Engaging with ethnically diverse communities


“Connecting the Plots” is a transdisciplinary research project that examines the potential of traditional and non-traditional urban allotment gardens as networked multifunctional green infrastructure to improve the community vitality and social cohesion of Finnish suburbs.  The overarching goal of the project was to investigate allotment gardens and other urban green spaces in Vantaa to assess whether social connections are being established and social capital built between people. The project also investigated whether social capital could be enhanced to reduce urban segregation and prejudice between majority and minority groups in the area. The research questions used to develop the methodology asked about the extent to which the social capital generated on the allotments could be scaled-up; and for whom it did or did not scale-up.  

Description of practice

The project focused particularly on the suburbs of Vantaa: the most ethnically diverse and fastest growing city in Finland, which is highly under-studied and has significant potential to expand green infrastructure in suburban neighbourhoods. Data collection and analysis in the pre-planning phase used a name generator survey paired with semi-structured interviews. This involved meeting gardeners from different allotments in the network and mapping their social networks; and looking at the different types of resources exchanged in the garden and their spatiality to see whether those resource transfers were contained within the garden or scaled-up. 

Who was involved  

The project was developed and implemented with the help of researchers and PhD supervisors at the University of Helsinki and Aalto University, a steering group and partners at the City of Helsinki. Two masters’ students assisted with the data collection and fieldwork. 

Promotion and communication 

The pandemic made it difficult to promote the project through presentations at conferences or city events, for example, so promotion took place mostly through social media – a Twitter account, a project webpage, blog entries, articles and podcasts.  


Transcription services, translation services, data analysis software (Atlas.ti, Tosmana), and qualitative research skills. 

Time commitment 

The project ran from 2019 until the end of 2022 (approximately 36 months). Discussions with the city started in 2019 and the work officially began in 2020. Fieldwork in allotment gardens took place in the spring and summer of 2021. (The latter was initially planned for 2020 but was postponed because of the pandemic.) 


Level of participation
  • No participation (stakeholders/citizens were not included) 
  • Informing (informing citizens about what is planned) 
  • Consultation (offering options and listening to the feedback) 
  • Co-production in some of the aspects 
  • Co-production from start to finish 
Urban planning challenge(s) tackled Governance and institutional factors

  • Working collaboratively
  • Standards and regulatory processes
  • Finance

Stakeholder engagement 

  • Public acceptance
  • Shared decision-making 
  • Social inclusion

Knowledge and skills

  • Awareness and communication
  • Expertise
  • Technical integration

Lessons learned

● Having willing partners in the city who support the cause and provide useful data, along with a dedicated liaison person, contributed to the success of the project.

● Getting input for the project from different departments, such as on urban green space planning or multicultural affairs, was very valuable.

● Recruiting citizens from diverse backgrounds for the interview series presented certain challenges and might also be difficult when moving on to focus groups.

● The language barrier made it harder to engage with gardeners with foreign backgrounds. Translation and transcription services were useful but quite expensive. Having a native Finnish speaker on the project team willing to help with the data construction and analysis would have been more efficient.

● Interviews took about an hour, so the primary demographic engaged with was older Finns who had more time to take part.

● A tight network is important to get useful information promptly.


● A planning tool will be presented in the final project paper. This tool can be used in Vantaa or other cities to calculate the distribution of diversity in urban green spaces in a municipality.

● The project helped to raise awareness of the benefits of green infrastructure, and that not all social groups get the same benefits from it.