The IMAGE method

As a consortium of Higher Education Institutes (HEI) in urban areas we are increasingly aware that we, students, teaching & research staff, have a role in contributing to develop a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient economy and society in our cities. We build on experience since 2007 with an international intercity cooperation programme for students: International Virtual Consulting Firm (IVCF) related to city marketing questions from companies & municipal departments. 

In 2021 the needs of cities and HEIs have changed. Cities struggle to reclaim a balance between the popular central area and unpopular peripheral areas. The narrative of cities needs to be enlarged. Urban peripheral areas are new centres of interest. HEIs need to prepare students to be critical thinkers in the age of information and for jobs which have not yet been defined. The Researching the City: Mapping Imaginaries (IMAGE) method combines these needs. A new approach uses mapping tools to bring attention to the peripheral, often neglected, areas of our cities and maps them as enclaves of dynamism and creativity. 

With this method students are trained to actively search for information, stimulating critical thinking. Students work with city partners such as city councils, inhabitants, citizens initiatives and local cultural organisations and companies on real life societal challenges. In interdisciplinary and intercultural settings they share their research findings with colleague students abroad, in this way enhancing the solutions to include knowledge and experience from other cities. This cooperation as partners is the core of this method. 

At least 10 city partners are involved as associate partners, cooperating in the assignment design with specific examples, expertise and network and contributing to teaching material and training of teaching staff. During the final interactive conference they present and showcase on location. Data generated by the project is used by them in their policy plans and implementation of solutions. 

The 2-year project will produce 6 Intellectual Outputs (IO) together forming the IMAGE teaching & research method. Each IO and activity is led by a HEI based of its experience and expertise. During three testing pilot rounds teaching staff will design a prototype, test, evaluate and then revise the prototype with all stakeholders, students, teaching staff, city partners. All partners feel joint and equal responsibility for the results of the project. Three pilots for students and teaching staff to work with the IMAGE method, will contribute to the dissemination of the project within the HEIs and partners. Two training events will prepare the teaching staff for the development and running of the pilots. 

Transnational Project meetings will contribute to team building, the common understanding of the project, the tasks, the responsibilities and the lines of communication. A final multiplier event will present and share the results of the project. A popular scientific magazine and a documentary will show the training of students, the mapping of the peripheries, the train the trainers and the outcomes of the student research findings. A community of practice on Researching the city is established including stakeholders from HEIs and city partners. 

A suite of open access materials (IOs) can be used by everyone to implement the IMAGE method; the Knowledge Hub platform, teaching case & process guide, teacher training material, mapping toolkit. Students will develop in their understanding of places and their employability skills, including first generation HEI students from peripheral areas. Teaching Staff will become researching the city experts. Inhabitants and city partners in the city peripheries will experience an uplift of the image of the area they live in and feel empowered. IMAGE will become an influential research-based didactical method at all partner HEIs and part of the curricula. Written during Covid-19 times, IMAGE gives us hope for the future.