IMAGINE: A Card-Based Discussion Method

  • Ulrike Felt
  • Simone Schumann
  • Claudia G. Schwarz-Plaschg
Reference work entry


This chapter introduces IMAGINE – a card-based group discussion method for qualitative research and engagement processes. IMAGINE was developed as a response to three major challenges that tend to emerge in discussion groups and participatory exercises. First, it renders new or complex issues accessible by offering participants a broad repertoire of structured resources without pre-configuring the issue too much. Second, it seeks to contribute to participatory justice by assuring that all participants get time and space for expressing their visions. Third, the cards allow the introduction of expert opinions without expert presence, thus avoiding the emergence of strong lay-expert divides. The method consists of a number of different card sets and a specific choreography. We explain the rationale behind different card types and how researchers can go about creating their own card sets. The contribution also includes suggestions for how to conduct and analyze IMAGINE discussion groups so as to harness their full potential. It concludes by pointing towards potential future directions in which the method could be developed.


Card-based discussion method Group discussions Deliberation Engagement Participation Participatory justice 


  1. Bennett I. Developing plausible nano-enabled products. In: Fisher E, Selin C, Wetmore JM, editors. The yearbook of nanotechnology in society. Volume I: presenting futures. Dordrecht: Springer; 2008. p. 149–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bloor M, Frankland J, Thomas M, Robson K. Focus groups in social research. London: SAGE; 2001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bowman DM, Hodge GA. Nanotechnology and public interest dialogue: some international observations. Bull Sci Technol Soc. 2007;27(2):118–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chang JC, Cluss PA, Ranieri L, Hawker L, Buranosky R, Dado D, McNeil M, Scholle SH. Health care interventions for intimate partner violence: what women want. Womens Health Issues. 2005;15(1):21–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chilvers J, Kearnes M, editors. Remaking participation: science, environment and emergent publics. London: Routledge; 2016.Google Scholar
  6. Delgado A, Kjølberg K, Wickson F. Public engagement coming of age: from theory to practice in STS encounters with nanotechnology. Public Underst Sci. 2011;20(6):826–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Felt U, Fochler M. Machineries for making publics: inscribing and de-scribing publics in public engagement. Minerva. 2010;48(3):219–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Felt U, Fochler M, Mager A, Winkler P. Visions and versions of governing biomedicine: narratives on power structures, decision-making and public participation in the field of biomedical technology in the Austrian context. Soc Stud Sci. 2008;38(2):233–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Felt U, Fochler M, Müller A, Strassnig M. Unruly ethics: on the difficulties of a bottom-up approach to ethics in the field of genomics. Public Underst Sci. 2009;18(3):354–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Felt U, Schumann S, Schwarz CG, Strassnig M. Technology of imagination: a card-based public engagement method for debating emerging technologies. Qual Res. 2014;14(2):233–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Felt U, Schumann S, Schwarz CG. (Re)assembling natures, cultures, and (nano)technologies in public engagement. Sci Cult. 2015;24(4):458–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Felt U, Fochler M, Sigl L. IMAGINE RRI. A card-based method for reflecting responsibility in life science research. Under Review. 2017.Google Scholar
  13. Kerr A, Cunningham-Burley S, Tutton R. Shifting subject positions: experts and lay people in public dialogue. Soc Stud Sci. 2007;37(3):385–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kitzinger J. The methodology of focus groups: the importance of interaction between research participants. Sociol Health Illn. 1994;16(19):103–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Law J. After method. Mess in social science research. London/New York: Routledge; 2004.Google Scholar
  16. MacLean S, Burgess MM. In the public interest: assessing expert and stakeholder influence in public deliberation about biobanks. Public Underst Sci. 2010;19(4):486–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. McNeil M, Arribas-Ayllon M, Haran J, Mackenzie A, Tutton R. Conceptualizing imaginaries of science, technology. In: Felt U, Fouché R, Miller C, Smith-Doerr L, editors. Handbook of science and technology studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 2017. p. 435–63.Google Scholar
  18. Schwarz-Plaschg C. Nanotechnology is like…The rhetorical roles of analogies in public engagement. Public Underst Sci. 2016. Online first. Scholar
  19. Stirling A. “Opening up” and “closing down”: power, participation, and pluralism in the social appraisal of technology. Sci Technol Hum Values. 2008;33(2):262–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Sutton B. Playful cards, serious talk: a qualitative research technique to elicit women’s embodied experiences. Qual Res. 2011;11(2):177–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Türk V. Nanologue. In: Fisher E, Selin C, Wetmore JM, editors. The yearbook of nanotechnology in society. Volume I: presenting futures. Dordrecht: Springer; 2008. p. 117–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulrike Felt
    • 1
  • Simone Schumann
    • 2
  • Claudia G. Schwarz-Plaschg
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Science and Technology Studies, Research Platform Responsible Research and Innovation in Academic PracticeUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.University of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Research Platform Nano-Norms-NatureUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations