Course Syllabus

Research Assistant: Inclusive Design for Inclusive Spaces

Draft Syllabus
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Semester & Location:

Fall 2021 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Psychology, Landscape architecture, Sociology,

Architecture, Communication

Faculty Members:

Bettina Werner & Joshua Morrison

Program Director:

Tina Mangieri,


Jenni Smith,

Time & Place:

Will be decided in consultation with research mentor


About the Research:

In the fall of 2019, a public space previously used as a staging ground for the metro will open adjacent to Nørrebro Station. This site, called Basargrunden, lies at the intersection of two of the most culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods in Denmark - Nørrebro, and Nordvest. In the coming two years, a team of research faculty from DIS  will facilitate a participatory process for temporary programming of the new public gathering space. This project is called Inclusive Design for Inclusive Spaces (IDIS). The temporary intervention will inform the permanent design of the space, and offer a unique opportunity to study the relationship between inclusivity in the design process and the diversity of public life.

The programming of public spaces (which activities we design for), and who we seek to attract often reflects who is a part of the design process. Public spaces can unintentionally exclude certain groups and activities and prioritize others. The design of the public realm thus has the potential to reinforce divides between social groups as well as inequalities. On the other hand, public spaces also have the potential to nourish ties between social groups and increase social cohesion and trust, depending on the process by which they are designed. 

In the field of urban planning and design, there is increasing interest in participatory design processes and inclusive spaces. However, little empirical research has been done on the results of participatory design models, i.e. who is ultimately engaging with the final design, nor on the participatory process itself as a catalyst for trust and empathy. 

The IDIS research project explores the relationship between participatory design in public space and the diversity of public life these spaces attract. The objective of the research is to support cities in Scandinavia and elsewhere in better understanding how the public realm can act as a form of social glue – encouraging mixing, trust, and empathy between the many groups that make up a city. It is a topic particularly relevant to cities and countries that are experiencing increases in immigration and racial and social diversity. Through the methodology of participatory action research (PAR), the IDIS project will explore the following questions:

  • How can we ensure cultural diversity in the participatory design and building process of public space?
  • Can the co-creation process itself be a means of building empathy and understanding across cultures?
  • Does an inclusive process lead to a greater diversity of public life in the space? 

As a PAR project, these questions will be explored with the local community through action by co-creating a physical intervention in the space. The project leverages a long history of engagement in the local community by our project partners Medborgerne, who have been active in the community for over a decade and have historically led the process of community engagement in this district. 

Researcher Bio:
Bettina Werner is trained in ethnographic methods and anthropology and has three years of work experience within urban design, working on the relationship between people and the built environment. She teaches three courses at DIS and is one of four co-founders of the interdisciplinary urban design collective COurban. In COurban, Bettina specializes in social design, citizen participation and health promoting urban design.

Josh Morrison is an urban planner and landscape architect with a masters in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He has also studied landscape architecture at the University of Copenhagen and completed his undergraduate degree at Brown University in urban studies. He has 8 years of experience as an urban designer and works regularly as a facilitator of participatory design processes for public spaces. He has previously worked as an urban planner for Gehl Architects, The World Bank,  and the U.S. Department of Transportation and has extensive experience with observational methods for assessing public space. He teaches Bicycle Urbanism at DIS and is a co-founder of the design practice Fundament.

Description of role and responsibilities of the Research Assistant

The research assistantship will involve both a supervised study of contemporary theory on participatory design, as well as the practical application of this theory through the research project.

You are expected to spend a minimum of 10 hours per week on course readings, meetings with your supervisor, and research work. The workload will vary over the semester reflective of the phase of the project. 

As research assistant you will:

  1. Participate in weekly meetings with your research mentor at a time set collectively at the beginning of the semester.
  2. Keep a research journal and/or send weekly emails to your research mentor describing the activities of the week, and outlining goals for the following week.
  3. With guidance from research supervisor, conduct literature review of case studies for participatory action research in public space design. Document how previous teams have approached involving marginalized populations in the design process of public realm and what the outcomes have been. 
  4. Prepare a draft plan for the participatory design workshop. Assist in conducting qualitative assessments with stakeholders during the planning process to solicit feedback on agenda for the workshop. 
  5. Assist in carrying out a co-design workshop for Basargrunden and acting as a small-group design lead to help participants work with modeling material and in communicating their ideas through graphic representation and modeling. 
  6. Assist in planning and conducting a cooperative build on-site, including assistance with design fabrication. 
  7. Collect on-site data using observational methods for assessing public life used by the City of Copenhagen to track the use of public space (Gehl 2013). 
  8. Assist in the analysis of observational data and qualitative data from interviews. Contribute to book chapter on participatory design to which the research supervisors have been selected as contributors. 
  9. Participate in two workshops for research assistants during the semester:
    1. A workshop at the beginning of the semester: orientation and strategies for successful international research work.
    2. A second workshop discussing strategies and best practices for effective communication of research, especially to those not in the field.
  10. Make a final presentation of your research to peer(s) from other disciplines at the End of Semester Showcase.


Learning Objectives

The student selected as an RA will have the opportunity to develop their experience as an urban planner, architect, and/or social scientist in conducting a participatory action research project exploring inclusivity in the design process. As the project involves a professional urban design intervention, the student will gain real world experience of translating theory into practice, learning to communicate effectively with stakeholders, developing qualitative and observational assessment methods, conducting research design, and sharpening their critical theory on urban issues of displacement, social mixing, inclusivity, and marginalization.  

The RAship will help the student navigate their own career within the field of social science and urban planning and provide a useful reference project for future work. It also may provide an opportunity to be a co-author on a peer-reviewed journal article and/or book chapter.  


The research assistant will conduct readings to ground the work they conduct in contemporary theory on urban planning and participatory design. The readings will be broken into two main modules to reflect the timeline of the project. The student will receive guidance concerning the basics of observational methods, design research, participatory action research, study designs, facilitation methods, methods of analysis, etc.

Module I: Process Design for Participation
These articles should be completed alongside the literature review assignment.

Axelsen, L.V., Mygind, L. & Bentsen, P. (2014) “Designing with Children: A Participatory Design Framework for Developing Interactive Exhibitions”, The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, vol. 7, pp. 1-17

Gehl Institute (2016) “What are the Benefits of Social Mixing?” Public Space Diversity Tool Kit, New York City, pp. 12-13

Hansson, K., Cars, G., Ekenberg, L. & Danielsson, M. (2013) “The Importance of Recognition for Equal Representation in Participatory Processes: Lessons from Husby”, in The participatory turn in urbanism, Eds. Krivý, M. & Kaminer, T., Footprint, vol. 7:2, pp 81-98

Københavns Kommune (2015) “Byens Torv”, Forslag til ideoplæg, Bilag 1C, City of Copenhagen

Michael, J. (2013) Towards a Consensus About the Role of Empathy in Interpersonal Understanding”, Topoi - An International Review of Philosophy, Springer, Vol. 33:1, pp. 157-172.

Wortham-Galvin, B.D. (2013) “An Anthropology of Urbanism: How People Make Places (and What Designers and Planners Might Learn from it)” in The participatory turn in urbanism, Eds. Krivý, M. & Kaminer, T., Footprint, vol. 7:2, pp. 21-40

Module II: Observational Methods, Data Collection

These readings will provide the theoretical framework for the workshops we will plan and conduct as well as the qualitative and observational data we will collect. Excerpts from these texts are included in the files folder on canvas. These excerpts should be completed by the third week of October. 

Gehl, J. (1987) Life between buildings: Using Public Space, Van Nostrand reinhold, New York (extracts)

Gehl, J. (2010) Cities for People, Island Press, London (extracts)

Gehl, J. & Svarre, B., (2013) How to Study Public Life, Island Press, London (extracts)

Gehl Institute (2016) Public Space Diversity Tool Kit, New York City

Sanders, L. (2008) “An evolving map of design practice and design research”
Interactions, vol. 15:6, pp. 1-7

Lydon, M. & Garcia, A. (2015) Tactical Urbanism: Short Term Action for Long Term Change, Island Press, Washington

Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. 1977. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Appleyard, Donald. 2015. Livable Streets. Routledge.

Field research

The research project includes field research, but it will be on site in Copenhagen. If other field research comes up as relevant for the research, expenses related to this field work will be covered by a DIS travel grant.

Approach to Mentoring

All DIS research mentors have been trained in mentoring students but their approach to mentoring may differ. Mentoring is about engaging at a different - and often deeper - level than what is typical in the class room. However, mentoring also comes with some degree of ambiguity, which is important for you to be prepared for. The research mentor will work closely with you throughout the semester but part of the training is also for you to use your own judgement, to make assessments and decisions. As part of planning your tasks and responsibilities for the semester together, the research mentor will talk to you about her/his approach to mentoring.

Expectations of the Research Assistant 

The specific expectations of the individual research assistant are agreed at the beginning of the semester. In general, a research assistant is expected to take initiative, take ownership of the project and work independently. You must also be prepared for meetings and be willing to part take part in relevant discussions. In cases where more research assistants are involved in the same project, you will be expected to engage in some teamwork. Carrying out a research project is not a straight forward and predictable process. This is part of what makes it exciting. It also means that communication is crucial. You are expected to take responsibility for communicating about problems or issues that arise.


Data collected during the research will be primarily public life data, using methods adapted from the Public Life Diversity Toolkit (Geh Institute 2016). There will also be qualitative and quantitative data collected during workshops through surveys and interviews.

The research will be exempt from IRB as there will be written consent from participants and they will be anonymized in research reports.

Evaluation and grading

All research assistants are assessed on their participation in the seminar on responsible research practices, weekly status reports to the research mentor, self-evaluation and presentation to peers from other disciplines. In addition to this, the research assistant will be evaluated based on their effective contribution and completion of the tasks outlined in the roles and responsibilities section of this syllabus. A breakdown of how each deliverable contributes to the student's final grade is provided below.  

Completion of literature review of case studies for participatory action research in public space design


Draft of research paper summarizing methods, reflection, and analysis outcomes


Presentation of research paper summarizing methods, reflection, and analysis outcomes


Research Paper Final


Completion of research responsibilities (Participation)


  • Conduct planning for design workshop, assist in facilitating workshop as small-group design lead.


  • Planning of on-site build workshop, prepare fabrication plan. 


  • Completion of on-site observational study and data analysis


  • Contribution to book chapter on participatory design. 



Disability and Resource Statement  

Any student who has a need for accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the Office of Academic Support ( to coordinate this.  In order to receive accommodations, students should inform the instructor of approved DIS accommodations within the first two weeks of classes.



It is crucial for your learning that you stay on task and hand in assignments on or before the due date. All work– including in-class projects – have to be completed in order to pass the class. Late papers or projects will be marked down with 1/3 of a grade for each day it is late.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism and Violating the Rules of an Assignment

DIS expects that students abide by the highest standards of intellectual honesty in all academic work. DIS assumes that all students do their own work and credit all work or thought taken from others. Academic dishonesty will result in a final course grade of “F” and can result in dismissal. The students’ home universities will be notified. DIS reserves the right to request that written student assignments be turned in electronic form for submission to plagiarism detection software.  See the Academic Handbook for more information, or ask your instructor if you have questions.

Academic Regulations

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Course Summary:

Date Details Due