Participation means different things to different people. While not intended to be all-encompassing list of definitions, these terms act as a conversation-starter, to help explicate individuals’ understandings and/or to provide a common ground (or boundary object) during processes of engagement and planning. These terms are applied and develop further within this site’s related concepts section.

To gather in a steadily increasing mass.
Support, recommend and urge by argument, on behalf of another.
The underlying intentions or motives of a particular person or group.
Form or group into a class or cluster.

Formed or calculated by the combination of several separate elements; total; collective.

A linguistic act – either spoken or written – that has a truth value.
Citizen Engagement
Ways in which citizens participate in the life of a community in order to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s future.
To connect as thought, feeling, memory; To unite.
Begging the Question
Assuming the very thing to be proved with an argument.
Cognitive Dissonance
The mental discomfort experienced from:

  • Holding two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time.
  • Performing an action contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values held.
  • Being confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
Cognitive Distance
Mental representations of large-scale environmental distances that cannot be perceived from a single vantage point but require movement through the environment for their apprehension.

Techniques for measuring cognitive distance:

  • Ratio scaling
  • Interval/ordinal scaling
  • Mapping
  • Reproduction
  • Route choice

Can be used for assessing:

  • Estimation accuracy
  • Usefulness in various research contexts
  • Construct validity

The measurement of cognitive dissonance: methods and construct validity. The Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Differs to Perceptual Distance as this refers to people’s beliefs about distances between places which are visible from each other and are typically in sight during the estimation procedure.

Cognitive Folding
Combination of cognitive distance and structural folding.
Collaborative Design Approaches
Supplier-centred design
A designer creates a solution they think users need.

User-centred design
A designer creates a solution based on research of the user’s needs and point of view.

A designer works with stakeholders to help them design a solution for themselves.

A designer works with stakeholders to produce a solution.

Co-design and co-production are brought together. Users work in partnership with a designer to co-create solutions.

Valuable, useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, usable.

To bring together in a crowd; To gather together in a crowd.
Cultural Capital
Non-financial social assets that promote social mobility beyond economic means. Examples can include education, intellect, style of speech, dress, or physical appearance.
Design Thinking
Design thinking is a structured process that encourages creativity in problem solving (and problem finding) – especially problem solving with an aim of social innovation and a shared understanding towards common goals.
Disruptive Normality
Throughout the course of a given disruption to a system, the new process or result eventually settles into normality.

The challenge that ‘Disruptive Normality’ describes is a successful transitioning to normality while maintaining the progressive and innovative values that realised the disruption. How can the behaviour of common people living their normal lives contribute to a continuous momentum of disruption to normalisation? What creative tension and resulting synthesis can be found between conservative and progressive approaches for development?

Distributed Leadership
Distributed leadership is a conceptual and analytical approach to understanding how the work of leadership takes place among the people and in context of a complex organisation.
The branch of philosophy that studies the nature and scope of knowledge.
A flaw in reason. Something that weakens or destroys an argument.
The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
Grounded Theory
All research is “grounded” in data, but few studies produce a “grounded theory.” Grounded Theory is an inductive methodology. Although many call Grounded Theory a qualitative method, it is not. It is a general method. It is the systematic generation of theory from systematic research.

It is a set of rigorous research procedures leading to the emergence of conceptual categories. These concepts/categories are related to each other as a theoretical explanation of the action(s) that continually resolves the main concern of the participants in a substantive area. Grounded Theory can be used with either qualitative or quantitative data.

Heuristic Technique

Any approach to problem solving, learning or discovering with practical methods that are not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for an immediate goal.

Heuristics can be mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision.

Examples of this method include:

  • Rule of thumb
  • Educated guess
  • Intuitive judgment
  • Stereotyping
  • Profiling
  • Common sense
A proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories.
Working Hypothesis
A provisionally accepted hypothesis proposed for further research in the hope that a tenable theory will be produced, even if the hypothesis ultimately fails.
Impact Hubs
Social innovation spaces/Co-working space including social bottom lines.
A thing that provides the state, level or condition of something. Social innovation spaces/Co-working space including social bottom lines.
Using past experience to make future predictions.
The implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations.

Social Innovation

Social in their ends and their means; new strategies, concepts, ideas and organisations that meet the social needs of different elements which can be from working conditions and education to community development and health — they extend and strengthen civil society.

Open Innovation

The use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively. Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as they look to advance their technology.

[Chesbrough, Henry, Open Innovation, Harvard Business School Press, 2003]

Recombinant Innovation

Converting old ideas into new ones by adapting them from one context to another.

An organisational basis for recombinant innovation – specifically relating to entrepreneurship and innovation – is keeping multiple games in play at the same time; and exploiting the tension among them. With the emergence of decentralised/networked structures, this provides more incentive for a mass of individuals and organisations to adopt.

The combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity; creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them.
Internet of Things
The internet of things is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.
An important topic or problem for debate or discussion.
A short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct.
The systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study. It comprises the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge.
A branch of philosophy that studies the nature of reality.
Minimum Viable Product
In product development, MVP is a product with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development. Gathering insights from an MVP is often less expensive than developing a product with more features, which increase costs and risk if the product fails.

MVP is increasingly being applied to services as well as products.

The act of making a condition or consequence less severe.

Mitigating Risk

The act preparing for a condition or consequence to happen, thus making it less severe or less likely.

Primary Qualities
Qualities that physical objects themselves have.
Something that is said of another object. They add to the existence of a subject but they cannot be used to prove their existence.
To obtain or get by care, effort, or the use of special means.
Reasoning Techniques
Abductive Reasoning

Drawing a conclusion based on the explanation that best explains a state of events, rather than from evidence provided by the premise.

The theoretical construct for sustainability that:

  • Guides against breaching unknown systems boundaries;
  • Suggests that continuous changes in certain driving variables is inherently dangerous (e.g., continuously increasing fishing pressure, escalating GHG emissions, or constant material growth) and;
  • Warns that surviving the breach of a major tipping point, whether human induced or natural, will require unprecedented levels of investment, cooperation and other forms of institutional and societal adaptation.

Reference: resilience.org

Questioning whether anything can be known with certainty.


  • Rationalism: the belief that reason is the most reliable source of knowledge.
  • Empiricism: the belief that sense experience is the most reliable source of knowledge
Scientific Method
  1. Empirically Testable: Can be supported or contradicted by observations.
  2. Replicable: Can be tested repeatedly.
  3. Objective: Can be tested independently.
  4. Transparent: Results are shared publicly.
  5. Falsifiable: Finding falsifiable evidence is made possible.
  6. Logically Consistent: Hypothesis is internally consistent, and conclusions — to support or reject the hypothesis — are logically sound.

A linearised, pragmatic guideline for proceeding:[Citation]

  1. Define a question.
  2. Gather information and resources (observation).
  3. Form an explanatory hypothesis.
  4. Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner.
  5. Analyse the data.
  6. Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis.
  7. Publish results.
  8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists).
A distinct part, especially of society or of a nation’s economy.
A regulated form of co-production of benefits between two or more parties, aiming to solve a certain problem through the application of knowledge and skills.

A service results from an interaction and is a form of social interaction.

Service Design
The application of design thinking and design methodology to immaterial products.

Service design focuses on improving existing services or innovating new services in ways that are effective and efficient; make sense and are easy to use; and ultimately aim to be enjoyable and desirable – to users, providers, as well as as society at large.

Smart City

Effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens — on the basis of a multi-stakeholder and municipal partnership.

Social Coordination Theory
To be successful and resilient, human beings need to work together. This is as true of small bands of hunter gatherers as of the sophisticated city dwellers of the 21st century. Four foundational modes of coordination reflect our formative experiences as human beings and have each persisted because at different times and in different ways they convey evolutionary advantages:

      1. Hierarchical Mode: seeks to solve the social coordination challenge through leadership, authority and expertise encoded in forms of bureaucracy and rules.
      2. Solidaristic Mode: based on some idea of equality and shared membership and mobilises the power of values and mutual obligation.
      3. Individualistic Mode: eschews strong coordination in favour of a reliance on individual aspiration, competition, enterprise and innovation.
      4. Fatalistic Mode: tends to view social coordination as intractable or else that the attempt to solve social problems through coordination is unlikely to save us from the things that makes it hardest to be human.

The best solutions to complex social challenges combine the different strengths of each mode of coordination while avoiding their weaknesses:

      • The Hierarchical Mode can be powerful and strategic but also overbearing and bureaucratic.
      • The Solidaristic Mode can be mobilising and inclusive but it also defensive and tribal.
      • The Individualistic Mode can be dynamic and creative but also selfish and irresponsible.
      • Even the Fatalistic Mode has two sides – scepticism and realism are useful, cynicism and resignation are not.

The principle is that good solutions will demonstrate a capacity to combine each of the three active modes of coordination (fatalism is always there in the background but less important to making change) and manage the inevitable tensions between them. Each active mode can be thought of as a source of social energy and a way of creating solutions. Therefore, we should ask of any proposed solution:

  1. How does it use the power of institutions?

2. How does it mobilise the power of shared values?

3. How does it unleash the power of enlightened self-interest?

Designers of objects bring a deep understanding of materials to their creative process. The material of service and policy design is people and the different ways they do things together. As well as creative process, design thinking needs to develop robust and stimulating ideas about the nature of social materials; their qualities and the challenges of combining them into system changing solutions.

Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the RSA)

Social Change
Not a replacement of one system by another but a combination (or a new combination) of existing elements.
Social Engagement
Working constructively between and within social groups to create more sustainable and resilient communities.
Structural Folding
The network property of a cohesive group whose membership overlaps with that of another cohesive group.

The idea reaches back to Georg Simmel’s argument that individuality itself might be the product of unique intersection of network circles.

A person or thing being discussed, described, or dealt with.
An ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself. If an activity is said to be sustainable, it should be able to continue forever.

Applied to society, this means that we can take what is needed to live now, without jeopardising the potential for people in the future to meet their needs.

In its broad and abstract sense, sustainability is always possible aspire to, while in its detailed and specific sense, it is always impossible to attain as an absolute. Sustainability is not a utopian end-state – it is a continuous process of adapting, reorganising, and evolving into more desirable configurations of interfacing with complex systems of systems.

Social Sustainability

Personal and societal assets, rules and processes that empower individuals and community to participate in the long term and fair achievement of adequate and economically achievable standards of life, based on self-expressed needs and aspirations within the physical boundaries of places and the planet as a whole

Sustainable & Resilient Cities
Health & Wellbeing
Everyone living and working in the city has access to what they need to survive and thrive.

Economy & Society
The social and financial systems that enable urban populations to live peacefully and act collectively.

Leadership & Strategy
The processes that promote effective leadership, inclusive decision making, empowered stakeholders and integrated planning.

Infrastructure & Environment
The human-made and natural systems that provide critical services, and that protect and connect urban assets, enabling the flow of goods, services and knowledge.


A set of objects or processes working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole [http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/system]

Systems Diagrams

Diagrams are used in systems thinking and practice to capture as much information as possible about a situation; to help explore a situation; to help to analyse a situation; to represent a system of interest; to plan and implement changes to a situation; to help in decision making; and to help with quantitative model building.

Diagrams come in many forms and uses, but for systems thinking and practice it is useful to think of them as models (representations of reality). The term ‘model’ is used in a variety of contexts, even when there is a more commonly used term especially appropriate to its own context.

Systems Thinking

“Systems Thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes, recognising patterns and relationships, and learning how to structure those interrelationships in more effective ways.” — Peter Senge


An objective or result towards which efforts are directed.


A matter dealt with in a text, discourse, or conversation.

Truth Value
A state of being either true, or false, or indeterminate.
The study, interpretation and classifying of things according to general types.
Urban Planning
“The technical and political process concerned with the use of land and design of the
urban environment, to guide and ensure the orderly development of settlements
and communities.”

[The British Standards institution: Smart cities – Vocabulary – 2014]
Urban Realm
“Spatial components of the city, consisting of often dispersed, independent zones or realms linked together by the public realm (streetscape, public spaces, parks, etc.) to form the metropolitan framework.”

[The British Standards institution: Smart cities – Vocabulary – 2014]
Value Theory
  • Ethics: The branch of philosophy that studies and evaluates human conduct.
  • Aesthetics: The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of beauty.
User Experience
All aspects of an end-user’s interaction with an organisation and its product or service.

Related Concepts: Fundamental Human Needs
Related Resources: Brand Vision Strategy