The use of digital tools, ethnography and behavioural mapping to enhance the understanding of public space users, their uses, behaviours, perceptions and attitudes towards public spaces. What makes public spaces truly inclusive?

Nataša Rebernik
Aug 25, to Sept 25, 2017

Public spaces are meant for people. With their presence spaces become places. But what features truly
make a space a place? With the growing urban population, its increasing diversity and penetration of
digital tools into everyday life, cities worldwide are becoming more and more complex. Citizens are
becoming the drivers of urban development, and public spaces, their planning, design and governance
need to adapt to the citizens’ needs. Using ICT and new media technology, this STSM project aimed at
addressing the challenges in respect to understanding public space users, their use of public spaces, and
reflect on the actual role of digital tools in enhancing the use of public spaces. Interactions, mediations,
and support that digital tools are able to provide, can contribute to understanding of the challenges and
the needs, and can help respond adequately.
Aiming at deeper exploration of these phenomena, Ethnographic research, Digital tools research, Digital
tools comparative analysis and testing, and Behavioural mapping interpretation have been used as core
research methodologies. They were supported with a strong participatory approach, involving physically
and/or sensory impaired citizens on the one hand and non-impaired citizens on the other hand. The later
represented either general public space users or urban planners as practitioners and public space users at
the same time. Thus, two case studies were implemented within a specific urban setting of two
small/middle sized European cities, Maribor (MB-III) and Ljubljana (LJ-I) in Slovenia. Way-CyberParks App,
EthnoAlly, as well as a few other selected digital tools were analysed and tested through an engagement
with public space users. The main aim has been to understand how different digital tools can actually
support both the public space user, and the researcher, and indirectly help identify limitations of public
spaces and their use.
For both case studies ethnographic methodology, oriented towards deep, slow and small-data collection,
was used. Through participatory approach, the research involved 5 participants with physical and/or
sensory impairments on the one hand, and 3 non-impaired citizens on the other hand. Following the
initial digital tools mapping, a set of digital tools was then selected for evaluation and testing. Both
approaches together, ethnographic slow-data research, and digital tools research, brought an extensive
collection of materials, among which there were audio-visual materials, photos, diaries, digital and
manually drafted maps, researcher’s notes and observations. All these materials were followed by a
thorough qualitative analysis in order to get some insights into a set of research questions related to the use, attitudes and opinions of public space users towards the use of public spaces and the use of digital
tools for inclusive planning, design, maintenance and the use of public spaces. Finally the STSM resulted
in a.) a current state of the art of ethnographic and qualitative research digital tools, b.) a comparative
analysis of the selected digital tools, c.) a list of proposed improvements to the analysed digital tools for
the ethnographic and urban planning practice, and d.) a list of preliminary conclusions on the addressed
research questions.