‘Participation is a general concept covering different forms of decision-making by a number of involved groups’ (Wulz, 1986).

Participatory design is based on five fundamental points. First, Politics in terms of people who are affected by a decision should have an opportunity to influence it, second, people in terms of being experts of their lives and can have an influential role in design, third, context in terms of situations, fourth, methods as being the means of users to gain influence and fifth, product in terms of the final goal of participatory design. On that final goal is hidden the empowering quality of life that participatory design is meant to offer (Halskov & Hansen, 2014), Throughout the literature, participatory planning can be organized through three main thematics consisting of varying approaches. First, motives/objectives of deciding to engage participatory design, then degrees of participation that may occur, and third types of participants that get involved in terms of networks and scale.


The primary motivation of participatory design, back in the Scandinavian context of 1960-1970, was linked to ‘the democratization of work life’ (Schuler & Namioka, 1993, p. 251). It has emerged, as a reaction to the ‘mismanagement of the physical environment’ (Sanoff, 2006, p. 140) and as an attempt to improve the quality of design and planning. Today the democratic and pragmatic efforts of participatory design seems to be shifting perspectives (Sanoff, 2006). Elizabeth Sanders argues that before someone attempts to customize participatory tools and techniques, should firstly be able to understand the purpose and the context of participation (Sanders, Brandt, & Binder, 2010, p. 196). Even though participatory literature offers a plethora of approaches, the core motivations of participatory researchers and practitioners have been identified and clustered the following three areas: (a) ethics (democracy), (b) curiosity (theory), and (c) economy (pragmatic) (Bergvall-Kåreborn & Ståhlbrost, 2008, p. 103).


The degree of participation refers to a range of influence that participants have in the decision-making resulting to the final product. The level of participation that is required, it is a matter of ‘subjective intention’ (Andersen et al., 2015). In its two extremes it can be viewed as no participation, where designers make assumptions of users’ needs and requirements, and full participation, based on user-defined criteria of quality (Bergvall-Kåreborn & Ståhlbrost, 2008). The degree of participation can also be described as indirect or direct (Ives & Olson, 1984). However, an alternative reading of degrees of participation offers thematic approaches such as:

  • Design for the users ( 0% Participation)
  • Design with the users ( 16%-85% Participation)
  • Design by the users (100% Participation)

In reality, the evaluation of many participatory research practices is somewhere in between the two extremes, focusing more on design with the users (Bergvall-Kåreborn & Ståhlbrost, 2008, p. 107). However, the given theoretical process, it might provide an insufficient degree of realism that designers need to cope with, due to time and budget constraints. If it is to remain grounded to the practice of design, literature should be able to cope with barriers, and seek understanding beyond its conceptual approaches. Therefore, the current state-of-the-art has been preoccupied with responding to important questions such as:

  • How much participation is enough?
  • How much commitment seems reasonable?
  • How do you keep the participants engaged in the process in the long run of participatory design?
  • Should the reasons of participation be ethical or financial?
  • How do you coordinate multiple views and incentives in participatory dialogues?
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