A wealth of methods exist to triangulate qualitative data to produce scientifically reliable knowledge. Increasingly, these qualitative research methods are now empowered with sophisticated digital text mining techniques. Qualitative research is not necessarily conducted in co-construction however. Indeed, although social actors are often indirectly involved in the research, for example through in depth interviewing or immersion of the researcher in the social context, they are not always involved in the construction of the research question and framework or in the knowledge integration process.
Research in urban planning provides a useful entry point to present some tools of transdisciplinary qualitative research. Indeed, over the last decades the “communicative turn” in urban planning has increasingly put the accent on the need to integrate various types of qualitative knowledge in urban design, such as aesthetical appreciation, ethical knowledge and available situational know-how through so-called “specialists of everyday life” (Després et al., 2004). To illustrate the tools from qualitative research in urban planning, this section presents a successful case of transdisciplinary research conducted in the city of Québec, Canada, on the involvement of inhabitants in “Retrofitting post-war suburbs”, the so-called “dormitory” towns. The project was conducted during 15 months, from September 2002 to November 2003.
Figure. Two contrasting visions of suburban development. Left: typical bungalows in Quebec City first’s ring suburbs; illustrating the accent put on car mobility and low-density single-family housing (Source: Després et al., 2004); Right: a typical street in the Vauban neighbourhood, Freiburg, Germany, favouring slow mobility, higher density and urban green (source: LennyBoy, 2015).
Before building and analysing the concrete visions for the urban development, researchers and practitioners need to find a common ground on the precise objectives (Fortin et al., 2005). Through a set of workshops, the following criteria were selected: quality of urban life, sustainable mobility, healthy environment, economic development, social justice and preservation of culture/heritage.
Through an overlapping set of collaborative tools for analysis, such as 20 focus group meetings and 75 face to face interviews in each of the four neighbourhoods, scientists and researchers analysed the problems encountered and summarized the most appropriate intervention strategies. These summaries were presented on neighbourhood maps, which were progressively elaborated and completed through the various research activities.
Figure. Example of a social/human geography map produced in the “retrofitting” project (source : Fortin et al., 2005).