The project consisted of two intertwined parts or phases, which will run in parallel throughout the project and strengthen, presuppose and enrichen each other. All participants were considered as knowledge producers in both phases. The first was the ethnographic phase where the children showed us their city. The urban space was in this phase studied with different methods, both traditional and experimental. The children acted as co-researchers (Hillén 2013a &b) and took part in a collective learning process (Kellett 2010). Methods used included walk-a-longs where children acted as guides to show their urban spaces (cf. Högdahl 2003), photos taken by the children to document their environment and photomapping to be used to visualize the children’s thoughts, wishes, and views (Greene & Hogan 2005). To understand how children actually use their neighborhood, informal observations were made.
The other parallel phase was characterized by participatory action research (cf. Argyris et al. 1985; Faga 2006) where children, teachers and planners interacted. It consisted of learning workshops lead by pedagogical experts and documented/analyzed by researchers in a collaborative process with all involved actors. This was a reflective process involving a systematic cyclical method of planning, taking action, observing, evaluating (including self-evaluation) and critical reflecting prior to planning the next cycle (cf. Reason & Bradbury 2001).The workshops may be considered as capacity-building based on interactive and collaborative learning processes as basis for change (Innes & Booher 2010). The expectations of the participants compared to the perceived outcomes were addressed along with levels of empowerment, as described by Senbel and Church (2011), and levels of participation based on Harts (1997) Ladder of Participation.
To gain knowledge about children’s different perspectives, and as a way to put children’s views into action, new ICT-tools was used; Maptionnaire; a web-based GIS visualization tool not requiring expert knowledge. Iivari, Kinnula, & Kuure (2015) state that children have been recognized as an important user group for ICT-tools and there are interesting methods for involving themin ICT design. Levy, Martens, & van der Heijden (2015) say that a common criticismagainst citizen participation is that the process can be difficult and slow. However, those problems can be easily overcome. ICT-tools makes it possible to extend public participation to a wider sphere of urban planning matters (ibid:313). Therefore, a theoretical framework with potential to grasp over the issue of increased citizen participation in urban development need to be based not only on theory related to participation and empowerment, but also to action research. Senbel and Church (2011) conclude that visualization media can facilitate the process but “it is evident that improving dialogue to the point of empowerment requires much more than simple tool development”, and can be used in exposed areas (Young & Barrett 2001). The methods used in our project facilitated empowerment of children and youth by using visualization as a tool for their participation in fieldwork and workshops.