Opening conversations by design methods: participatory network mapping

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientificpeer-review


As the urgency for sustainability transformations increase, there is a growing need to mobilise action throughout society. Bottom-up initiatives, where action and change are driven by groups of social actors through self-organized mechanisms, hold potential for inclusive and just sustainability transformations in the long run. For collective transformations, it is essential to understand the dynamics of change-oriented action and learning at individual, organizational and community levels, and from situational and theoretical perspectives.
Social networks are among the major catalysers and/or hinderers of collective action. Quantitative methods for analysing social networks fall short in understanding network structures in relation to their context, change over time, content and meaning. Recently, methods for gathering and analysing qualitative data about networks are being developed to deliver thicker descriptions and deeper understandings of social networks. However, qualitative inquiry into networks is challenging since it aims to include both diverse interpretations of network actors and common patterns in network structures without falling into the trap of abstraction and over-generalisation.
In this paper, we introduce a design-based method for participatory network mapping (PNM), which aims to facilitate both data gathering and analysis with a collective and interpretive approach. By taking grassroots eco-communities as cases of “sites for change”, we investigate the actors, constituents and dynamics within and across networks of eco-communities to understand how learning for transformations spread. We will present the method of participatory network mapping by providing instances and findings from its initial applications in real-world contexts.
Enabling multi-stakeholder interactions, facilitating social learning, joint problem-framing, mutual understanding, and collaborative planning and action are fundamental for transdisciplinary research aiming for transformative change. In the existing body of work, there is room for better integration of multi-stakeholder processes and critical reflexivity with problem framing, problem solving and social learning throughout the whole research process. Such improvements propose alterations in how knowledge is produced, and might reveal real world complexity (system knowledge), bring unprecedented solution alternatives to the surface (target knowledge). Moreover, inclusive and collective action can be enacted by means of increased interactions between actors, confrontations of perspectives, and alliances between disciplines (transformation knowledge).
Some researchers highlight co-creation process as critical in knowledge generation, for its significant agency in facilitating learning, initiating transformation and change from the very first stages of research. Co-design research and practice has accumulated knowledge and expertise in collaborative and participatory methods that pave the way for co-creation processes. In co-design, probes, generative toolkits, and prototypes have been used to engage people in generating data for future design. As such, design-based participatory methods evoke topical reflections and conversations, while they catalyse knowledge co-production, social learning and sense-making.
Based on these insights, we have developed and applied design-based PNM, which integrates co-design methods and qualitative network research, to gather and generate data about social networks formed around grassroots eco-communities. Our findings indicate that employing design-based methods offer vast potential to foster knowledge co-creation. Such that, while the process enables inclusive participation of network actors, it also expedites reflection on actors’ networks, on the content and meanings of their interactions as well as on the past, present and target states of their social relationships. On the other hand, the process generates conversations between diverse actors, perspectives, expectations, and even conflicting parties, thus triggers reflexive processes. Such conversations create opportunities for loosening social inertia, building mutual understandings and, thus, turning the process of research into an opportunity to construct both social capital and intellectual grounds for sustainability transformations. Furthermore, the method allows simultaneous reflexivity and reflection for ongoing research initiatives, as the inquiry gets collectively reframed, reinterpreted and researched in real-world contexts with network actors.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages149
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventInternational Transdisciplinarity Conference: Joining Forces for Change - Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 10 Sep 201913 Sep 2019


ConferenceInternational Transdisciplinarity Conference
Internet address


  • knowledge co-creation
  • qualitative network analysis
  • participatory methods
  • Design Methods


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