oktober 22

My Personal Report on our Problem Identification Phase


The Problem Identification Phase!

Following our research proposal, our participation process is segmented into distinct phases, each with its own set of objectives and its own deliverables to report on the outcomes of these stages: So, currently there is  “D5.2a Report on the outcomes of the problem identification phase (draft) – Brussels” on the horizon. Thankfully, it is not my task to write this deliverable. Instead, I hope that this blogpost may help the person who will be tasked to write it.

My personal struggle with completing these deliverables

This is what our framework, the proposal, says in regards to what this deliverable needs to report on:

T5.1 – Inception of living lab and scoping of problems (VUB): The location of the living lab will be selected in cooperation with local civil organisations (BRAL, Clean Air BXL) and Brussels Mobility. The selection will be made based on the criteria of previous related initiatives, feasibility of potential interventions and diversity of stakeholders. The context of the living lab will be defined by consulting local stakeholders and knowledge. Stakeholders and their objectives will be identified and they will be recruited for participation through local communication channels. The first deliberation will take place offline (meeting) and online (by setting up the local co-creation platforms on the LOOPER website) to discuss the problems.

T5.2 – Participatory data collection and visualisation (VUB): The local participatory data collection campaigns will be set up to collect participatory and public data on liveability impacts of traffic relevant to the local citizens and stakeholders (noise, visual intrusion, accessibility) using existing tools. Data will be compared to official measurements and other public data. Both participatory and open public data will be visualised on the localised platform (LOOPER website). A workshop will discuss the results with the local community and identify the specific problem to be addressed.

The main reason why I am thankful not to write it is because I fundamentally do no understand what is meant to go into this deliverable. I struggled a full summer with the predessesor deliverable: “D5.1 Brussels Living Lab Implementation Plan (data collection plan and template for monitoring)”. I can’t say I completed it. It is a draft that someone else needs to complete on my behalf. Me and my supervisor just think so fundamentally different that I cannot fulfill the expectations.

I guess the D5.1 and the D5.2 are supposed to plainly and factually describe and scientifically reason how we went about achieving what we laid out in the above process description. I struggle though. What me and supervisor consider relevant are two fundamentally different sets of observations. I know that and I was, whenever I open the file, torn between his expecations and my own expectations. It seems like we have opposite rankings of priorities:

My supervisor:

  1. Description of execution of process
  2. Scientific language and well-cited/backed-up statements
  3. Good grammar, spelling and formatting
  4. Descriptions of areas for improvment in the future without necessarily questioning what has been implemented in the first round


  1. Description of larger patterns  and wholisitc view: What were the overarching themes that emerged?
  2. Critique of the process: What were the weaknesses?
  3. Self-reflection: How did our own behaviour and our choices  influence outcomes?

And further fundamental questions I am asking myself:

  • What am I to report on? The factual or the methodological?
  • Report on which problems were identified? How was it to identify the problems?
  • Report on the employed approach? How die the methods perfomr that we used to identfy problems?

This is just to warn you that you might struggle to fit these into the D5.2 framework

Challenge 1: Stayding decideldly broad

We started out too broad. And we stayed very broad.

According to preliminary research, we assumed that we should stay as loose as possible in order to allow for “real” co-creation. The power should be fully with the people, all decisions should emerge int he workshops/online rather than be pre-defined by the team/the municipality.

We followed the idea that “some sort of magic will happen if you just give the people enough freedom yet a process to go through to reach their own conclusions and final ideas”. So we started super broad, because we thought it was imperative not to be prescriptive.

  • No area was defined, we went and talked to citizens in three areas
  • Once we picked an area, we did not want to define boundaries
  • Once we had an area, we want the major problem to emerge from the workshop
  • Once we had a problem (traffic saftey) we did not narrow down to specific streets/corners but kept it for the whole area
  • Once it was time to collect data, we wanted to let the citizens choose which data to collect

This is all good and well but you know what pattern it sort of ended up to create?

  • Team sits together and designs workshop content. Always stuck in deciding how concrete and guided vs broad and spontaneous to make the workshop itself.
  • Team hopes for decisions to be made by citizens in workshop. But themes are to broad for citizens to be working on sth super concrete. outcomes are broad (which might also not be that satisfying for citizens)
  • So decisions that came out of workshop are still quite broad. The bulk of work actually is done by the team in between workshops:
  • Concretize and reality test the decisions/ideas/suggestions by citizens: Things get adjusted reduced and the “real” decisions how to go forward are taken by the team, so that they have sth concrete to work on going forward.
  • At the next meeting citizens are presented with a concretization/refinded version of their previous decisions and are once again asked to brainstorm and decide broadly.
  • The cycle repeats.

So the result is:

  • Lots of work for the team.
  • Lots of decisions to be made by team which is a bit overwhelmed by how to push this whole thing forward bit democratically and in a way that it becomes less work for them and more work is done by involved citizens.
  • Citizens end up feeling consulted. We want their input for something , yet force people to remain thinking broadly, which is against their immediate intuition.
  • Citizens do not feel empowered, because a big chunk of the process seems out of their control. They cannot take on the steering wheel, as a clear framework is already set up and unchangeable.

Challenge 2: Feeding from one step into the next

Another thing that is stipulated in our approach is that one step should inform the decisions made in the next step. Nice and good to say that is shall be like that, but what happened in our case in reality?

  • Step 1: Empathize – Understand the world view and problems of others around you
  • Step 2: Problem Identification – What is the most pressing problem and what is its root?
  • Step 3: Learn more about the problem by collecting data
  • Step 4: Come up with lots of ideas to solve problem
  • Step 5: Evaluate all ideas to find the best
  • Step 6: Implement an idea

Have the steps informed the next one? I doubt it.


Challenge 3: Observing learning that is happening

First of all, we had very little continuous participation. I know of three people who have been to three events – out of eight that happened so far (numbers guessed, I have to check). Either way, I have not observed any significant learning curve. Or reasoning that was based on discoveries in a previous step.

Yes, us, the team have been through all the steps. But wwe so far have not understood ourselves as participants and the ones learning. We are just the facilitators. The learning is meant to happen amongst the participants and stakeholders.

But their learning so far has likely only been: “These Looper people are so busy with that process they want to go through. Everything gets postponed to later, they don’t get any significant momentum. Seems not to work, their process.”



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