The LEMA project has been formed in Copenhagen by two entities: University College Copenhagen and the housing association KAB. They have worked with a group of highly marginalized young people, characterized by having little or no connection to education and pedagogical offers, have continuous experiences with crime and who stay continuously and often in public space, i.e. young people who have rich experience using the street and the public space as alternatives to the existing offers and activities. The age ranges from 16–25 and includes both boys and girls.
The main aim of the LEMA project guided the actions carried out in Copenhagen. The philosophy of science and the methodological framework used were anchored in the actions of a research tradition called Critical Utopian Action Research. We worked with a democratic and participatory approach with what we call Thematic Workshops which are inspired by Future Creating Workshops. The essence of this work is to reflect and analyze with the young people on their everyday experiences with being young in Copenhagen especially in their local area – what are the options and what are the barriers. Having done this beginning, the analysis of alternatives and utopian ideas on how they would want them when they decide.
The main purpose is to bring the analytic work and alternative ideas into an implementation of the experimental stage. Turning the power upside down we strive for new solutions, but also solutions that fit into the young people’s life. In the Danish context the welfare state is providing their citizens with social security, with institutions that create space for their education, leisure time and their life, but too often these marginalized young people do not recognize or are not being recognized by these welfare systems. This project is trying to bring a new perspective to this challenge.
‘Upturned Participation’ is a mode of participation and a planning model where we strive to change the relationship of power between the actors. Changing the power, leaving more power if not all the power to the ones that usually do not have power. In this project the marginalized youth. We will go further into the model in the paragraph below. Here we want in short terms to lay out the background for this way of working with ‘Upturned participation’.
The inspiration comes from the work of Kurt Aagaard Nielsen and Birger Steen Nielsen, both former professors at Roskilde University, (Nielsen and Nielsen 2007). They have built a philosophy of science and a methodological framework of action research which is named Critical Utopian Action Research (CUAR) (Nielsen and Nielsen 2016, Tofteng og Husted 2014). Working with upturned participatory processes is a core element within the CUAR action research tradition.
The tradition began in 1980 and it is primarily characterized by its practical interpretations of critical theory, a theoretical framework first introduced by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the 1940’s (Horkheimer and Adorno  2001, Tofteng and Bladt 2019). The classic critical theorist was occupied with the relation between science, knowledge and democracy, especially underlining that we need to produce scientific knowledge a in collective and democratic way, to make sure that science itself will not be part of creating an undemocratic reality.
Hence the meaning of theory is turned upside down: Theory as critical thinking should express an understanding of what is in the light of what ‘should be’ (Adorno 1984, 206 here taken from Nielsen and Nielsen 2006, Tofteng and Bladt 2019).
Additional to critical theory, the tradition of CUAR is inspired by other sources and thinkers;
All these inspirations create a theoretical framework that brings a somewhat practical turn to understanding the societal role of social research. An understanding of not only playing the role of critical analyst of society as the classical critical theorists took, but to play an active reformist role. Participating in experiments and developments of new futures even though there is a risk of alienation of both people and systems, as the critical theorist warned us about (Tofteng and Bladt 2019).
The LEMA project is created on the backdrop of this CUAR tradition, creating new knowledge in cooperation with marginalized youth across Spain, Sweden and Denmark.
An important element of CUAR is Future Creating Workshops (FCW) a method invented by the Austrian future scientists Jungk and Müllert (1984, see also Bladt & Nielsen, 2013; Drewes 2006; Husted & Tofteng, 2007, Bladt og Christensen 2020). Originally for Jungk it was a method for creating social activism. Applying the method in a research context is somewhat different from how this original mode. Within the frame of a CUAR project it becomes both a method of creating action and social activism and a method for knowledge production in a broader sense. In the context of being research we systematically investigate and analyze how changes can be created when drawing upon people’s own discomfort, ambivalence, and critique regarding living in modern times and their utopian ideas. Within the LEMA project we work with the marginalized young people within thematic workshops, inspired by FCW, creating both drafts and mockups for practical change and experiment but simultaneusly or underneath this we create knowledge reflecting on social and societal development.
Now we will get more specific and reflect on the specific model of ‘Upturned Participation’ (see figure below). Upturned participation is primarily a guide to a more democratic planning process. Like all planning processes it consists of an initiative phase (the beginning), a planning phase, and an implementation phase or experimental phase.
In most planning processes, it is the researcher, the teacher or the current authority that has ownership of all three phases. This means that it is the current authority that initiates, plans, and implements a given project, ideas or enterprise. In modern processes of citizen involvement, we do see experiments involving given target groups/citizens at different stages of the process. In the area of social work it is very common that the current authority – administration or youth worker – initiates and plans a given activity and then invites children and young people to participate in the implementation phase. For example, many football tournaments are planned by professionals, whereupon the young people are invited to play in the tournament itself. Another possible model might be inviting young people to suggest activities that are then planned by the professionals, whereupon the young people are included once more, when the activity itself (a fishing trip, a climb, etc.) becomes a reality (Bladt 2013).
What we want to introduce is the term ‘Upturned Participation’. Our choice of the concept ‘Upturned Participation’ has to do with who we allocate authority (Arnstein 1969).
Being upturned means that the power is distributed to those who usually do not have any say in or power over a planning process.
We put the power of initiative, planning and execution into this group.
Ditte Tofteng & Mette Bladt (2020): ‘Upturned Participation’ and Youth Work: Using a Critical Utopian Action Research Approach to Foster Engagement, Educational Action Research, 28:1, 112–127, DOI: 09650792.2019.1699843