This paper provides an outline of a study of the development (production, modelling) of new strategies for an integrated process for the design of public space. The context of the study is a pilot experience of participative laboratories for the design of public spaces. The participative laboratories involved experts and lay citizens in multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary discussion throughout the design process, and opened the dialogue from technical considerations to social issues. The intention of these pilot laboratory experiences was to evaluate the capability of a local project's dynamic to enhance the social and urban development. This paper initially focuses on the reorganisation of the design process, which was intended to serve as a catalyst to allow a richer approach to the project. The paper then considers the impact of this laboratory approach on the development of a wider negotiation regarding the possible choices of project, enlarging the overview of the local technical and social specifics, the multiplicity of expectations, the urban issues and the social and political mechanisms. A particular objective of the study was to analyse the various uses' and users' conflicts of meaning related to time, space and actors, through the experience of participative laboratories. The purpose was to evaluate whether redefinition of both the design process and the decision-making achieved the objective of elevating social meaning to a primary role in the development of public space.