Valuing Community-Led Design

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Engineering & Innovation


The ideas and practice of community-led design, participatory design or co-design have a long-standing tradition, especially in the context of urban design, planning and architecture. Community-led design goes beyond the one-dimensional process of consultation, helping involve people in decision-making throughout the design process, from visioning to implementation. There are many benefits from this approach, from improving civic participation and ensuring more democratic outcomes, to creating a strong sense of community and strengthening people's attachment to their place and to each other, to producing more sustainable solutions. However, 50 years after the first community-led design initiatives, and although professionals and organisations involved have reached a stage of maturity, community-led design is far from being mainstream in design and planning practice. An essential part of this problem is that the benefits of the approach are not thoroughly understood, measured or disseminated. The project aims to grapple with this problem, by exploring how a better case for community-led design can be made. This involves collecting and sharing evidence of good practice, collaboratively exploring measures of value and impact, and importantly, identifying ways for articulating and disseminating the benefits of community-led design. Grappling with this problem is of particular relevance at this particular time, with the emerging Localism agenda and the National Planning Policy Framework, which foresee an increased need for early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with communities.

The project will deliver network and workshop events bringing together a variety of stakeholders in order to map the existing landscape of community-led design practice, connect good practice and identify its value. Stakeholders will include individuals from public bodies (policy makers, local authority representatives), third sector organisations mediating community-led design, independent organisations offering support and advice on design and creative economy, local communities, design and creative professionals and researchers. Alongside these events we will develop and implement a social networking platform (based on the Open University's Open Design Studio technology) in order to gather individual stories and experiences from participation in community-led design from all over the UK (including photos, videos and text). This will allow further collection, analysis, articulation and dissemination of evidence on the benefits of community-led design, leading to the creation of a clear research agenda for the future.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from the research:
The research activities and outputs of the project are expected to benefit individuals and organisations representing multiple sectors and a wide range of roles. The planned events will aim to bring together academics with a number of stakeholders, including:
- professionals working in regeneration (urban planners, architects, artists)
- third sector organisations mediating, supporting and advocating community-led design
- community/voluntary organisations and civic societies
- local authority representatives (involved in planning, regeneration, housing, policy)
- independent organisations dedicated to promoting design

These stakeholders will benefit from sharing best practice, understanding of opportunities and barriers of community-led design, gaining access to evidence of impact, and participating in the formulation of a conceptual framework for evaluating their design and engagement activities.

Apart from the project partners who will be directly engaged in the research and impact activities, we will draw on a larger existing network of organisations like the British Council, Design Council, NESTA, Locality, Northern Architecture, and Homes and Communities Agency, as well as seek to develop new links. These will be both beneficiaries of the research, as they will gain knowledge and support for achieving their mission statements around promoting good design and supporting community groups involved in regeneration, but will also themselves contribute to reaching and connecting to a wider network of stakeholders.

Wider engagement and dissemination will also be achieved through the use of the project website and the proposed bespoke social network site (ODS). The social network platform has the potential to reach a large number of people from the wider public (community groups and individuals from places around the country) and give them the opportunity to influence and benefit from the project outcomes.

How will they benefit from the research:
In the short term, the project will help stimulate connections between research and practice communities, and create research ideas for future pursuits and collaborations.
Despite its limited scale and lifespan, the project also has the long term potential to develop networks and processes that can enhance community participation and connectedness, support sustainable regeneration and promote better quality of life.

The project benefits come from the engagement with two major issues, the first is understanding, critically reviewing and developing a framework for evaluating the impact of community-led design and the second is collecting, sharing and disseminating evidence about the obstacles and benefits of community-led design practice. Knowledge derived from the engagement with this issues, can:

- Lead to the development of practical toolkits for organisations involved in regeneration (first and third sector organisations as well as individual practitioners)
- Enhance the reach and impact ability of communities and community based organisations
- Inform policy making with regards to regeneration processes and projects
- Empower people to participate in forming their own environment
- Support best design practice and lead to the creation of better quality of life


10 25 50
Title Posters 
Description The project outputs included posters collaboratively created by workshop participants. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Helped capture and disseminate reflections in a visual way. 
Description Community-led design is a process through which local people are engaged in, and become responsible for, developing their environment, including buildings, open spaces, services and neighbourhoods. The aim of the project was to bring different stakeholders together in order to understand and articulate evidence about the value of community-led design.

Through creative workshop discussions and activities the meaning and scope of the term community-led design was itself explored and challenged from multiple perspectives. The project involved multiple stakeholders in its activities: academics from different disciplines (design, architecture, (economic and cultural) geography, planning, media, cultural studies); professionals working in regeneration (urban planners, architects, artists, enablers); third sector organisations mediating, supporting and advocating community-led design; representatives from community/voluntary groups, organisations and civic societies; local authority representatives (involved in planning, regeneration, housing, policy) and independent organisations dedicated to promoting design.

Together the participants identified three key areas of value/impact from community-led design activities: quality, social value and personal value. Quality refers both to the design practice itself and the design outcomes. Social value incorporates community building, sustainability, civic values and creation of public goods. Personal value refers to skills development, personal growth and creativity.

The project also identified a number of different approaches used to capture value and supported the development of methods and tools for unearthing and disseminating the benefits of community-led design. This included the development of a social network site called Community Design Exchange and contributing to the development of an asset mapping methodology. More details can be found on the project website:
Exploitation Route The activities and outputs of the project are beneficial to different stakeholders involved in community-led design, both in terms of offering evidence to help make the case for the value of those activities and in terms of methods and tools that can be used to support community engagement, networking and sharing learning.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Other

Description The findings from the project, particularly the findings relating to the types of value generated by community-led design activities, and methodological and theoretical developments regarding asset mapping approaches and use of media, informed research in subsequent projects.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description CC Funding 2013 Follow up Funding
Amount £54,936 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L013363/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2014 
End 02/2015
Description CC Summit 2012 Development Projects
Amount £124,945 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/K006711/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2013 
End 07/2014
Description CC Summit 2013 Development Awards
Amount £99,772 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L013142/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2014 
End 03/2015
Description Connected Communities Festival 2016
Amount £11,700 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 11/2016
Description Research Grants (Connected Communities and Design Highlight notice)
Amount £1,495,892 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/M001709/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 10/2019
Description Glass-House - OU partnership 
Organisation Glass-House Community Led Design
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The OU worked with the Glass-House to help create a bespoke social network (CDE) which is hoped to become part of their toolkit. The research helped generate evidence about the value of the activities of the Glass-House, as well as create new connections with academics, professionals and other third sector organisations. Following this project, the partnership with the Glass-House was further developed through collaboration in a number of other RCUK funded projects (listed in the further funding section).
Collaborator Contribution The Glass-House contributed as community partners, helping create and sustain links with place-making communities, deliver activities and disseminate outputs.
Impact Collaborative delivery of workshops with communities Collaborative research bidding Collaborative production of resources
Start Year 2012
Title Community Design Exchange 
Description Community Design Exchange is a bespoke social network site and visual gallery developed in order to collect individual stories from people who have taken part and benefited from community projects, and provide evidence of the value of their activity and the impact it has been making to their local environment. In parallel the site aimed to provide a space for sharing and learning and enable people to network and build on each other's experience. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact The very process of creating the website and soliciting input, helped bring people from different communities together to share their experiences and learn from each other. The website also helped learn about the use of social media, the opportunities and the challenges in their use. 
Description Connected Communities Stimulus Materials 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact In March 2013, the project was chosen by AHRC to appear as a case study to highlight the contributions that design can make to the Connected Communities Programme. The case study is available on the Connected Communities website. Madano partnership also created a short film about the project which was shown in the Connected Communities Showcase event in London.

The video which is used as a case study on the AHRC website is visited by anyone interested in the Connected Communities programme and wishes to apply for funding.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description VCLD Workshop 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact The aim of the workshop was to bring together academics and practitioners interested in participatory, community-led design in order to exchange experiences and share best practice, but also to explore ways to capture the value of community-led design and its impact. It was interactive and involved group activities. 24 people (academics, members of community groups and organisations and professionals) attended the workshop. The workshop produced results about the benefits of Community-led Design for people, organisations and society as well as methods for capturing this value.

Results from the discussion and exchange of experiences around asset mapping, fed into the development of asset mapping methodology later used in the Creative Citizen research project (also funded by AHRC).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description VCLD Workshop 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact The aim of the workshop was to disseminate preliminary findings, but also to support networking, exchange of experiences in the area of community-led design and formulate future research directions. The workshop invited multidisciplinary and multistakeholder perspectives, involving academics as well as practitioners, community organisations, community representatives and third sector organisations. 21 people attended the workshop.

A part of the workshop was dedicated to the development of a future research agenda and ideas for collaborative projects, some of which were developed into research proposals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013