How to develop inclusive cities by mitigating unconscious bias

Tinna C Nielsen
5 min readDec 5, 2017


There are huge potentials in democratizing processes in city and community development — but there is NO way you can do that if you do not mitigate unconscious bias. How do we include and engage all people and communities and turn them into engines for developing livable cities?


INCLUSION was one of the challenges RISING Architecture Exchange Conference 2017 was addressing when gathering architects, designers, and urban developers to discuss societal changes and how to innovate for the future. I interviewed all the experts on their actionable recommendations and we made this VIDEO ACTION CHARTER for you!

As an anthropologist specialized in inclusion, diversity, and behavioural design, this was the challenge I put forward:


Read this to get some practical tips on how you can do this.
But first a bit about what we are up against here to make this happen.

We have decades of research proving that inclusion of people of diverse backgrounds and disciplines generates more innovative solutions, more ownership, more engagement, higher levels of creativity, more equality, better quality of life, and better outcomes that benefits more people, business, and societies. It’s something we hear all the time. It’s not news, so why is progress so slow?

While we might rationally understand the value in this — both economic and moral — many organizations and project groups still struggle to create inclusive workplace cultures and inclusive development processes, at least at the pace we need. The barriers are often hidden, as are the solutions. Why is this and what can we do about it? Listen to my TEDx talk about this (similar to my talk at RISING Exchange conference 2017)

Given the current state of the world we are living in, we have plenty of proof that we exclude people, knowledge, and ideas. Instead of designing a world where no one and no idea is left behind, we are doing the opposite. This is due to a very simple reason: The human mind has not developed at the same pace as the world. We are still operating as stone age people in tribes, with an unconscious preference for information, situations, and people that we ‘recognise’ as familiar. And this has many unintended consequences. We need to change this and you are the key to doing that through your daily actions.

Practical ways to apply behavioural design and diversity to innovate for inclusive societies

We often end up attracting the same kind of people/citizens to participate in our development processes. With the best of intentions to apply diversity, we end up with a homogeneous mass.
HOW: Appeal to ‘in-group identity’ and ‘follow the herd’ mechanism. When human beings feel we are a part of a group of ‘similar others’ we feel safe. Appeal to our basic social needs of belonging. We also like to do what similar others do and we tend to blindly follow them and we blindly follow the social norms. As a practitioner you can trigger this by writing in the invitation (if you send one) or write it in your communication material or instruct the ‘communicators’ to frame their wording like this:

“Join the xx [number] of your neighbors in [zip code, name of neighborhood]….”

“It is responsible people like you together with the 212 other Aarhusianere [identity name of city or area]..”

“New Yorkers [identity] like you show up to make a difference for West Villagers [name of area] by….”

As human being (and professionals) our behaviour and decision-making happens in the unconscious mind where the behavioural drivers are biases and heuristics. These function like mental shortcuts and influence our behaviour. Make sure these are not blindly running the show when you are interacting with people and evaluating information. This is what you can do in the moment.
HOW: Ask yourself in your head ‘flip-it-questions’ to flip and change your biased perceptions.

“If she was an architect like myself and not an engineer, would I have listened more to that advice?” (challenge hidden discipline bias)

“If she was a man, would I have listened differently?” (challenge hidden gender bias)

“If he was not obese would I take his input more seriously?” (challenge appearance bias)

Since we are unconsciously biased about people, we are also biased about their ideas and perspectives. To make sure you leverage diverse perspectives and ideas, make sure you have access to them by mitigating your own biases. And when we collaborate in groups, unfortunately we have another hidden barrier that sneaks in. Group conformity. We have a tendency to be influenced by the view of others — more exactly 75% conform. So you have to make sure you create psychological safety for all people to speak up.
It can be as simple as anonymizing people by removing their identity data (pictures, name, gender, age etc).

They submit ideas anonymously via an online tech platform.

Facilitate meetings and development processes where the participantes are instructed to write down on notes their ‘critical voice’ or ‘pro & con’ arguments or give them other tasks.

Split larger groups in smaller groups of 2–3 people and give them a task. Have them individually write on notes before sharing verbally with each other and discussing. When the smaller groups have discussed their solutions, they share in the larger group. In this way to get diverse suggestions that can be leveraged.

Learn more in this article by Tinna C. Nielsen published at the World Economic Forum blog Agenda: Some practical examples of to change this.
The article is referring to workplaces, but as you read this exchange the word ‘workplace’ with ‘citizen participatory process’, ‘design process’, ‘community development’ and other contexts and situations where involving multi- stakeholders and diverse perspectives is crucial.

You can learn more at the For-Sharing Change organisation Move the Elephant for Inclusiveness and the global non-profit peer-to-peer initiative



Tinna C Nielsen

Founder of Move The Elephant For Inclusiveness. Applying anthropology, behavioural economics, Inclusion Nudges. Young Global Leader World Economic Forum.