EU awards diversity prize for AUAS project

25 mei 2023 14:23 | Kenniscentrum FDMCI

A project involving AUAS researchers has won a new European Union citizen science prize for ‘diversity and cooperation’ this week. The EU has launched the Citizen Science Prize to encourage research with and by citizens. The prize will be awarded in September during the Ars Electronica festival.

The ‘Urban Belonging’ project, in which Sabine Niederer's Visual Methodologies professorship participated, has won this new European prize in the Diversity category and will receive 20,000 euros as a result. The winners were announced at a press conference on behalf of the EU this week; the award ceremony will take place in Austria in September.


Researchers from the AUAS, Aalborg University and IT University Copenhagen, together with urban designers from Gehl, conducted the ‘Urban Belonging’ study together with members of minority organisations in Copenhagen. These residents made it clear in new ways how they experience their city. The participants considered themselves part of a minority, for example because they are deaf, LGBTIQ+, homeless, belong to an ethnic minority, have a physical disability or live with a psychological vulnerability.

Video about the project Urban Belonging


For this project, over 33 participants spent 10 days out and about with a mobile phone. They recorded photos and videos of how they experience the city and where they do and don’t feel at home. Using a photovoice app, they collected a total of more than 1000 images of places and situations that were meaningful to them and were able to respond to photos that others had taken.

The participants then interpreted the data (including the routes taken) together with the researchers, transforming them into illustrations, visualisations and stories (storytelling). They did so during workshops in homogeneous groups (per organisation) and later in mixed groups, based on the locations where they had shared photos of places where they felt at home, or most definitely didn’t feel at home.


Several places clearly show that these groups are often not taken into account in urban design. Even the places where certain groups of residents have been thought of sometimes don’t quite hit the mark. Like a route through the forest, which also takes wheelchair users into account: an arrow indicates that they can use the cycle path. The intentions are good, but it means they will be separated from the rest of the group on a walk.

One of the participants described his experiences as follows: ‘As an LGBT+ person and a person with disability, it is often difficult for me to navigate in the city to places where I feel included. Due to the intersectional approach of this project, it is the first time I feel like I’m being seen as a whole person.’


‘The reason we were very keen to participate in this project was that we wanted to reach the parties that are usually not (or only barely) taken into account in urban issues’, says Sabine Niederer, professor of Visual Methodologies, who participated in this research project with her professorship. ‘Our aim was to develop a method that not only asks the participants for their opinion, but also involves them in interpreting the results and lets them decide for themselves how they want to be seen and heard in these processes.’


The jury of Ars Electronica, the organisation that announced the results on behalf of the European Union Prize for Citizen Science, emphasised that this project is so special because it supports the communities whose voices are not usually heard in urban planning. In addition, the jury praised the extent to which both the participants and partner organisations are involved in all phases of the research, and the fact that they analysed their data themselves. The LGBTIQ+ community is included, cultural diversity and gender diversity are discussed; in short, this study is truly an example of best practice in the field of social inclusion.

Sabine Niederer


The researchers know exactly what to do with the 20,000 euros in prize money: it can immediately be put back into the project. The photovoice app used (available on Github) will be offered as open source and provided with an interface for the collected data. The researchers also want to create a training module so that organisations can use the method and tools of this project in the same inclusive way.

The jury praised the ‘feminist and intersectional’ approach within the project. Sabine Niederer explains what this means: ‘The project is inspired by data feminism, which has formulated a set of principles to ensure that data-driven work does not lead to discrimination and inequality. The principles encourage you to ask critical questions in data research and to collect and analyse data in an inclusive and fair way. For example, at every design step you ask yourself who a new technology or design will help and who it won’t help.

When you see the full list of principles, it's actually quite difficult to work with them all. Because how can you be inclusive when you have to summarise or reduce things anyway, for example when you create a data visualisation? All the same, we experimented with this together with all the Danish partners and tried to make this entire study as inclusive as possible. The jury appreciated this and I regard that as a great honour.’

The international collective behind the Urban Belonging project assembles an interdisciplinary team of urban planners and researchers from Copenhagen and Amsterdam, spanning fields like digital humanities, service design, sociology, visual methodologies, programming, architecture, photography, techno-anthropology, and visualization design. The team was organized and steered by Sofie Burgos-Thorsen, Drude Emilie Ehn, and Anders Koed Madsen and included Thorben Simonsen, Sabine Niederer, Maarten Groen, Carlo De Gaetano, Kathrine Norsk and Federico Di Fresco, representing Gehl Architects, Techno-Anthropology Lab (Aalborg University), Service Design Lab (Aalborg University), Visual Methodologies Collective (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences), and Center for Digital Welfare (IT University Copenhagen).

The Urban Belonging project is co-funded by the ‘Doing Data Together’ grant awarded to Anders Koed Madsen at Aalborg University and Innovation Fund Denmark’s research grants awarded to Sofie Burgos-Thorsen and Drude Emilie Ehn, respectively. In addition, it is supported by Gehl, Service Design Lab (Aalborg University), Center for Digital Welfare (IT University Copenhagen), and Centre of Expertise for Creative Innovation in Amsterdam (CoECI). External collaborators include Pedro Borges and community partners LGBT+ Denmark, Hugs & Food, Danish Deaf Association, Danish Disability Association, SIND Denmark, and Mino Denmark.