Hamish Beattie

The Space of Discursive Urbanism: Exploring informal settlement upgrading through a “perceptual bridging” approach to participatory design gaming.

When informal settlement communities confront and explore conflicting perspectives and reconcile assumptions surrounding architectural and urban issues and goals they see significant increases in intra and inter-group cooperation, agency to affect change over their environment and empowerment outcomes. Usually participatory design processes are used to achieve this. These can improve project implementation timeframes, help to reduce risk and improve stakeholder satisfaction.

However a rift currently exists with the participatory design literature between participatory processes that seek to facilitate social change, and those that seek to implement a design project as the outcome. “Design outcome” focussed participatory processes have often been good-intentioned but criticised as often being short-sighted regarding issues of diversity of power. Such processes do often do not adequately deal with both the complex social structures shaped by various cultural nuances and asymmetries of power, when faced with implementation-driven outputs and short timeframes for project completion. As a result, participatory design initiatives based on a “problem- solving” or “consensus building” approach have focused too much on rapid solutions to urban conflicts and are often only concerned with the embellishment of a predetermined project. Meanwhile “social outcome” focussed participatory processes motivated by the long-term battle of challenging the drivers of socio-political issues struggle with meeting the immediate needs of the urban poor.

Recent developments in digital game creation software have opened up new avenues for research focussed on narrowing this rift. The research takes an approach of “conflictual consensus” generation and explores the notion of how architecture through digital “discursive urbanism” can allow participants to explore and communicate their tacit urban knowledge and enable stakeholders to explore a multiplicity of perspectives. A new digital participatory design game named Maslow’s Palace has been produced in collaboration with three landfill orientated informal settlement communities in Delhi and Mumbai. The approach was tested through fourteen participatory workshops and evaluated to identify consensus building, and perceptual bridging criteria for its usefulness in providing a socio-spatial interface with traditional development processes.


For more information visit the Heardspace website.


Prof Daniel Brown and Sarah Kindon


Beattie, Hamish, Daniel Brown, and Morten Gjerde. “Generating Consensus: A Framework for Fictional Inquiry in Participatory City Gaming.” In Serious Games, 126–37. Valencia: Springer, 2017.

Beattie, Hamish and Daniel Brown. “Perceptual Bridging as a Strategy for Stakeholder Consensus Building and Collective Action.” In Social Solidarity and the Commons. Lisbon: CEI-IUL, forthcoming.