RESEARCH DESIGN

My research design has been transforming throughout the whole research. This is a natural consequence of the grounded theory, which is one my chosen research strategies. What is common to all these research designs, is my intension to use a) different participatory city planning methods as qualitative research methods and to use them b) in the different phases of the imagined city planning process in the research.

Both of these prerequisites are derived from the Finnish Land Use and Building Act which I have to and have got used to follow as a practicing city planner.

a)  Participatory city planning methods

The Finnish Land Use and Building Act requires that plans must be prepared in interaction with such persons and bodies on whose circumstances or benefits the plan may have substantial impact (§ 6). The law ensures this with two important tools which span over the whole city planning process.

Firstly, the law includes a requirement for a special participation and assessment scheme for regional plans, joint municipal plans, local master plans and local detailed plans (§ 63). Purpose of the scheme is to give the interested parties an opportunity to obtain information on the principles of the planning and of the participation and assessment procedures. The scheme is required to be conducted and delivered to the interested parties already at the beginning of the city planning process so that they have a real chance to influence the whole planning process. The spectrum of civic advocacy is thus extended to cover all the phases of the city planning process. However, the focus is set at the beginning where most of the decisions of the planning process are made.

Secondly, the Land Use and Building Act includes also an assessment of the environmental impact of implementing the plan, including socio-economic, social, cultural and other impacts (§ 9) as part of the requirement that plans must be founded on sufficient studies and reports. This means that the baseline must be thoroughly defined before any planning starts so that the impacts of the plan can be later designated.

b)  Phases of the city planning process

The Finnish Land Use and Building Act does not define the city planning process directly. However, the law  demands that

  • plans must be founded on sufficient studies and reports
  • plans must be prepared
  • plans impacts must be assessed

Therefore, I divide the city planning process into three different phases: 1) data gathering, 2) actual planning and 3) evaluation. This three-part-division can be seen in the following evolution of research designs right from the beginning. I have marked the different phases in the research designs with colours of red (1), yellow (2) and green (3), which resemble simple traffic lights on purpose:

STOP (red colour) means you have to stop to examine the circumstances at first.
READY (yellow colour) means that you are now ready to plan.
GO (green colour) means that you can go on with realizing the plan.

EVOLUTION OF RESEARCH DESIGNS

In 2008 I had just finished the last parts of my compulsory doctorate courses. Having read already a lot of theoretical literature, my research questions were still very broad at this point:

  • Is it possible to advance immigrants’ integration by the means of city planning?
  • Do immigrants have something to give for the Finnish city planning?

Both of these research questions were addressed to examine the qualities of the built environment.

I had also made the decision of making a case study and choosing Suvela as the research area. I became interested in this housing area while working at the city planning office of Espoo in 2001-2006.

Because I was still working in city planning practice myself, I wanted my doctoral thesis to be as practice-oriented as possible and therefore I wanted it to include a plan. I thought the plan would exemplify the research findings from my case study in Suvela. I also wanted to use some participatory city planning method in each phase of my imaginary city planning process – data gathering, actual planning and evaluation – to help me to create a plan that would resemble immigrants’ needs.

In the beginning my research design included thus four parts: 1) walking interviews to gather background information for planning, 2) future workshop to produce the plan, 3) the actual plan, and 4) structured interviews to evaluate the impacts of the plan. At this point I thought that the plan would be more like a conventional city plan.

I had already some kind of a touch of all the chosen methods. I had used guided walking tours in my work and in civil advocacy. I had also arranged planning and evaluation workshops before. In addition, I had tried structured interviews in an earlier phase of my studies.

Research design in 2008.

Research design in 2008.

In 2011, when I finally got a chance to get a study leave from my job to start the fieldwork, I had already come to second thoughts with my first research design.

The research questions had now turned a little more accurate:

  • Is it possible to advance immigrants’ integration by the means of city planning and if it is, how?
  • Do immigrants have something to give for the Finnish city planning and if they do, what?

A bigger change was that this time I wanted to try several participatory city planning methods in the phase of data gathering instead of just one so that I could learn new skills for my professional life. Even if my motive was pure curiosity, this change responds the spirit of the Finnish Land Use and Building Act better, since it is in the beginning of the planning process, where participation is most crucial for the success of the plan.

In addition to guided walking tours, I wanted to apply different kinds of mapping – of behaviour, of physical tracks, and of mental maps – and a method called photovoice which was new to me. I chose these methods, because drawing maps and taking pictures would not require good verbal skills from the attendants, which was especially important when informants would be immigrants. Immigrant women would draw their mental images of Suvela and photograph Suvela guided by me, while mapping bahaviour and physical tracks would be solely on my responsibility.

I had also started to think that the plan would be something else than a conventional city plan. I was thinking more about a plan that would remind of Christopher Alexander’s pattern language as a summary of what I had discovered in my research.

Another minor change was that I had changed specified ’future workshops’ to more general ’planning workshops’, which would give me more freedom to design their content. Furthermore, future workshops suit better handling social problems than spacial problems.

Research design in 2011.

Research design in 2011.

In 2012 I had explored four methods and come approximately to the halfway of my fieldwork. My research questions had stayed the same but this time ’the means of city planning’ included also participatory city planning methods:

  • Is it possible to advance immigrants’ integration by the means of city planning and if it is, how?
  • Do immigrants have something to give for the Finnish city planning and if they do, what?

In addition, my research design had got a small twist: I had used structured interviews already in the beginning instead of the end, because I thought they would be easiest to start with and suit well the purpose of forking the research field to begin with. I had also asked immigrant women to draw mental maps of Suvela and thereafter conducted guided walking tours with them. Finally, I had walked systematically in Suvela by myself observing where people move, sit, stand, play, or spend their time otherwise.

On the basis of the experiences from the usage of structured interviews, I had decided that it would be easier to use workshops also for the evaluation instead of interviews. I thought I could use the same group of informants in them as in the planning workshops and avoid scraping together new informants once again. This would also allow me to check, if I had interpreted their thoughts right in the planning process.

Research design in 2012.

Research design in 2012.

In 2015, three years after I had finished the first year of my fieldwork, I had an opportunity to take another year off from my work. In the meanwhile, the rules about the doctoral thesis had changed: Now it was not allowed to include a plan in it anymore. This caused big changes in my research design again.

I both clarified my research questions and increased their amount from two to three:

  • How could immigrants’ participation in the Finnish city planning be increased?
  • In which other ways could immigrants’ needs concerning city planning be examined?
  • What kind of urban spaces should be created in multicultural housing areas in Finland in immigrants’ point of view?

It was only now that I wrote down the term ’participation’ explicitly in the research questions for the first time. At the same time very general expression ’something to give’ had been refined to a clear concept ’urban spaces’.

I had already done a lot of work in order to reach immigrant women in the earlier phases of my case study and come to the conclusion that ”if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad goes to the mountain”. This meant that I used a ready-made-group for the photovoice task in my case study (a Finnish language group) and was going to do the same thing also with the planning workshops (a Finnish discussion group) in order to skip the work of getting all the informants together. Participating in these groups did/would not require any extra commitment from immigrant women, whose life situation is already full of challenges otherwise.

Also partly for this reason, I decided to arrange a multicultural event and create internet and Facebook pages, where I could demonstrate the research findings from my case study as well as let immigrant women to evaluate them. I presumed that the threshold to participate in a public event or wander in the web would be even lower than to attend the closed groups of language and discussion groups. Another reason for arranging the event and creating the internet and Facebook pages was again just pure curiosity and desire to learn new skills for my work as a practising city planner.

I was still thinking of creating a plan on the basis of my research findings but it was not included in the actual research anymore – instead, commenting the plan in the event and on Internet and Facebook was.

At the same time with these changes ’guided walking tours’ had turned in the research design to ’walking interviews’, which is a more established term for what I had done in my case study.

Research design in 2015.

Research design in 2015.

In 2016, after having finished all of my field work, the research design had changed a bit again.

The number of my research questions had come down to two again and been sharpened to ’what participatory city planning methods’ instead of general ’how’ and ’in which ways’ questions while ’urban spaces’ had been changed to more specific ’urban places’:

  • What participatory city planning methods should a city planner use in order to increase immigrants’ participation in the city planning process and to get relevant information about their needs?
  • What kind of urban places should be created in multicultural housing areas from the immigrants’ point of view?

Arranging an event meant much more work than I had expected, so there was no time left for creating the plan before the event. The plan was supposed to be a synthesis of what I had learnt in my case study. I used this same knowledge, when I designed and built up the event. Therefore, I discovered that the event as a living performance would function as an illustration of the plan by showing the potential of the existing urban places with temporary their uses. It did not matter that the plan was still in my head instead of on a paper.

Immigrant women were able to comment the plan just by visiting the different activity spots in the event. What’s more, also other population groups had a similar chance to ’vote with their feet’, if those things in the built environment that immigrant women had found important, would be important also to them. This is why I have gathered visitor statistics about the Suvela Bazaar in addition to oral and written feedback from the event itself, from Facebook pages of the event and from these internet pages of the whole case study.

Research design in 2016.

Research design in 2016.

In 2017, … The research design will get its final form only after the whole case study is completed.