1 Introduction

Eighty million European citizens face long-term physical, intellectual or sensory impairment (Eurostat 2019). One in four EU citizens report having a disability, characterized by limitations in performing everyday activities for a period of six months or longer (European 2018). At the same time, the group of disabled persons is very diverse, representing a wide range of access needs, concerns, abilities, and objectives.

Transport is a core aspect of independent living and a key right for everyone. However, there is still a lack of accessible transport vehicles and services (Müller and Meyer 2019), and inaccessible transport and infrastructural barriers consistently prevent persons with disabilities from actively and fully participating in society. As a consequence, people are effectively disabled from accessing job opportunities, education, social and leisure activities.

Even though it is a widely accepted fact that the people concerned should be involved in the research process the number of research projects that provide persons with disabilities the opportunity to participate in research is rather limited. There is a need for persons with disabilities to be “involved as consultants and partners not just as research subjects” (Kitchin 2000). Accordingly, Wilson (2003) recommends: “Disabled people need to be consulted in the design, delivery and implementation of accessible transport systems” (Wilson 2003). By starting a dialogue with vulnerable-to-exclusion citizens and involve hard-to-reach or excluded groups in transport planning the accessibility of transport can be improved.

A way to consider the needs of persons with disabilities in the design of accessible transport is Participatory Design Research. The premise of participatory research is the notion that people are the experts of their own needs and requirements. As a result, participatory research can be seen as a collaborative process that is driven by ‘the participation of the persons who will be affected by the output that is being designed.’ (Cozza et al. 2020). Thereby, participatory research offers ways for participants to contribute with their expertise and experience, ultimately shaping the research agenda and methods of a project. There are several examples of co-creation projects that involved users in transport planning (e.g., Pappers et al. 2021), however there are few examples of projects that involved persons with disabilities in creating accessible transport (e.g., Gebauer et al. 2010; Luhtala et al. 2020; Tambouris and Tarabanis 2021). As a result, the application of co-design in the context of accessible transport systems remains an open area of research.

In this chapter we describe co-design in the context of accessible transport development, prompted by the friction encountered when the theoretical framework of co-design is put into practise, and we address the following research questions:

  • What are the challenges for putting co-design into practice with persons with disabilities to create accessible public transport?

  • What coping mechanisms can be put in place to address such frictions, what results do they deliver and how can they be used to improve the experience of doing co-design?

2 Methodological Approach

The work described here takes its origin in TRIPS (www.trips-project.eu), a 3-year European research project aimed at making public transport more accessible for persons with disabilities and elderly travellers. The goal of is to design, describe and demonstrate practical steps to empower people with mobility challenges to play a central role in the design of inclusive digital mobility solutions. In this, we are inspired by Liz Jackson: “You only need empathy in design if you have excluded the people you claim to have empathy for.” (Jackson 2019), which in turn can be seen as a reinforcement of the statement “nothing about us without us” (Nothing About Us Without Us). The project-work is done with seven groups of persons with disabilities located in the following European cities: Bologna, Brussels, Cagliari, Sofia, Stockholm, Lisbon, and Zagreb. These city groups are each constituted by a small team of persons with disabilities, tasked with focussing the outcomes of the project to their own ends and needs.

We approach the research questions through the use of observation and interviews with a focus on sketching as a mechanism of conversation and exchange. The outcomes are deeply qualitative in nature and in order to do justice to this, we report in a narrative manner. Our knowledge contribution here is to propose a set of coping mechanisms, co-created in response to challenges encountered, as potential tools to improve co-design in future work.

2.1 A Definition for Working Collaboratively

We understand co-design to be the action of designing together, while actively involving all those implicated in the design process (in this case citizens, government authorities, transport providers and the institutional partners involved in the project) to ensure that outcomes respect all participants’ needs and points of view. We found that co-design, co-production, and co-creation were being used interchangeably by the different institutional partners, each coming with different academic backgrounds and specific ways of working. To create a shared understanding of how to work collaboratively, we created the following working definitions: we work under the umbrella of co-production (ethos, attitude, and approach), making use of both co-design (systems, scope, and shared notions) and co-creation (production of explicit design material). We collectively defined them as follows:

We Think of Co-production as the Idea.

Co-production generates knowledge in collaborations between people, technology, and society. It is centred on the idea that we can come together in difference and collaboratively create new ideas and concepts. Everyone shares their knowledge, skills, and resources. This also means everyone shares responsibility for making the process successful.

We Think of Co-design as the Action.

Co-design describes the action of designing together, while attempting to actively involve all those implicated (citizens, government authorities, transport providers and institutional partners) in the design process to help ensure that outcomes respect all participants’ point of view. The aim is to make sure that the process is shared, and the participants feel engaged with the outcomes.

We Think of Co-creation as the Making of Design Material.

Co-creation is the act of making together rather than consulting people and then producing designs to the pre-set requirements. Co-creation involves all actors in the process as active creators of their own futures.

2.2 Participants as Co-researchers

Together we form three groups: participants, researchers, and stakeholders. We acknowledge that these distinctions are constructed, and like any form of classification, they come with a hierarchical logic. However, we put them here in an effort to make the power dynamics at play in the project explicit and make them more addressable in future work.

Participants are the seven local groups of persons with disabilities. Researchers are the people employed to facilitate the project. Stakeholders is every other institutional entity that is engaged in the project such as associations for independent living, as well as local government authorities and transport providers.

Throughout, participants are actively involved in the process as co-researchers and contributors, meaning that their interests are considered drivers throughout the design process. As a first task, each city group defined their goals for the project, and how this vision relates to the overall project. We argue that by making these aims explicit, the participants are constituted as subjects into the project. This is one of our main positions: to involve persons with disabilities in the creation of accessible public transport means constituting them as decision makers in the processes that shape public transport. In this way, we aim to establish a direct parallel between the methods we are using to facilitate the project and the co-design methodology that is one of the main outcomes.

2.3 Participatory Framework

One of the main aims of the project is to guarantee that the people most affected by a change-process are centred in the planning and development of it and are in control of determining what this process is used for, and how it will affect their lives. This is reflected in the framework that demands that participants are actively involved as equal contributors, meaning that their interests are considered valid drivers, and they hold agency and decision-making power throughout the process. Practically, this has been enacted by making explicit the priorities of persons with disabilities, placing them at the centre of our processes - and by shifting our attention towards accounts of what going through this process means from within the participant’s social realities.

From this, we take forward that engagement with the structural conditions that exclude people from having access to decision-making processes is fundamental to enable participation. In this we are also inspired by Hamraie’s framing of participation, which allows us to use intersectionality as a lens to expand the notion of participation: “It is important to note that participation is not only for persons with disabilities or people with access needs. It precipitates the need for design to understand the experience of the built environment from multiple axes of identity e.g. disability, gender, class, and race (among others), through which more collective, overlapping, and intersectional exclusions can be addressed” (Hamraie 2013). In other words, in TRIPS we are looking to extend the reach of participation towards the more structural framings of decision-making.

Lastly, our methodological stance is firmly grounded in participatory inquiry approaches, where knowledge is generated in a collaborative and iterative manner, and research and action are linked together by critical reflection. This framing is based on established theories and practices from Participatory Design Research (Simonsen and Robertson 2013) (Cozza et al. 2020) (Halskov and Hansen 2015) (Thiollent 2011), Participatory Action Research (Salazar and Huybrechts 2020) (MacDonald 2011) (Hall 1992) (Baum et al. 2006) (Action Research Network of the Americas, n.d.), Research through Design (Andersen and Wakkary 2019) (Frayling 1993) (Giaccardi and Stappers 2017) (DiSalvo et al. 2014), and Design for All (Hamraie 2013) (European Disability Forum, n.d.) (European Commission Employment Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities DG 2010) (United Nations 2006). Grounding our methodological framework in these participatory traditions, allows us to create common ground and understanding between persons with disabilities and institutional actors in the TRIPS project, nurturing collaborative processes that make mobility concerns and concepts visible, while integrating cultural, interpersonal, structural, and policy-related viewpoints.

In the following, we describe the methods (Fig. 1) currently being co-designed with the seven cities. We report on the lived experience of making use of these methods, specifically on the challenges encountered with putting these ideas of into practise and the coping mechanisms we have produced to make things work.

Fig. 1.
figure 1

Slide from workshop method

2.4 Co-design Fieldwork

The TRIPS methodology development work was initially intended to be executed through a string of in-person activities allowing the approach to be designed in bursts of iterative sessions in each city. However, since the entirety of the project has been conducted online due to Covid-19 restrictions, our work has taken on a much more elaborate and localised form.

Practically, we planned to make use of four main techniques:


Through workshopping we aim to create an experience where individuals’ narratives coexist with complex understandings of collective knowledge, leading to a great diversity in outcomes.


Brainstorming allows for a broad range of knowledge to manifest, be shared and co-created. This has a dual effect in user involvement: it generates possibilities and equally improves the social dynamics of exchange as a basis for shared meaning.


Through sketching we aim to explore notions of collaborative visual thinking in which nonverbal techniques like drawing are used to represent unified action.


Interviews elicit individual knowledge and narratives. We propose to use them as open engagements where personal stories guide participants and interviewers in the telling of lived experience.

For the practical purpose of working within Covid-19 restrictions, these methods were re-purposed to be executed online and in smaller groups. Each local city group had to develop a way to work together locally and with the overall project, considering the limitations of online platforms. Our role as researchers became to facilitate the work in a way that built on the specificities of each local team in terms of knowledge, skillset, and tools, framed by each city’s local context in terms of political climate, disability policies and infrastructural landscape.

To make up for the loss of in-person activities, we made use of continued 1:1 conversations to identify local concerns, establish a collaborative atmosphere, and anchor the methodologies into strongly held local concerns. These iterative conversations made use of elements from both brainstorming and interviews and were documented as field-reports and sketches (Fig. 2), resulting in a consolidated output that formalises the identities of each group and their vision for what they want to achieve during the project (Table 1).

Table 1. Identity and vision Sofia group

In this process, we focused on the localisation of the work based on the notion that in order to create meaningful change, processes must be anchored in deeply felt concerns. Our expanded notion of participation is grounded in people’s ability to determine and shape the environment of their everyday lives. We extend this principle to our own processes: participants determine and shape the conditions of their own participation in the project and the extent to which this affects their lives. This can be seen in the decision by the Sofia group to stay on the practical goal of the bus stop (Table 1).

This work was conducted through a combination of qualitative research methods: semi-structured interviews, open-ended activities, writing exercises, surveys, offline activities, etc. Our focus here has been to set a dynamic working rhythm and generate mechanisms that allow heterogeneous interests and in-depth understandings to come forward. As such, we prioritise research that produces knowledge grounded in the everyday and that stems from the realities of the local communities we are working with. This means that our data collection has mostly gathered descriptive insights, that explain what is happening in detail and how something is experienced from the perspectives of the local city groups.

As a result, our research approach prioritises first-person, subjective perspectives and generates descriptive and rich insight. This type of qualitative outcome supports an in-depth understanding of the situation being studied and generates knowledge that is locally situated in each city and is specific to each group. Our developing thesis is that such local concerns can be explored in depth by each city group and then shared to other locales, together forming a series of complimentary exemplars of the methods-in-action. This work then forms the experimental backbone of the methodology work in the project, allowing the developing ways of working to be explored in specific situations, anchored by the concerns and commitments of each group, and through that validate methods and explore the extent that techniques can be transferred between different cities, situations, and concerns.

In the following, we will re-narrate a set of challenges we encountered in this work as a way to highlight relevant insights and open them for the discussion. In doing so, we follow Maria Puig de La Bellacasa’s notion of “thinking with care” (Bellacasa 2017), together with Nigel Rapport’s description of interviews as a “form of partnership” and “an extraordinary encounter” (Raport 2012) and Arthur Frank in his proposal to make use of dialogical narrative as a way of letting “stories breathe” (Frank 2010). We take these three theoretical positions to inspire how we process the outcomes of the ongoing conversations with the cities.

Fig. 2.
figure 2

Sketch used in 1-2-1 session with group

3 The Challenges of Putting Co-design into Practise 

Having secured funding with a proposal built on extensive levels of co-design, we immediately met a series of challenges as we started putting these ideals into practise. These challenges were split into three groups: expectations unmet; diverging methods and needs of the participating groups; and finally, the practical realities of collaborating online in the context of COVID-19. In the following, we identify these challenges and describe the coping mechanisms we used to continue working through, with and alongside these problems that are both difficult and intrinsically unsolvable. Throughout the text, we quote from interviews and feedback sessions with participants and partners.

3.1 Expectations Unmet: Arriving. Onboarding. What Do You Bring with You into This Space?

Following the initial onboarding period, all city groups started engaging with the different tasks determined in the project’s roadmap. “People got engaged in a very sincere way, because they want to make a change.” After a couple of months, some participants started voicing dissatisfaction with the ways they were being engaged with. “We are just told, next week you need to do this.”

The dissatisfaction came both from small and big things: not being consulted with enough notice, not having full visibility of tasks, not being part of the planning. “You can’t tell me to attend a workshop on a Saturday the Wednesday before - I have a busy life and we need to be consulted about these decisions.” These frustrations started to surface the underlying assumptions that each group had about what working in a co-design manner would be like, and how they needed their varying expectations to be met.

3.2 Diverging Methods and Needs: Settling In. Variation. How Can You Coordinate Parts of an Ever-Changing Whole? 

“This is ok, but it’s not co-production…Just call it a workshop.” As the project unfolded, different methodological approaches started to surface. Not only did we see different methodologies at play, but we observed that different groups meant different things, when they used words such as participation and co-design. At the same time, it became clear that each group had unique challenges and opportunities in the project. The groups were not only different in terms of age profile, gender distribution and types of disabilities, but also in experience, interests, motivation and focus. We also had to consider each group’s unique contextual frame of local disability policy, transport ecosystems, accessibility culture, and the participation of persons with disabilities in public decision making.

This meant that the project was understood and experienced very differently by the different city groups, and this created tensions between the project’s timeline, and what was considered relevant and urgent in each location. These tensions manifested the need for a more flexible approach to the project’s predefined structure, to allow the cities to work in the most meaningful way given their local situation. “Don’t speak about flying taxis without speaking about accessible bus stops first.” While the gap between what was expected and what could be delivered, grew in some cities, other cities were able to take ownership of tasks to make them meaningful to their needs: “We separated the workshops and created a separate one with just the experts. It was relaxed and we had time to go through things thoroughly. People were very interested, there was an active discussion.”

3.3 Collaborating Online: Teams. Zoom. Skype. Google Drive. Whatsapp. Slack. Can You Share that Document? 

“Here’s the group case study, I have no idea how to add it to the drive or where that is.” Finally, we were challenged by the fact that we all went into lock-down as soon as the project started, and what was supposed to be an in-person methodology had to be pulled online. This meant that we suddenly needed a high degree of technical literacy, and our work became dependent on existing online platforms and written language (in English). We rapidly re-purposed our methods to be executed online, experimented with platforms, and started working in much smaller online groups.

These online tools brought some advantages: it was easier to stay in touch without travelling and freed from the requirements to travel, some participants were able to do more. We see the irony in this. “The airline cancelled my flight for no reason.” These online interfaces also came with a whole different set of disadvantages and accessibility issues: it became clear that creating engaging activities online was much harder and the potential for misalignment was greater.

“You are muted.” We made use of online meetings and shared documents to work with each group. However, setting up collaborative ways of working online was a surprisingly hard task. We found it hard to share information, to keep documents up to date, to navigate folder structures without getting lost and we also observed that it can be difficult to ask for help.

4 Coping Mechanisms: Survival 

To address the challenges encountered, we had to produce other ways for making things work with the cities. These simple coping mechanisms were emergent as fixes and compensations, and in themselves they relied on goodwill and a re-address of the aims of the project. In the following, we describe the ways we coped with the challenges by engaging in a set of smaller, discrete action points: listening; nurturing local variation; integrating multiple methods; setting the agenda; and digital skills.

4.1 Listening

The first coping mechanism came from a moment of reflection, where we took a step back from the plan, to pause, listen and pay attention to what was at play in each of the groups outside the immediate task at hand. As researchers, we felt conflicted about pausing. On the one hand, we wanted to address the issues being brought forward by the groups, on the other hand we feared that giving attention to issues that went beyond the scope of the task could lead the groups too far away from the work. In short, we had a map with a route, and we felt that as researchers our role was to guarantee we did not get lost, and nobody was left behind.

Through listening we found that each city arrived at tasks on very different footings and subsequently, that they continued to travel their own unique paths. In contrast, researchers reported they often found themselves working very hard to ‘herd’ the groups into a shared and simultaneous path, to navigate the task and stick to the plan. By taking a moment to listen, we were able to challenge the need for one/single/right/sequential order of work. We started to make space for variation in our methods. This required us to stop forcing a coming together, towards thinking about collaboration as a kind of social choreography, as the coordinating of similar and simultaneous gestures (Hlavajova 2020) across distances (literal or figurative) but not necessarily at the same time. And so, we folded the map, and started taking the lead from each of the city groups, following them in their own unique paths.

4.2 Nurturing Local Variation

Through this experience we came to acknowledge that co-design can mean different things in different contexts, and therefore we also came to recognise that there are many different ways of doing co-design. As a result, the TRIPS co-design methods are developed as a way of working that emerges from within each of the cities involved, and this requires us to make space for plurality to unfold. This is particularly evident in the ways each of the seven cities have developed their own paths in the project. As a result, our methods have been continuously adjusted to nurture local variation between cities and build on the strengths of those involved (Fig. 3).

To nurture local variation in our processes, we proposed activities that were doable in ways that were grounded in the experiences of each group. To support this notion, our methods were crafted around four high level categories of variation that we saw manifesting in the cities: people, setup, place, and time. These were broken down into specific variants such as whether there was an existing working relation between the people involved. We found that not all variants had the same weight in terms of how they impacted the ways each city engaged in the project. Through this we were able to identify the variants that embodied a significant impact: (1) whether the group was led by a disabled person; (2) the contractual setup; and (3) motivation and expectations.

Through local variation, the project acquired multiple trajectories that were continuously re-shaped as each city navigated the project. To support these multiple trajectories, we found it necessary to develop mechanisms to make our processes flexible, but also tight in order to create a more seamless experience to join up the discrete components of the project. These methods acknowledged that each city started and continued to develop differently as the project evolved. This required different responses from the project that needed to be quick and persistent in adjusting the work to follow and support what was meaningful and possible on a city-by-city basis.

4.3 Integration Multiple Methods

To cope with the different trajectories emerging in each city, we became particularly focused on generating the mechanisms to allow for multiple insights to come forward, develop and settle. We worked with the understanding that co-design does not mean that everyone is the same, rather it means that everybody is meeting in their differences. We found it necessary to also extend this notion of plurality to the internal ways of working in the project: not all parts of the project were set up to be co-designed, nor were they expected to. However, we found it necessary to reconcile this with the understanding that the different methodological approaches at play in the project were impacting the experience of the city groups. Out of this understanding, came a need for ways to integrate multiple methods to work both in parallel and as a whole. Our efforts were guided by knowing “that these approaches need not be mutually exclusive (…) it is possible to include models that are radically different and to allow multiple models to coexist—separately or layered or even integrated with each other” (Olson 2007).

4.4 Setting the Agenda

Another coping mechanism that emerged out of the unique trajectories of each city, proposed to make use of making as a way to broaden participation. To set up participation towards variation and difference, rather than sameness, we used the making of things to support individual structures of knowledge to emerge.

As the project progressed, we observed that the seven groups of persons with disabilities were the only stakeholder group in the project without a formalised identity. All other stakeholders were institutions that came into the project with their identities and agendas fully formed. The lack of a defined identity started to manifest in the interactions between the city groups and the actors in their local transport ecosystems. “We keep on explaining to people why we started this project: we want to see co-production in making transport disability friendly - how to make this more concrete and practically what does this mean?”.

The city groups were struggling to communicate clearly who they were, what they were trying to do and why people in their cities should be interested. This became an obstacle to making connections with government authorities and transport providers, a fundamental component of the project. To cope with these issues each city was engaged in the making of a number of artefacts to define and communicate their specific motivations and goals. An important artefact coming from this work was the identity and vision document that outlined in a simple and clear way, who each group was, and what they set out to achieve in the duration of the project.

Through the making of these artefacts the cities achieved two things: first they positioned each group’s agenda as a driving priority in the project, effectively placing the problems these groups experienced with public transport at the centre of our efforts; and second, these artefacts supported the groups in establishing the much-needed connections with the municipalities and transport providers in the cities. Further, through the making of things the groups were able to actively influence the direction of the project. This positioning was sustained in our methods by paying attention to the specific areas of interests articulated in each city. This required us to redirect our efforts to support the cities in their work towards tangible results whilst being realistic about the scope for change that could be achieved in the duration of the project (Fig. 3).

4.5 Digital Skills

To cope with the demands of online work we were forced to place a significant amount of effort to make our collaborative processes work online.

In this process we found that a digital setup did not reflect the ways most of the city groups involved in the project were used to working and this posed varying levels of challenges to turn online spaces into true shared environments. We also faced difficulties with setting up collaborative processes with the multitude of organisations involved in the project, considering local platform preferences, as well as security concerns and storage. In these efforts, we identified varying levels of digital skills that we addressed by working on a 1:1 basis to share knowledge and train people in using these platforms. We used a combination of platforms and several shared documents to cater for the specific needs of each city. An example of this is the access needs protocol that explains the practical setup each city group needs to participate in an online session, something that has been used internally in the project as well externally, to engage with the local stakeholders in each city. As more documents piled up, we doubled our efforts to keep information easy to access and actionable.

Fig. 3.
figure 3

Slide with quotes from the groups about the project

5 Protocols and Templates as Methods 

The artefacts and documents created in the project form the main site for the co-design of our methods. The goal for the co-design methodology-for-all is to produce a set of working templates and protocols that aid participants in the creation of an identity, vision, goals, and approach. As such we take inspiration from design research methods that generate use cases and areas of concern as well as business and entrepreneurship canvasses that identify, visualise, and assess an idea or concept.

“Protocol. A set of principles to work by some guidelines for the guests, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel time and time again. A structured daily rhythm of rituals, helping to move forwards.” (Gysel 2018).

Through the process of working together, a set of documents, templates and slides has evolved into working protocols for generating scope and aims for inclusive transport projects. These documents have been used as living documents, continuously evolved to cope with the emerging needs of each group. We found that professional looking documents were needed to create a sense of confidence and validation of the work we were doing (Fig. 4), and at the same time, the use of more quick and dirty materials such as draft sketches (Fig. 3) were a productive way to break down theory and business jargon into something that is understandable, relatable, and motivating.

These materials are practical in nature and aim to support the groups in articulating their work (Table 2). As an example, the Access Needs Protocol was created to communicate the practical setup that each group needed to participate in an online session: “Two members of the working group are blind. One of our members requires an interpreter to participate.” We were inspired by Sandra Lange’s ‘Access Rider Exercise’ (Lange) in prompting each group to create and inhabit a shared space (online and physical) whilst actively shaping the conditions of the interaction in that space. Like all other protocols, the Access Needs Protocol has a function beyond the project, in this specific case the intention is to promote the equal participation of the groups in public spaces such as meetings with the city council. Through these co-developed documents, we have also extended the cities’ collaborative and situated practises to the multiple partners involved.

These protocols and methods have been continuously developed to reflect the ongoing and emerging thinking of each group as they articulate their work in the project. They are both the conditions and part of the outputs of putting co-design into practise.

Table 2. Overview of workshop design method
Fig. 4.
figure 4

Pilot case study template

5.1 Reflecting on Our Working Definition and Aims

We shared our initial definitions for co-production, co-design, and co-creation earlier, in order to explain how these concepts work together and how knowledge can be generated. They also set the principles and ground rules for the working practises in the project. As our collaboration unfolded, these definitions were re-visited to reflect on our learning and the experiences of each city group in the project (Fig. 5). We now understand that for TRIPS, these terms hold multiple definitions that provide living accounts of the localised processes created by each city. Below we share our current understanding of these terms.

  • Co-production in TRIPS is about whose voices are heard, emphasising that the voices of persons with disabilities need to be heard louder. Co-production is doing things together on an equal and meaningful basis and is reliant on having a common vision that builds on the strengths of everyone involved in the process.

In practise co-production means working processes that emerge from within, that are firmly grounded in the realities and the specificities of the local ecosystem of each city. This means each group explores their own path and makes the process their own. Special attention needs to be paid to motivation as fundamental to the success of any working process.

  • Co-design in TRIPS looks like specific and tangible actions with results that reflect the conversations they come from. Participating groups want to know they are being listened to, and that their work is contributing to change. It is an end-to-end process of exchange and an ongoing practise that requires a multitude of working processes. Co-design looks like having ownership of the process and being fully engaged in shaping it.

In practise co-design means producing locally informed responses to localized challenges (Todd 2015), together. This entails embracing variation through acknowledging the contextual specificities unique to each group whilst nurturing what they share: a drive to improve public transport for persons with disabilities in their cities and an appetite to learn and connect to the other cities in the project. Codesign means listening from the very beginning all the way to the very end.

  • Co-creation in TRIPS is centred on taking coping mechanisms and turning them into protocols, that go beyond the immediate situation. This means establishing the common ground where people can connect and learn from how each group is working through the process and barriers so that ultimately, they can affect change in their cities.

In practise co-creation means creating meaningful change in whichever way is meaningful to people. This entails enabling individual goals, supporting the work of local communities, and nurturing productive synergies between cities. The outcome is bringing all the moving parts together to create concrete change.

Fig. 5.
figure 5

Slide with definitions of codesign coming from the groups

6 Findings and Discussion

In effect, we are co-designing the way we collaborate, as we work. This leads to an emerging set of insights, methods, and strategies for co-designing ownership of our processes. This discussion takes a second look at the coping mechanisms generated with the cities. The aim is to go beyond the survival functions in these mechanisms, towards something that may be used productively and strategically to mobilise this kind of project going forward.

The challenges we encountered manifested a gap between the idealised plan and the realities of doing co-design in practise. Exploring this gap between theory and practise led us to a better understanding of how these divisions are specifically enacted in our methods. Taken further, we believe this led us to understanding the kinds of relations these divisions support, such as the reproduction of asymmetrical power relations between persons with disabilities and stakeholders. We want to signal this, while at the same time acknowledge that a thorough unpacking of this is beyond the scope of this chapter. What we propose instead is to focus on a smaller subset, that starts with how the coping mechanisms bridge the gap between theory and practise, and the movements this generates.

Beyond acting as an immediate response to challenges, the coping mechanisms both delineate and attempt to bridge the gaps between the theory and practise in a way that generates movement in both directions. This has allowed us to revisit the idealised project plan in light of the necessities and possibilities emerging in each city - a movement (back) from practise to theory. But they also allowed us to shift the efforts in the project towards the ways each group found most meaningful to work in practise - a movement away from theory towards practise. We believe that these movements create productive ways to go forward that prioritise the cities’ collaborative and situated practises inside the project.

We saw this particularly at play in the multiple methods and variation setup, which is being extended beyond a survival technique, to a feature in the entire project. We started to make space for variation in our methods as a way to cope with the tensions created by the structure of the project, which sometimes lacked the flexibility to accommodate for each city’s local situation. As a coping mechanism, nurturing variation in our methods effectively redirected our efforts to the specific and practical realities of the cities. This expanded the borders of the project to allow for different methodological approaches to coexist, nurture situated practises in the cities and allow for multiple insights to come forward. Extending this further has led us to challenge the entire sequential order predefined in the project. Challenging the need for a rigid sequential order in turn opened up for a shift in the type of knowledge that was prioritised in our processes. As a result, we became better equipped to generate the type of knowledge that comes from “a critical reading of experiences” (Salazar and Huybrechts 2020), which implies a shift in the order of how research is conducted so that practise precedes theory and not the other way around.

This letting-go of a sequential order of project tasks became the door that opened the way for us to consider alternative project structures, such as modular tracks and multiple trajectories. This is an example of a coping mechanism turned strategy that we take with us into future work. We believe that it can be extended to future projects and contribute to wider discussions on how to productively navigate the tensions that emerge in the process of weaving practise and research together in co-production (Chambers et al. 2022).

We are also committing to the movements generated through the ‘setting the agenda’ mechanism. This is an important mechanism to extend because it opens the way for more strategic moves to continue to support the cities in achieving concrete change. This is particularly necessary as we deal with multiple and varied understandings of what constitutes change. We are seeing both very broad understandings of change, “I would like to have a more accessible city,” but also more specific accounts: “It’s important to make institutions and municipalities understand that accessibility is a very important thing; that people with disabilities are citizens who have rights, they only want to have a normal life and have the possibility to have a full life, with autonomy and so on.” We believe that this move from abstract to specific, is key to refining our methodologies in the future.

On our road towards achieving concrete and tangible change, we look at the role material artefacts play in enabling participation (Noronha et al. 2020). This is supported by thinking widely about the socio-material arrangements that constitute material participation (Marres 2012), and by looking at the practical ways of generating knowledge through the making of things (Giaccardi and Stappers 2017). The emphasis here is placed on what value is generated for the cities and how this can be brought forward through participants’ own accounts of how this manifest in their material realities. In these efforts, we look at the work of Grada Kilomba (Kilomba 2020) to find ways to prioritise the groups’ subjective accounts of what going through this co-design process means and the value it generates in their cities. In this we are also inspired by Mariolga Reyes Cruz who in ‘What If I just cite Graciela?’ (Reyes Cruz 2008) explores ways of treating participants beyond data towards constituting them as the theoretical grounding upon which research can be done. We combine this with the work of Ann Light about the situated and interpretative nature of account-making, to explore new models of authorship “to legitimate new practices of feeling, telling and accounting for.” (Light 2018).

Ultimately, we are concerned with giving each city a sense of accomplishment and leaving them with ways to continue working towards long term impact.

6.1 Long Term Impact

One way to create long time impact will be to make explicit the sustainability and longitudinal impact of these types of projects. We propose that the methods we are developing might be used in broader contexts of policy development. At the same time, we have become increasingly aware of a structural lack in the context of the European research community. Projects addressing accessibility come and go, but the generated results are often lost or only partly reported, and the disability community is experiencing that they have to start from scratch, again and again. This compounds to the existing accessibility skills gap within the industry, and ultimately to the barriers to structural change.

A way to address this in the future would be through the establishment of a European Accessible Design centre as a platform for addressing the structural lack about the generated results of projects addressing accessibility. Our starting point is an engagement with the structural conditions that exclude people from having access to decision-making processes as a fundamental aspect of what constitutes participation (Hamraie 2013).

“We have realized that advocating for “more persons with disabilities in design” without advocating structural changes to what design is, how it operates, and what problems it seeks to solve is just advocating for a select few people to gain more power within an unjust system, while allowing the marginalization of others by that system to become more entrenched.” (Jackson and Haagaard 2022).

As researchers we also reflect on how to formalise the relations created between civil society and institutional actors in our methods and more broadly as a political matter: how persons with disabilities are positioned in each of these cities to begin with, the relations they had, the ones they created, and the ones they failed to build and why.

We believe that a European centre could integrate and progress aspects of accessibility design (process, tools, skills, and overall state of the art), as a hyperlocal, network structure with common organisational and support processes, but also local branches networked with local industry, disability NGOs, communities, and individuals. Allowing the work to be local in its scope, based on deeply felt local concerns with an intimate understanding of contextual, legal, and political barriers to change. We believe that this might work towards the necessity of a social justice orientation in this kind of research work.

7 Conclusion

In this chapter, we have reported on the process of transitioning a project from idealised application to actualised practise. We have described the emerging difficulties of our initial co-design processes and a set of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate the challenges encountered. We consider these mechanisms to be useful beyond their solutionist and survival functions and we propose that they can be used productively and strategically as methods to improve future co-design projects.

Our immediate future contributions will come in the form of a co-design methodology that can be adapted to engage persons with disabilities in decision-making processes for public transport. In this, we seek to establish parallels between co-creating a design process and the decision-making processes relating to public transport involving civil society, transport providers and local authorities. In other words, in constituting each group as equal contributors in the project we’re suggesting ways of constituting persons with disabilities as subjects in the context of public transport in their cities. These processes themselves will be co-created, facilitated, and co-owned by the participating cities.

Our contribution here is to report from the co-design process in practice, to describe a set of coping mechanisms formulated as co-design strategies and begin the future work of moving them towards generative tools. In doing this, we have arrived at the understanding that survival techniques can also be used productively and strategically to address more structural issues, both in the present and as a step towards generating long term impact. We believe that this understanding will guide our work in this and future projects.