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Peter Lau Torst Nielsen

Participatory Morphologies – Co-creative forms in a Smart City project

2017.08.11 | Peter Lau Torst Nielsen

1. title and short overview of your PhD thesis: The title of my thesis is: Participatory Morphologies – Co-creative forms in a Smart City project.My thesis is concerned with the analysis and design of participatory and co-creative forms in experimental design in Smart Cities.The project originates from an identified lack of explicit consideration in the literature of what is meant by participation (Halskov & Hansen, 2015), co-creation and user driven design processes.My project unfolds in the EU Smart City project: OrganiCity which provide an ‘experimentation as a service’ platform for supporting smart cities involving citizens and stakeholders in the city. The platform provides funding and a set of co-creative tools for, until now, 25 projects in mainly London, Aarhus and Santander. These funded projects as well as the design of the platform provide the empirical foundation in my work.

Participatory forms can be understood as social forms and institutions (here in Searles’ sense) (Searle, 2010). Projects, workshops, meetings, hearings, hackathons, seminars etc. signifies such general forms which we constantly re-design in a multitude of ways. I do subscribe to the view that there is no golden standard for participation (Andersen, Danholt, Halskov, Hansen, & Lauritsen, 2015). Participation is thus always a matter for design regardless of it relates to planned participation or in situ intervention depending on the immediate context. What thus count as good participation is then heavily depending on the designer’s ideas of participation, which norms, what structure and what goal she/he builds around the participation.  

The project’s ambition is to increase our theoretical focus on the nature of these forms in an attempt to improve the necessary concepts and means for designers interested in co-creation and participation.   

2. the nature of your ‘non-written work': OrganiCity taken as a whole is a construction and experimental practice. It is a very large and complex machinery resulting from many people’s work.  Note that I’m not designing any non-written work on my own. My subject is more accurately put: related to other people’s written and ‘non-written’ work. 


3. in what way your ‘non-written work' relates to your PhD thesis: My PhD is related to OrganiCity through a certain perspective. I’m looking for ways people understand, construe and actualize participatory forms and mechanisms.

4. how you integrate or consider integrating your ‘non-written work' into your PhD thesis: 
I am planning my project as a series of articles focusing on particular topics in my material. Each article will focus on some aspects of co-creation and participation.

5. which scholarly traditions you base your methodology on: I have a background in cognitive semiotics which investigates meaning-construction and sense-making. Krippendorff’s book on semantic design (Krippendorff, 2006) is an excellent example of a design researcher looking in to these topics and theories. Blending theory (Fauconnier, 2002) is another example of the relationship between meaning construction and design. As to the participatory forms, I’m especially inspired by Searle and his concept of social institutions based on speech acts.

6. which difficulties you have encountered regarding your ‘non-written work’: Yes. I’m in trouble…. :0) – Apart from the huge amount of written material in my project I still need to do a number of interviews and workshops involving the OrganiCity people.

7. what you wish to gain from the workshop: First and foremost, I’m interested in the design approach to participation and co-creation in its own right. In my opinion, this approach should always have a character of being constructive and experimental. Secondly, I think the seminar topic touches upon the important parts of how researchers and designers can collaborate with other societal institutions as a whole and the question of how humanities can be part of this.


Andersen, L. B., Danholt, P., Halskov, K., Hansen, N. B., & Lauritsen, P. (2015). Participation as a matter of concern in participatory design. CoDesign, 11(3-4), 250-261.

Fauconnier, G. (2002). The way we think : conceptual blending and the mind's hidden complexities / Gilles Fauconnier, Mark Turner. New York: Basic Books.

Halskov, K., & Hansen, N. B. (2015). The diversity of participatory design research practice at PDC 2002?2012. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 74, 81-92. doi:10.1016/j.ijhcs.2014.09.003

Krippendorff, K. (2006). The semantic turn : a new foundation for design. Poca Raton: CRC Press.

Searle, J. R. (2010). Making the social world : the structure of human civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

PhD Course