The Urban Belonging Photo App: A toolkit for studying place attachments with digital and participatory methods

Anders Koed Madsen, Sofie Burgos-Thorsen, Carlo De Gaetano, Drude Ehn, Maarten Groen, Sabine Niederer, Kathrine Norsk, Thorben Simonsen

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This paper introduces the open-source Urban Belonging (UB) toolkit, designed to study place attachments through a combined digital, visual and participatory methodology that foregrounds lived experience. The core of the toolkit is the photovoice UB App, which prompts participants to document urban experiences as digital data by taking pictures of the city, annotating them, and reacting to others’ photos. The toolkit also includes an API interface and a set of scripts for converting data into visualizations and elicitation devices. The paper first describes how the app’s design specifications were co-created in a process that brought in voices from different research fields, planners from Gehl Architects, six marginalized communities, and citizen engagement professionals. Their inputs shaped decisions about what data collection the app makes possible, and how it mitigates issues of privacy and visual and spatial literacy to make the app as inclusive as possible. We document how design criteria were translated into app features, and we demonstrate how this opens new empirical opportunities for community engagement through examples of its use in the Urban Belonging project in Copenhagen. While the focus on photo capture animates participants to document experiences in a personal and situated way, metadata such as location and sentiment invites for quali-quantitative analysis of both macro trends and local contexts of people’s experiences. Further, the granularity of data makes both a demographic and post-demographic analysis possible, providing empirical ground for exploring what people have in common in what they photograph and where they walk. And, by inviting participants to react to others’ photos, the app offers a heterogeneous empirical ground, showing us how people see the city differently. We end the paper by discussing remaining challenges in the tool and provide a short guide for using it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-314
JournalMethodological Innovations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


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