Online participation in urban development
Titel: Online-Partizipation in der Stadtentwicklung
ISSSN: 0303-2493 Bonn 2018
The possibility of participating in digital participation processes has long since arrived in our living rooms. Whether it be the development of a new quarter or the redesign of public spaces, this decade is providing numerous opportunities for participation and involvement in urban design processes. How have the different participation formats been received? What happens to the collected data? How up-to-date are the methodologies really?
In the journal Information on Spatial Development (IzR), the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) focuses on the topic of online participation in urban development and summarises it in an evaluative manner using various examples and actors:
From telephone surveys to cross-media participation formats
Since the 1970s, participation formats have been a way of questioning people about certain things and determining needs and tendencies. What used to be done via a telephone survey is now carried out in many different ways. Wishes and ideas for urban development projects are recorded digitally and in physical space – for example in the form of participation workshops. What is striking is that participation in both formats is equally strong. Is it not likely that more people would be reached via a digital option?
Who are the participants?
It is important to understand which groups of people take advantage of the opportunities for participation. Urban researcher Klaus Selle states in his report "Participation 8.0" that participation groups usually contain the same people: highly educated, well-earning individuals. Thus, virtually no one from a migrant background, with low educational qualifications or a low income is to be found within the participation processes. Since this is a highly homogeneous group, the question arises as to how the user groups could be more strongly mixed or a larger audience reached for the participation processes.
What data is collected?
Another aspect focuses on the actual statements published online by participants. Many people use the platforms to express their general displeasure about political decisions or similar. While it is possible for everyone to participate in the procedures, it is striking that the ideas and proposals that are formulated often have nothing to do with the project itself. In addition, instead of making constructive contributions, people use such platforms to express their displeasure with the project. Nevertheless, close attention needs to be paid to whether the comments are arbitrary statements or whether there is serious criticism behind them. Many authors admit in the publication that contributions reach a more constructive level with the help of careful moderation. In order to avoid the problem of arbitrary ideas, it is proposed that requirements be clearly formulated in advance and that only screened proposals be further developed in a second reviewing round.
Outdated participation formats?
In an article by Julian Petrin, the methodology of participation formats is criticized. According to Petrin, it is too bulky, too complex and too inflexible, especially when it comes to incorporating new technologies into the process. "Generally, digital participation in 2017 means little more than typing on a very powerful typewriter used to fill out attractive forms – while outside, in the world of consumer electronics and communications technology, the age of intelligent things and mixed reality has long since dawned", explains the city planner.
Here, the actors who offer such participation formats become relevant – as a rule, local and municipal authorities. Although positions are often created for the participation processes, there is often hardly any time for the extensive maintenance and care of the processes, results and support of the participants. It is proposed that such tasks be outsourced to external companies specialising in participation formats. In addition, much more experimental formats, which are cross-medially applied, could be implemented. This would significantly increase the likelihood of reaching a wider range of people.
Ultimately, it must be clarified how the collected data is to be handled and where it is to be stored, and whether, for example, it is to be anonymised. The publication shows that there is a need for action in this field. Instead of dialogue-free online forms, innovative, cross-media use of participation formats represents the most comprehensive way of recording the wishes and ideas of citizens.