Collaborative future-making through game design practices

The potentials of prototyping, testing, and jamming for participatory planning processes

‘Less top-down planning and more collaborative processes!’ Citizen participation has long been politically desired and has become an integral part of public planning. However, how capable are planning professionals of designing successful participation processes? How can we do justice to the heterogeneity of differently knowledged actors when it comes to collaborative design and decision-making? Theoretically underpinned by an analysis of urban planning theory and participatory design history, I will investigate, from urban studies and game design perspectives, how we can empower co-creation and co-decision-making with playful methods.

  • participatory planning
  • games
  • design
  • co-design
  • decision-making


Because participation implies power structures, it requires sensitive means for collaborative decision-making.¹ As mediators, professionals often seek to present what is feasible instead of creating participatory inputs with new urban knowledge.2 What if participation meant co-creating future images together instead of legitimizing design decisions? 

Participation is not a protected concept tied to a specific approach or a measurable outcome. Success criteria depend on the different interests that are tied to its implementation, and so far, these have mostly been formulated from planners’ perspectives. Participation is a political act; however, it is also an individual experience. My research analyses this as yet overlooked perspective and inquires: What does it take for participants to render participation meaningful? To approach this question, I will examine planning processes from a game design perspective because games are user-centred systems that have perfected user engagement.


This project aims to investigate: To what extent do playful practices such as prototyping, testing, and jamming render participatory design meaningful for participants? I will examine how playful practices can facilitate participation through shared imagination in ongoing public participatory design cases.

As existing method evaluations mostly lack an account of participant experience, this project seeks to produce a robust qualitative data set that fills that gap. It will analyse methods by determining which qualities produce meaningful experiences, contributing to the debate on success criteria for participation. It will further examine knowledge transfers from citizens to planners, adding to the debate on urban knowledge.

Research design

The applied research will combine theory and practice using methods from game user research and qualitative social sciences. My research context will be two public participatory design cases which facilitate games for co-creation and co-decision-making, allowing me to collect data for my research. I seek to compare a planning game in which participants face a planning dilemma, take on roles, and act according to the goals of their characters in a quick collaborative problem-solving jam and a building game, in which ideas are quickly prototyped and tested directly on-site with simple building material.

A web-based questionnaire will capture participants’ pre-game expectations, knowledge, and motivation. The game will be documented using a participant observer method, and design artifacts will be documented. Post-game, on-site interviews and a web-based questionnaire based on the Player Experience Inventory (PXI)3 will capture participants’ experiences. Additional in-depth semi-structured interviews will relate individual experiences to the specific game qualities of prototyping, testing, and jamming. The knowledge transfer of participants’ input will be captured at crucial planners meetings by a participant observer method. Once the final design decision is taken, a web-based group discussion will gather participants’ impressions of the relation between their own contribution and the outcome.


Group of young women looking at their cell phones
Figure 1. Just Add People. Image © Kyoto City University, Satoru Takahashi.
Group of young women looking at their cell phones
Figure 1. Just Add People. Image © Kyoto City University, Satoru Takahashi.


  1. Horelli, L. (2002) A methodology of participatory planning. In Brechtel, R. and Churchman, A. (eds.), Handbook of environmental psychology. Wiley, New York; Tan, E. (2014) Negotiation and design for the self-organizing city: Gaming as a method for urban design. A+BE: Architecture and the Built Environment 4. DOI 10.7480/abe.2014.11.; Ampatzidou, C., Gugerell, K., Constaninescu, T., Devisch, O., Jauschneg, M., and Berger, M. (2018) All work and no play? Facilitating serious games and gamified applications in participatory urban planning and governance. Urban Planning 3.1, 34–46.
  2. Giseke, U., Löw, M., Million, A., Misselwitz, P., and Stollmann, J. (eds.) (2021) Urban Design Methods. Jovis, Berlin.
  3. Abeele, V.V., Spiel, K., Nacke, L., Johnson, D., and Gerling, K. (2020) Development and validation of the player experience inventory: A scale to measure player experiences at the level of functional and psychosocial consequences. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 135. DOI 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2019.102370.