Deepening participant engagement

How can we do even better?

As a research agency, we work extensively and successfully with participants. Involving stakeholders to jointly investigate, shape and bring about the required change in the public space is a specific expertise of Stby. We have been working on projects about the future of mobility and public space since 2006, together with the people who live, work and visit the neighbourhoods involved. Although the methodology we use in these projects, the Streetlab Method, is successful and meets the expectations, we always feel there is an opportunity to do better as researchers. In this case to deepen the engagement of participants in these projects even more. 

A source of inspiration for us was a lecture during Dutch Design Week by Guido Stompff from Hogeschool Inholland, in which participation fatigue was mentioned as a danger for research projects for governments with citizens. Stby regularly works for these parties. Even though we haven’t experienced participation fatigue with participants in our projects, we believe it is important to invest in ways to prevent the potential occurrence of it.

participation fatigue can be expressed as the tiredness experienced by individuals who disengage from political and democratic processes because of unmet expectations, empty promises, and a non-responsive government

Search for meaningful participant engagement

At Stby we are always encouraged to invest time in learning more about topics that interest us, and better understand methods and ways of working that bring value to our work. To see if and how methods for deepening participant engagement could add to the current successful Streetlab method, we decided to invest some time and run a small R&D on this topic. We started with desk research collecting fun, meaningful and new ways to involve participants in research projects regarding public space. We found a lot of inspiring methods that would collect meaningful data. 

Collage of inspiring examples we found in our desk research

What did we learn?

We started by formulating strategic goals and connecting these to an existing project timeline. By mapping moments and ways in a timeline, we discovered where and when it would be possible and valuable to include a more diverse group of people from the neighbourhood. After this, we added the ideas we found for participants to give their input, opinions and feedback on changes in the neighbourhood. This overview made it clear that we have the skills and opportunity to deepen the engagement of participants in projects. 

The reality is that we usually have to work within specific budgets and timelines, so in every project, we need to make choices. Three aspects are worth considering at the start of a project that offers a chance to deepen participant engagement and you want to avoid participation fatigue: 

  1. Can you make more use of the strength and dynamics of existing communities in the area? What’s already happening in the neighbourhood? How can we involve the community in a lasting way? Can we tap into the existing relationship that the municipality has with this neighbourhood already? Who are the key figures and how can we find them?
  2. Is it possible to map the different sub-communities that exist in the neighbourhood more extensively? Then customise the recruitment and research methods to allow everyone to share and think about changes in the public space. 
  3. Discuss if you can invest time to reflect and learn to which extent you succeeded in engaging the neighbourhood and how you can do even better in the next project. 

In this way, we not only deepen our research relationship with the participants and clients, but we also contribute to the lasting and meaningful relationships our clients have with their citizens, entrepreneurs and visitors. 

Are you interested in learning more about our Steetlab method? Read this article online or find a detailed description of the Streetlab methodology in the book Seeing the City (Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

Paulien Kreutzer