Methods and tools for co-creation of urban station communities


Author: Ulf Ranhagen (5 min read)  

The urban planning process can be improved by planning methods and tools for co-creation. The Mistra Urban Futures project “Urban Station Communities” used a systematic and flexible working methodology to develop and apply such tools. [Read more about the project] The project started in 2012 focusing on sustainable densification around railway stations with an overview regarding R&D within the field. The project engaged multiple actors on national, regional, and local levels. In 2019, 11 municipalities i, two regional agencies, one county, the National Board of Transportation, and Mistra Urban Futures were involved. The planning of stations and public transportation nodes in general can be a driving force for sustainable development in regions, cities, towns, and small urban centres. A condition for positive development is that integrated land-use and transportation planning is promoted including mixed-use densification close to stations. Different ‘knowledge processes’ were used, illuminating relevant cases in co-creative workshops. This process generated several specific R&D projects. The projects dug deeper into topics such as spatial planning and urban morphology, noise and vibration, digital tools supporting sustainable mobility patterns and transport justice. The tools presented below can be combined, modified, adapted, and extended sequentially to fit the needs of a unique planning case. They have been used in multi-stakeholder processes where practitioners from different municipal departments investigate typical planning situations in their region. A set of planning indicators was developed in a parallel project in order to facilitate the development and assessment of scenarios etc..  

Mind-mapping combined with inspiration images and a working sheet for stakeholder analysis

Application 1: To inspire people to develop ideas and reflect on present and future urban station areas, 30–50 images with photos from different types of urban and rural environments were handed out to the participants. Each participant was asked to select three pictures that illustrated positive associations and three that gave negative associations with regard to urban station communities at present and in the future, as a basis for common discussions and conclusions. The same type of tool was also applied to generate ideas and reflections on ‘place identity’ and visionary ideas for an urban station community. Application 2: To identify a wider range of stakeholders for a certain planning task, a worksheet (pie diagramme) was developed and divided into four “pieces of cake” sectors following the quadruple helix principle that combines public sector, business sector, civil society together with academia, and the different levels of governance: municipal, regional, national, and international.  

Walking tours for place and path analysis combined with map-and indicator-based SWOT-analysis

 This tool facilitates collection of participants’ experiences of an urban station community. Routes and stops on walking tours are prepared on maps with path protocols to facilitate note-taking during walks. The protocols are divided into strengths/positive impressions, weaknesses/negative impressions, and ideas for improvement. The walking tours are usually appreciated by participants as they offer  options to systematize  personal experiences of the area being planned. The compiled notes, analysis and ideas can then be used for developing and evaluating different future scenarios.  

Structured brainstorming

A structured brainstorming tool has been used to help define key issues, objectives and targets in a planning task for an urban station community. Participants start the process by reflecting individually on what they perceive as key issues in the planning task. The key issues are noted on sticky notes, which are clustered into topical groups. This structured brainstorming tool has been valuable for structuring relevant key issues and obtaining ideas on local stakeholders’ priorities. It helps participants to generate, compile, integrate, and prioritize their ideas to facilitate further work with development and assessment of planning scenarios and alternatives The compiled key issues can be used as the basis for formulating common visions, facilitated by the drawing of mind maps. Important methods and tools for synthesis and research by planning and design are discussed below.  

Backcasting combined with scenario-analysis (scenario matrix)

Tools for backcasting and scenario analyses are not commonly used in municipal planning but have proven to be valuable supplements to traditional planning tools in interactive action research and research-by-design. By encouraging the investigation of extreme alternatives, long-term scenarios help focus on critical and transformative future planning issues. Backcasting starts by sketching out images for the future that depict possible long-term solutions to a societal challenge. After delimiting interesting long-term images of the future by assessing them using objectives and targets possible paths from the present situation to the future situation can be outlined [see also case study, ‘A space for learners to lead and leaders to learn: Challenge Lab] The Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA) has been the most widely used method for assessment in the urban station community project. It includes both the ranking of alternatives for each chosen evaluation criterion or indicator, and the weighing of the chosen criteria/indicators in relation to each other by distributing 100 points (or an alternative number suitable to the situation). By using an Excel chart for the MCA-process, the participants and the working group can put in numbers for both these components, while also making a robustness analysis. The latter is performed through testing whether a certain alternative keeps its position when the weights of the criteria/indicators are changed. This is important given that the numbers are not absolute but represent a relative judgement of how well the alternatives fulfil the chosen objectives.In this way the method and associated tools are flexible, adaptable and valuable  for co-creation addressing complex planning tasks.  

Application of a decision tree for analysis of strategic choices

The planning tasks related to the location of stations and the planning of surrounding areas are usually complex. For that reason, the decision tree for analysis of strategic choices is useful.         Figure: An example of a decision tree for the analysis of strategic choices. The tree presents decision options based on positiveor negativeresponses, in the short term, the mid-term, and in the long term. One example: There are two options for the location of a station, each with totally different implications for future development. Starting from the present situation, a decision tree presented on a working sheet admits a first decision between two options in the short term, four new options mid-term, and finally eight different long-term decisions. Each decision can be visualised principally on maps or aerial photographs. Finally, different choices can be compared by discussing pros and cons, ranking or performing MCA.  

Key lessons from the applied methods and tools in co-creative processes

The processes initiated in the urban station communities project and related R&D projects have supplemented ordinary planning processes by adding new perspectives on the planning tasks. Methods and tools have been applied for improving both existing and planning new urban areas, and have been especially useful for addressing both major, strategic planning issues and project tasks on regional, municipal, and district levels. Applying the toolbox has directly influenced the strategies, planned development, and location of stations, in several urban centres. Beyond supplementing both informal and formal planning procedures, the tools have encouraged creativity and improved the institutional capacity for collaboration between different stakeholders as well as for policymaking and development of programs and plans. Stronger networks have also been developed between national, regional, and local stakeholders, contributing to mutual understanding of different planning approaches.    


Suggested readings:

  • Ranhagen,U. (2020) Densification of station areas in order to promote sustainable mobility, health, well-being and energy efficiency– opportunities and obstacles. The case study of Mölnlycke urban centre in Gothenburg region, Sweden. IOP Conference series, 2020, Vol 588. Article: refereed
  • Ranhagen U. (2020) Co-creation in Urban Station Communities. Summary of three lectures with findings form the project 2017-2019. Mistra Urban Futures Report 2020:5
  • Ranhagen, U. (2017) Process Tools in Co-creative Processes, Working Paper 2017:4, Mistra Urban Futures, Gothenburg.
  • Ranhagen, U. and Groth, K. (2012) Symbio City Approach: A Conceptual Framework for Sustainable Urban Development, SKL International, Stockholm
  • Ranhagen, U., Dahlstrand, A. and Ramstedt, A. (2017) Co-creation in Urban Station Communities: Findings from Working Seminars Involving the Collaboration of Transdisciplinary Agents 2015–2016, Report 2017:2, Mistra Urban Futures, Gothenburg.
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