as possible proved to be a comparatively easy undertaking by incorporating it throughout the planning process. Using natural and recyclable materials and offering regional products wherever possible can be applied to any subject and most formats. Keeping environmental factors in consideration throughout the planning process allows for the materials to be adapted to the objective of being sustainable. It should be considered that additional time may be necessary to research and acquire alternatives to otherwise unsustainable materials.

After all considerations, the final objective “How can the process of a participatory design workshop encourage the participants to engage with a subject?” simply cannot be answered conclusively. Several effective strategies were developed and tested within the workshop, through different the activities, methods and materials. However, the subject of the workshop and the unique goal of each workshop may necessitate an adaptation of the approach.

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