For the last 3 to 4 decades, the concept of Participatory Planning as an approach of designing has been heavily incorporated in many disciplinary fields. This project investigates the role of participation as the process that users, and other stakeholders, are actively involved in the decision-making process through the approach of achieving Sustainable Urban Governance and utilising innovative immersive technologies (specifically AR). We argue that the application of participatory design in the design process is essential to provide economically and socially sustainable outcomes. Even though Participatory Design may vary in approach, there is a common goal that all researchers and practitioners share: to provide better solutions for the ‘user’. This argument does not necessarily imply that researchers and practitioners not involving participatory methods do not aim to provide better solutions. It rather suggests that a certain methodology can be acquired to manage the process of designing in that way that incorporates users and other stakeholders involved in the process. Literature supports that despite the numerous methodologies and theories developed to support participatory design, its practices remain stuck to fulfill its full potential (Binder, Brandt, Ehn, & Halse, 2015). SUGAR researchers argue that the failure to develop a comprehensive understanding of participatory design practices, can be attributed in part to the lack of focus on identifying what participation entails but also explore new possibilities and contexts. This project’s main output is the development of a methodological framework (including best-practice protocols and guidelines) to achieving Sustainable Urban Governance through participatory planning utilising Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. This is innovative in many levels as no such framework currently exists amidst pleads by governments and international organisations (e.g. UN-HABITAT) to democratise the planning process and promote transparency in the decision-making at the municipal and state levels.
The creation of this framework is an innovative exercise in participation itself, utilising Design Thinking methods (specifically the Design Sprint) to bring together the partners and stakeholders in a four-phase development workshop. Furthermore, the framework itself will contain AR-infused Design Thinking activities. Normal Design Thinking processes have a very clear framework and method but the use of Design Thinking as means of public participation and engagement is only just being tested effectively. This framework will be poised to provide a vital link between the analytical processes of urban planning and opportunity research and a proactive and demonstrable response to the situations so long under observation. The spirit of Design Thinking and the visual mediums that Augmented Reality (AR) employs are essential contributors to share and debate alternative visions for the city. As a guided process, participatory design, lends a voice to unheard groups and individuals, provides an unfamiliar, and potentially neutral ground for discussion, and produces a discernible shared output and a collection of accessible ideas to share with a wider public. This radical fusion of AR and participatory planning is inherently future oriented and offers an opportunity to supplant contemporary areas of urban planning with shared alternatives. The SUGAR project will find the consortium at the forefront of the inter-disciplinary area of participatory planning and immersive technologies to achieve Sustainable Urban Governance. The partners are committed to pursue funding beyond the completion of the project through national and international funding fora and create a global network of institutions, researchers and practitioners interested in the crux of these fields.