Map-Based Surveys Valuable for Engaging with the Public in Urban Planning, New Study Finds

Map-Based Surveys Valuable for Engaging with the Public in Urban Planning, New Study Finds

Map-based survey solutions, like Maptionnaire, enable the gathering of geographic information that is based on the experiences and perceptions of inhabitants. The collection of this local knowledge has become popular in master planning and detailed planning, as well as increasingly in the planning of transportation, landscapes and natural resources.

The Old Barracks of Blankefelde-Mahlow Are Being Reinvented by a Multidimensional Participatory Process

The Old Barracks of Blankefelde-Mahlow Are Being Reinvented by a Multidimensional Participatory Process

Resident input is a key aspect of brownfield development. Many former industrial sites and logistic hubs sit unused inside neighborhoods and offer great opportunities for neighborhood improvement with socially conscious projects.

The landscape architecture company gruppe F used Maptionnaire in their project for developing a concept for the reuse of a former barracks area in Blankefelde-Mahlow in the greater Berlin area.

Helsinki National Urban Park

The Wisdom of the Crowd as a Mediator: Citizens’ Collective Insight Unites Activists and Planners in the Shaping of Helsinki’s National Urban Park

Have you ever thought of urban green areas or recreational areas as reservoirs for the components that make up a city’s identity: its most remarkable cultural and ecological values? This is the idea of the emerging ‘national urban park’ concept that has been gaining ground around Finland and around the world from the beginning of the 21st century.

A recent discussion has been whether one should be established in Helsinki. But it’s not an easy one. This is because where cultural and natural interests meet, big feelings and pain points are often present. National urban parks make no exception. With this background in mind, the city of Helsinki wanted to create a new kind of process that would bring different stakeholders and park users closer together. We were included in the process as online engagement consultants, which provided us a chance to learn how the strong inclusion of residents can shape the planning of a national urban park.

What is a national urban park?

There is no solid agreement about the definition of a ‘national urban park’, but there are examples of projects that define themselves as national urban parks or national city parks. Common characteristics for these parks include a central location and the aim to bring up the most remarkable cultural and ecological values of the city. They function much like national parks with goals to preserve the environment and to educate visitors. The difference is that in national urban parks the built environment plays an essential role as well.

In many cities the idea of establishing a national urban park originates from the will to protect urban nature from urban development. This was the case also with the world’s first national urban park, the Royal National City Park of Stockholm. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Sweden had a significant role in outlining an idea to join up three separate parks into a bigger “Ekoparken”, which then formed the basis of founding the national city park and giving it legal protection.

Following the example of Sweden, nine Finnish cities have established national urban parks. The Finnish national urban park concept is defined by a set of criteria written into the Land Use and Building Act. The legislative frameworks have not, however, removed the original tension between ‘nature’ and ‘town’. The discussion around the establishment of national urban parks often seems to be characterized by a debate between the city’s building pressures and leaving the green network untouched. And on top of the difficult land-use questions within the city, the national urban park status would add regulations governed by the central government into the mix of things local governments need to deal with. This is fruitful soil for heated discussions.

Getting people involved in shaping a park for Helsinki

The idea of founding a national urban park in Helsinki was brought up to the city council by the citizen group National Urban Park in Helsinki. The idea had been brought up by different actors also before, but in autumn 2017 the city started investigating its potential. This was done in demanding times. Helsinki’s new city plan had earlier marked slices of popular green areas as possible building sites, creating concerns over their fate among citizens. Acknowledging this background, the city wanted to collaborate with the activists of the park group and asked them to join the planning of the participation process.

We were hired as consultants to sit down with Helsinki’s planners and the park advocates to facilitate them co-create a map-based survey. It would be used to ask all Helsinkiers what they think Helsinki’s possible national urban park should look like and what it should include. The brainstorming resulted in placing the main focus of the survey in having people map places that they perceive to exemplify Helsinki, where they go to experience nature, and where they perform activities. It was seen important to get this kind of information from citizens because the planners already had a lot of hard data about the remarkable historical and environmental sites in the city.

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The survey data reveals key ingredients for moving the park project forward

After its launch, more than 1000 respondents made use of the survey to share their insights about how a national urban park should look like in Helsinki. When analyzing the results for the planners, we found that Helsinkiers’ responses, before anything else, pointed to a great love for the sea and urban forests. People also concentrated on identifying places that are special on a specific time of the year: the best spots to observe the stormy sea, autumn colors or the most beautiful spring flowers.

In the survey, people had also been asked to draw their favorite routes and to give a rough idea about the possible borders of the park. Especially the latter exercise, we discovered, provided a high-quality data set and it has been useful further down the planning process.

The future borders of Helsinki’s national urban park as perceived by residents.

The future borders of Helsinki’s national urban park as perceived by residents.

Going through people’s comments, we noted that the tone in the responses was mainly positive, but some people were also a bit worried. The main concern was that should the future park be too small and scattered, its function as a recreational area would be endangered. Most respondents were, however, looking forward to the benefits of getting better signage, unobscured passages in the urban forests, and giving the natural and cultural jewels of Helsinki the glory they deserve.

As the biggest opportunity of the national urban park I see the story of Helsinki and recognizing the identity of Helsinki, as well as preserving the culture-historically and environmentally remarkable areas and informing the citizens and tourists better about them.
— Survey respondent

Now that a large crowd has had the opportunity to participate in the project and more trust between the city and concerned residents has been built, could it be possible to define the borders and content for Helsinki’s national urban park that everyone is happy with?

There is certain controversy attached to the national urban park project, so it was good that there was a third party involved in the process. Also the workshop that gathered together the stakeholders and participants of the project was very useful – we were able to compile questions for the questionnaire that everyone agreed were good, and this way the credibility of this project was perceived to be higher.
— Juha-Pekka Turunen, Participation Coordinator, City of Helsinki

As the process continues, we’ll remain curious to follow how the possible national urban park will tell the story of Helsinki.

Maptionnaire Student Ambassador Program

The enthusiasm students from all over the world express when they discover Maptionnaire and apply it to their projects brings a lot of joy to us working with Maptionnaire. Although we’ve continuously connected with students interested in PPGIS and learned a lot from their projects, the interaction has been rather informal. Now we are turning a new page. We’ve launched the Maptionnaire Student Ambassador program with the objective of providing a more sustainable channel for interacting with the PPGIS student community and connecting them with the experts in the field.

What is the Maptionnaire Student Ambassador program?

The Maptionnaire Ambassador program is an exclusive opportunity for university students to have access to professional development in the field of Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) and network with experts. Each attendee will have the chance to learn about experiences and best practices in PPGIS, and, ultimately, apply their knowledge and skills to benefit their own communities. The Ambassador Program is our initiative to bring together like-minded students to collaborate in solving societal challenges with the help of participatory mapping.

How does it work?

The program is a platform for sharing knowledge and developing professionally in the fields of public participation, GIS Science, and urban planning. The program will consist of three main elements: working online, sharing knowledge locally, and working together in Helsinki. The Ambassadors will be engaged with periodical online webinars supported by an external network of experts, organizing small-scale events at their university, and be invited to a workshop and global PPGIS conference in Helsinki. In addition and if applicable, all Ambassadors will have the opportunity to use Maptionnaire in their own research or similar participatory mapping project.

The program will begin in January 2019 with 12 master’s and PhD students from 12 European universities.

Program’s timeline

Program’s timeline

The benefits of joining the program:

  • Exclusive lectures and support by PPGIS experts

  • Access to a network of professionals and students

  • Invitation to a workshop held in Helsinki (more information on this later) and to attend the largest PPGIS conference in the world in June 2019 in Helsinki

  • The opportunity to use Maptionnaire for own projects, e.g. thesis research

  • The possibility to start an internship with Maptionnaire at the end of the program

What is expected from the Ambassadors?

  • Participation in regular online meetups / training sessions

  • Willingness to reach out to fellow students and members of the faculty for sharing knowledge about PPGIS and Maptionnaire

  • Organizing workshops or other events to facilitate the knowledge-sharing

  • Writing a blog post or creating a video to reflect on the activities

  • Periodical communication with the Ambassador program coordinator

If you have any questions regarding the program, please send an email to festa@maptionnaire.com.

 

Happy Mapping!

The Maptionnaire team

Plan Cities in Collaboration with People: Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) in a Nutshell

The world of online public participation and outreach is full of complex terms and abbreviations. Public participation GIS (PPGIS), participatory GIS (PGIS), volunteer geographic information (VGI), crowdsourcing, e-participation, participatory e-planning, and planning support system (PSS) are all examples of broadly used language for describing digitally supported communication and collaboration.

We label Maptionnaire as a Public Participation GIS service. PPGIS is a term born and widely known within the circles of academia. Urban planners and other practitioners are, however, less familiar with it. This blog hopes to help change the situation.

Public participation is essentially the interaction between two sides: The experts that advance urban planning and the individuals or organizations possibly affected by local planning decisions.

The development of information and communication technologies (ICT) has offered new tools and ideas for making public participation more effective and meaningful. The benefits of applying ICT in participation include the adoption of easier and quicker communication methods, increased access to participation, better data quality, and the emergence of more attractive and playful tools for targeting different user groups.

What new technology hasn’t effectively solved is a pitfall widely acknowledged with participatory processes: The question of managing to work truly collaboratively around a specific issue or site.

Ideally, a participation process allows all participants to not only receive information from planners but also to share information. Such two-way collaboration should lead to decisions and outcomes that have been formulated together. In reality, this goal is rarely achieved. Participation is often limited to one-way informing. And rather than supporting working together, many digital tools and platforms have only opened new ways and channels for one-way communication and data collection.

Moreover, participation has conventionally been stifled by spatial ambiguity. Even though public participation is always attached to a certain place, the communication between planners and people has mainly been on-site discussions without proper tools for attaching verbal thoughts to certain locations in an efficient way. Especially when working with a big area, it’s a difficult task to talk about different places and locations with precision.

Public participation GIS (PPGIS) aims to bridge these gaps. The concept combines advanced information and communication technology with a geographic information system (GIS).

As GIS seeks to position everything on Earth, it presents an interesting frame for the public to communicate their preferences, ideas, and experiences. Such information hasn’t conventionally been perceived as a domain of spatial data.

Take a moment to close your eyes and think about where you live. Then begin to draw a mental map of the most important places to you, the spaces that make you feel uncomfortable, the addresses you frequently visit with friends, and so forth.

All these spots in your mental map also have coordinates in the real world. The idea of integrating this kind of ‘soft’ information and knowledge to GIS is the foundation of PPGIS.

The power of PPGIS, thus, is in its ability to turn regular people into experts of their living environment by allowing them to position places that are meaningful and important for them on a map. PPGIS is about opening GIS, a field previously exclusively used by experts, to people who have never worked with geographical data. People participating in the production of GIS data, or location information if you will, support urban planning and development in many new ways.

The technological capabilities for meaningful collaboration don’t, however, necessarily ensure it happens.

Although we need high-quality tools, successfully implemented public participation is not only about them. Many PPGIS stories have proven that no data set alone, no matter how comprehensive they may be, can improve the quality of public participation. Instead, the quality is improved when experts, individuals, and organizations involved in the process understand and value collaboration and co-creation.

With PPGIS, success will follow when all stakeholders appreciate working together for the creation of more sustainable and livable cities, and simultaneously, the ‘soft’ data can be applied and turned into valuable insight to support the effort.

Maarit has written her doctoral dissertation within the same field. Professor Gregory Brown has published many research papers in PPGIS as well.

Researchers and Citizens Co-Design Singapore’s Waterfront

Dr. Johannes Müller and his group at the ETH-Singapore Future Cities Laboratory has recently used Maptionnaire in the “Big Data Informed Urban Design” research project. Citizens as creative contributors to a crowd-informed city is one aspect of their project. In a case study, they empowered Singaporeans to plan a new waterfront neighborhood. This blog continues our series of interviews with researchers working with participatory mapping.

 

Johannes, could you first tell us a bit about your research group?

The Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) is the first program of the Singapore-ETH Centre, an institution established jointly by ETH Zurich and Singapore’s National Research Foundation. In our work, we analyze and develop new strategies to involve citizens in the urban planning process.

 

What was your research project about?

Singapore’s waterfront is undergoing change as the current and centrally located container terminal in Tanjong Pagar will be moved elsewhere after 2027. The master planning of the site is now in progress, but the work is still at an early stage. We used this opportunity to showcase new forms of participatory design. As a research group, we wanted to not only learn how citizens would like to see the area develop, but also observe how they react to different digital participation tools.

Maptionnaire was one of the tools you experimented with. Can you elaborate what you did with it?

We decided to include Maptionnaire, because it is one of the very few products on the market that already contains a design component for regular people and is accessible via the internet.

And the questionnaire we made was a kind of a “Citizen as a Planner” game. Participants could zone the site as they wished by drawing residential, commercial and green areas on a map of Tanjong Pagar. We also asked participants to draw future pedestrian and cycling paths. Finally, people got to browse through pictures of existing examples from Singapore and choose which types of designs for parks, residential blocks, and malls they would prefer to see in the area.

 

What did you learn?

We’re still in the middle of reviewing the answers we received. I can, however, already say that a publicly accessible waterfront, good access to public transportation, and low-rise buildings with neighborhood parks were preferred by the participants.

There were process-related lessons as well. We had planned to organize some face-to-face events linked to the online questionnaire. Unfortunately, we did not manage to have quite as many participants join as we wanted to. What we learned is that reaching out to citizens successfully requires multiple areas of expertise, such as marketing, web design and social science.

 

What was your and the Singaporeans’ experience with Maptionnaire?

We think that the tool was a good choice for getting a sense of the opinion among citizens. Even though our questions were quite openly formulated, participants could clearly share their ideas in a more creative way than conventional survey tools would allow them to.

In general, people liked Maptionnaire because the tool contains elements every participant is familiar with: A map and a survey. Other tools we used in the project work with 3D city models. They turned out to be a bit challenging for some people because 3D models provide an uncommon representation of the existing space, and, hence, are more difficult to comprehend if a low level of detail is given. Our participants preferred tools that are not too abstract and show them a familiar user interference. The simplicity of the elements in Maptionnaire, therefore, was advantageous and motivated people to participate.

From the project management side, I also found Maptionnaire was very easy to use. It’s good that you don’t need specific knowledge about geography or GIS to work with it. You can get your response data automatically in an easily understandable format and further analysis can be done with common software.

The bottom line is that both the citizens and planners liked Maptionnaire because it facilitates the transforming of people’s ideas and opinions into generalized design instructions.

https://ideasfortanjongpagar.com/

Participatory Mapping for Improving Disadvantaged São Paulo Communities

This is the first edition in a series of blog posts about how young researchers are using participatory mapping in their work. We’re starting an interview with post-doc researcher Carolina Carvalho who has been researching vulnerable and poor communities in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil.

You can read the interview below.

What is it exactly that you’re working with, Carolina?

“I’m doing research on the empowerment and governance of the marginalized Novo Recreio community. It is in Guarulhos, the second largest municipality in the São Paulo urban area. The work belongs to the frame of the international ResNexus project, which investigates resilience and vulnerability at the urban nexus of food, water, energy and the environment.”

Can you tell more about the problems in this area?

“Guarulhos is facing several urban challenges. Especially water shortages are a contemporary issue. Other problems in the densely urbanized municipality include air pollution, lack of green areas, and the risk of being able to maintain a clean supply of water. These problems are particularly visible in Novo Recreio, which shelters approximately 4,500 families in a vulnerable social condition. A lack of access to water is a particularly pressing issue in the community. Besides it, the residents have little access to energy and basic services. The neighborhood also occasionally suffers from erosion, landslides, and flooding.”

How did you address these challenges in your work?

“We wanted to map out the main problems the inhabitants of Novo Recreio are dealing with and how they could be best solved. And in order to do so, we developed a 3-month participatory GIS course on urban sustainability and environmental health for high school students in the neighborhood. During the course, we applied several participatory tools, like Talking Maps, Community Journal, GIS layers produced manually, and of course Maptionnaire.

More specifically, we used Maptionnaire to have the students plan the kind of neighborhood they wanted. With the help of a map survey, we, for example, asked them to mark where they would like to have a school. Currently, there is no school in the neighborhood and students must walk long distances through dangerous areas to attend one. Other things we asked them to point out included where they’d like to have a cinema, a fresh food market, or a health clinic. We also asked about a good location for a recycling cooperative, and where would it be appropriate to have a shelter for the residents in case of flood or landslides. Finally, we wanted to know their opinion on how these changes could become real."

A snapshot of the locations that students mapped.

A snapshot of the locations that students mapped.

What did you learn from this?

“We learned that young people want to have more leisure options and to improve the quality of life within Novo Recreio. But more importantly, we were able to distinguish preferred places for the neighborhood improvements people desired. Using Maptionnaire for participatory mapping proved to be extremely valuable for the compilation of insights that can guide neighborhood planning in a vulnerable community. Specifically, the possibility to create heat maps out the data made it easy to detect trends in the points marked by the students. I think comparing the data collected with Maptionnaire against municipal data can help to add efficiency in urban planning.”

A heat map of the preferred places to have a fresh food market. The main street seems to be the most desirable location.

A heat map of the preferred places to have a fresh food market. The main street seems to be the most desirable location.

What do you plan to do next?

“We are building a report of the results and focusing on disseminating it to the public and the managers of the city of Guarulhos. We’re now working on having also the city managers map the same area using Maptionnaire. You can have a more detailed look at our results and keep following the progress of the project on my blog."

Check out the English and Portuguese version of Carolina's blog.

This project is funded by  PROCESSO FAPESP # 2015/21311-0

What Does Digitalizing Participation Mean?

We did an interesting discovery last fall while talking to planners that visited our exhibition stand at Nuremberg’s Kommunale Fair: when bringing up the topic of public participation, their reactions were divided into two. Some were excited about the possibilities and ideas a dialog with residents can bring; others feared opposition and prefer not to open any conversations with the public.

This is worrying as participation in its different forms should be an integral part of planning processes these days. At the same time, it is also understandable as not all aspects relating to the concept of “participative planning” are necessarily positive.

The conventional public engagement processes can end up being a burden for various reasons. At meetings, the number of attendants can be low and those who come represent only a small segment of the population. When discussing plans with the attendants, the opposing voices are often the loudest. Finally, the planner might end up returning to the office carrying a pile of post-its with opinions and ideas written on them. It is not an easy task to transform that data into a usable format, let alone present the information to others.

How could we apply the popular word “digitization” to ease the work of planners and to increase their enthusiasm for participation?

For one, it can easily be applied early on. Digital participatory tools are often used in the initiation phase of planning projects to crowdsource for first opinions from residents. When the dialogue between planners and residents begins in the early stages of planning, acceptance towards a project is likely to become higher. This enables planners to understand the scope of the opinions on certain topics and areas before any concrete plans are drawn.

If the early feedback shows that the future development proposal will be conflict-prone, it can be helpful to make visual maps pointing to the divided opinions. The maps can be shown to residents at the neighborhood meetings to frame the conversation.

The bottom line is that public engagement can and should be fun, also for planners. Digitalizing the participation process with tools, such as Maptionnaire, helps to bypass the problem of low participation attendance by allowing planners to reach a larger crowd. Digital tools also add the possibility to visualize aspects of the dialog. Using them is, therefore, a good starting point for fruitful cooperation between planners and residents.

If you would like to know more about how Maptionnaire can be used in the early stages of the planning process, follow this link to a blog post written by our co-founder, Maarit. Or contact her at maarit.kahila@mapita.fi if you have any questions.

Happy mapping!

 

Reaching Out to Survey Respondents Through Social Media

We are often asked about the possibilities for sharing surveys to potential respondents. Indeed, there’s more to a successful survey project than the creation of an awesome questionnaire. A good marketing campaign is needed, too.

Each Maptionnaire questionnaire is identified by an individual link. The best way to share survey URLs to the public is obviously through digital media. This can be done via email, social media, QR codes, or even through newspapers or local TV.

Nowadays social media is one of the best ways to reach out to people.

Following the saying “The currency of social media is the share”, sharing buttons can be easily added to Maptionnaire questionnaires. But, generally, sharing on social media with a good response rate requires certain expertise.

We summarized how a few social media channels can be used to make the community aware of your next Maptionnaire campaign.

Sharing questionnaires on Facebook

More than one billion people are active on Facebook today. The amount of content that is shared daily increases rapidly. This is not necessarily a good thing because important content can get easily ignored. To avoid having this happen to your survey, we suggest putting an effort to crafting catchy posts. A short paragraph explaining what the survey is about coupled with an image, GIF, or video would do the trick.

The City and County of Denver offer a good example of how clever Facebook posting can be used to attract more respondents:

As with the Denver example, people often leave comments on the survey’s Facebook post. It’s smart to follow up with them: they can be considered a way of participating in the discussion and can include relevant information.

Another way to get more traffic is reaching out to Facebook influencers and asking them to share your survey. These are very often people whose daily job revolves around Facebook and Social Media Marketing. They may ask for a fee but depending on the case, sometimes they also do it for free.

Sharing questionnaires on Twitter

In many countries and cultures, Twitter is less popular than Facebook. But often it is a place to hear the news before they are on any traditional news channel. To spread out the news on a specific topic more effectively, people use hashtags (a word or phrase preceded by the # symbol). It is impressive how far an on-point hashtag can reach. Similar to Facebook posts, it is important to create attractive tweets. Accompany your questionnaire link with a nice “call-to-respond” text, a visual item, and a powerful hashtag, and it can become the Twitter news of the day. As a side note, it helps to use hashtags and mentions that work for your location.

Researcher Andrew Mcclelland’s hosting of a Twitter Talk to find out people’s most valued places in parts of Northern Ireland is a good example of this. He used the Twitter hashtag #MyValuedPlaces to support the sharing of his Maptionnaire survey and received a good response from it.

Sharing questionnaires on Instagram

Maptionnaire’s own Instagram channel is a place you will see coffee cups, the team playing Nintendo Wii, and snapshots of other fun activities we do.

Despite being one of the biggest social networking services, Instagram isn’t likely to bring many respondents to your questionnaire. This is because Instagram doesn’t currently allow link sharing. The only clickable link you can share is the one in the main profile. However, spending a couple of minutes on sharing a post about your questionnaire project won’t bring you any harm. In fact, we’ve seen some of our customers use Instagram for this purpose quite well.

The Memories of Nikkilä is a good example of a project where Instagram sharing worked very well. The municipality of Sipoo’s decision to use Instagram for this project was a great idea since memories are best represented by images. The project team shared the images they collected on Instagram, enabling residents to reminisce their memories together.

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You can read more about the project on our customer stories.

Questionnaires can also be shared through other channels such as Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+. They are, however, far less popular and might not bring enormous results. Yet, they will add up to the branding of your project.

If you have any good stories about sharing projects on social media, let us know - we love hearing good stories!

8 Tips for Designing a Good Survey

From time to time we get questions about the keys to designing good surveys. How to make a map questionnaire that attracts as many respondents as possible and is easy to understand? In short, the principles are not much different from creating any type of questionnaire. A good survey is easy to read, there are few chances for misinterpretation, answering is made easy, the respondent is informed how long completing it will take, and the quality of the gathered data is high.

Take a look at these tips we compiled to help you succeed in creating effective map questionnaires.

1. Keep your questions clear and simple

One of the most important things is to minimize the risk for misunderstandings. Pay extra attention when formulating your questions. A very common mistake is to ask many things within one question: “Are the houses beautiful and their surroundings well-maintained?”. Also, avoid questions that can be understood in many ways, such as: “Where do you typically come to this area from?” In this case respondents might wonder if you mean the place their trip originates from (work or home), which entry point they use, or which route they use.

2. Avoid complicated language

Imagine yourself in the shoes of the people you want to reach when drafting your questions. The target groups in public participation are often diverse, so it is better to avoid too professional language. If it’s necessary to use an important term people might not be familiar with, it is wise to define it in the questionnaire.

3. Include instructions on how to answer

Respondents may sometimes face technical issues, especially with map-based questions. It’s a good idea to add instructions on how to use the tool. Also, consider the phrasing of your instructions: instead of using rather technical terms such as “point”, “line” and “polygon”, you could use “place”, “route”, and “area” to better describe what you wish the respondents to answer.

4. Motivate respondents to participate

It is beneficial to provide the respondents a motivation to participate. This can be done by explaining your goals and why it’s important that they answer. For example, include information about your project and how the gathered data will be utilized on the front page of the questionnaire. You can also organize a prize draw among respondents to nudge people to answer.

5. Apply a clear structure

Try to keep your questionnaire compact and its structure clear. Guide respondents through the questionnaire using titles and small captions. Keep them informed about how they are proceeding by adding page numbers on questionnaire pages. Question-wise, it is good to start with easier ones to make respondents feel more comfortable and move on to more complicated questions later on.

6. Go easy with obligatory questions

Obligatory questions can be used to force respondents to answer important questions. Setting too many of them can, however, feel annoying. To the degree that some respondents even leave the questionnaire without finishing it. Instead of forcing people to answer, in most cases you can get the same result by having questions sound important and look appealing to answer.

7. Think about the analysis already when formulating questions

The responses you receive will eventually need to be analyzed, so it’s good to think of that process already in advance. Open questions are often burdensome to analyze. You might not want to add too many of them, especially if you expect to get a lot of responses. However, if your goal is to gather a more qualitative dataset, you can try coupling multiple choice questions with additional questions. This way you would still get deep insights but in a more structured way.

If you want to make classifications, for example, based respondent age groups, it’s easier to have respondents choose which age group they belong to rather than ask for their age individually with an open number field. Also, asking many questions with one open field might get messy. For example, it’s a good idea to ask for people’s email, address and phone number with separate fields than with just a single question: “Please write your email, address and phone number in the box”.

8. Have someone test your questionnaire before publishing

We tend to get blind to the text we write. It’s smart to ask someone to browse through and test your questionnaire before publishing it. They will be helpful in spotting any spelling mistakes and seeing if your questions are understandable. What’s more, you get a chance to see if the response data looks correct.

Our customers create inspirational questionnaires with Maptionnaire every day. You can check for some great examples at our customer stories page. Send me an email at kirsi.forss@mapita.fi if you'd like to learn about more specific examples. If you haven't used Maptionnaire yet, go ahead and register. I hope my tips are helpful!

Using Digital Participatory Platforms in Different Phases of the Planning Process

Participation is an efficient and effortless way to gather information about citizens’ experiences, values, and opinions throughout the whole planning process. No matter if you are compiling a master plan, a detailed plan, or a more general land-use vision, read how the versatile functions of Maptionnaire could be utilized in each phase of your project (or be it any digital participatory platforms).

Early Stages

In the early stages of the planning project, the aim is usually to generate an overview of the planning area, its potential, and problems. Part of this process is also the soft data collected from the citizens on how they value and experience their surroundings. Typical ways how Maptionnaire has been used in this phase are questions such as which places people appreciate or dislike in the city the most and what kind of development they would like to see in the future. Here are some examples of how the map elements could be applied to the questions: 

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Places or single features

Placing points on the map to indicate for example favorite places, ugly buildings, beautiful trees or underestimated meeting points.

Routes and connections

By drawing lines the respondents can highlight the routes that are important for them or connections that should be developed.

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Areas

The polygon tool allows drawing areas that are not so clearly defined as points and lines. For example, the respondents could point out areas suitable for a new park or housing.

Presenting plans and scenarios

Once the plan has been drafted or compiled, it’s time to ask for comments. Maptionnaire offers the opportunity to upload plans in the cloud service as raster or shapefile format, and to lay them over the base map for commenting. This function is ideal for gathering feedback about one plan or for prioritizing between different alternative scenarios.

Evaluation

Evaluation of an implemented plan is something that is often forgotten once the new plan enters into force. Nevertheless, the evaluation phase could give important insight on what is working in the new plan and which issues need more attention in the future. This information could be useful in the next planning cycle. On top of the already presented elements and traditional multiple choice questions, Maptionnaire offers question types specially designed for evaluation, such as sliders and priority assessments.

Feedback Channel

Maptionnaire can become handy also as a general feedback channel, or in other words as a “fix the city” tool. This means that the residents can easily report on the map if there is something that needs to be fixed, let's say if a streetlamp is broken or if there is a pit on the road. Spatial coordinates allow a more exact understanding of the location of the issues raised compared to just following written descriptions.

Public engagement is not only about gathering data from the participants, but it’s also about sharing information with them. Maptionnaire could easily serve as a complete interaction platform. If you're interested in speaking to a member of our team, please send us an email to info@mapita.fi or fill out this form.

Digital Participatory Platforms

Create Questionnaires that Make Planning Processes Smoother

When speaking of digital participation in the planning process, you’re essentially competing against other things that your potential respondent would rather be doing, such as liking things on Facebook or pinning latest trends on Pinterest. You obviously want the respondent to spend some time on your project providing useful insights for your work.

There are a few things you can do to make the respondents work more enjoyable and your work easier as result. Let me list a few of them:

1.

Use your own colors, images, and icons to customize the questionnaire. You can add a lot of visual swoon to your survey just by adding some of your own visual materials. These visuals can include logos, project visuals, specific colors for your draw-buttons, headings, and other questionnaire elements. Maptionnaire allows you to add small informative icons to the pins you ask people to put on the map. It is worth inspecting the ever-growing selection of different icons available!

Styling map-questionnaires

2.

Add other visual elements that make the questionnaire look nicer

Adding small pictograms or figures to your multiple selection questions can make help respondents answer the questions better. Besides, they can help with necessary clarifications to different answer options.

You can also hide the questionnaire heading on the front page and replace it with an image containing the questionnaire name and other cool graphical elements, as has been done in a project discussing the repurposing of an old mental hospital area in Dikemark, Norway from the picture below.

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3.

Add other visual elements that help the respondent. Adding map overlays that portray the current or future situation at your survey location can also help a whole deal. Below is an example using customized Leaflet-layers on top of the regular base map, but also Geotiffs and Shapefiles work great for this.

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4.

Add a storyline and guide your respondent through the survey. You can dictate the location of the map page by page, or guide the map location based on user responses. Walking the respondents through the project area and drawing their attention to one detail at a time can be a great way of helping the respondent concentrate in one theme at a time.

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Besides these main points, there is plenty you can do to make the participatory planning process a better experience for the respondents. Some of our partners give prices for people who fill out the questionnaires in different forms, such as gifts for example. Those ideas are a blog post for another day.

Tell us in the comments section below which strategy you use. Meanwhile, create an account with Maptionnaire and invite people to be part of your planning process.

Happy Mapping!

Engaging People in the Early Phases of the Planning Process

Public participation has become a buzzword in urban planning projects around the globe. Despite the trendiness, many challenges remain in achieving transparent processes and acceptable outcomes. A noticeable pitfalls is that participants are involved in improving their cities far too late in the process. Residents are annoyed to hear of coming changes in their neighborhood when the nearly-ready plan proposals are laid out in a public event. Participation organized too late in the process causes serious damage; it creates mistrust and frustration. At worst, the discord can grow to resistance that postpones the implementation of the planning process for years or even decades.

What can then be done?

Easily one ends up thinking, “let’s just try to support the participation efforts already in the very early phases of the process.” Unfortunately, the case is not quite that simple. In most cases, it is difficult to think of ways of implementing participation during the very early steps of the process, as in the initiation phase there is rarely a very clear picture of the coming changes in the environment that could then easily be discussed with the public.

Research has shown that PPGIS tools (public participation GIS) offer a relevant option for tackling public engagement during the early steps. In the projects which planners have implemented independently, they have utilized PPGIS tools such as Maptionnaire the most during the initiation phase of the project. Here we have some glimpses into how PPGIS tools can help when the project looks more like a mess than anything really well thought out, and hence the experts are uncertain to have anything published just yet.

Before going into this discussion, we should evaluate what characterizes the initiation phase. During the early steps, the idea appears on planner’s table. The idea can materialize from different sources, such as the city’s strategic work, decision makers, its planning organization itself, other city departments, public agencies, or even from one single resident. The contextual analysis and problem definition take place during the initiation phase, leading to the conceptualization of problems, proposals, and demands that are later transformed into plans and programs. This phase describes the “actual” beginning of the planning process, where the preliminary clarification of the context, the definition of the participants, the choice of the level of participation, and the preliminary selection of the tools are made.

PPGIS tools & Action points

From the participatory planning perspective, the initiation phase demands at least two action points: informing the public and various other actors, and gathering of comprehensive background data. This step is crucial because it formulates the foundations for the whole collaboration. More established public participation means that the involvement cannot be viewed as a one-directional flow of information towards the residents, but instead, it must be viewed as a phase in which participants should become inclusively bound to the process.

Finally, there is the question of how PPGIS can support participation in the early steps of the process. PPGIS tools such as Maptionnaire enable residents to act as information producers while also giving them the opportunity to react and communicate with the understanding received from other respondents. By reaching out to the public in a comprehensive way, the pluralistic and versatile experiential landscape is illuminated. At best, the controversial views and opinions are brought to light and the planners’ understanding of the local situation is improved. In addition to gathering the data online, public involvement needs to be supported by face-to-face collaboration and communication to validate and supplement the data gathered. This also creates cohesion between the various actors and the experts. The face-to-face events should be turned into settings that are more functional where co-working and collaboration truly take place.

 
Early Engagement
 

Finally, remember to be curious and open to learning more about your city!


Banner picture by Brook Cagle

Encouraging more People to Participate in Urban Planning

Urban management is becoming a more complex challenge for today’s cities. In a world of accelerated urbanization and globalization, affordable housing, public transportation, energy efficiency and social sustainability are just a few examples of the interrelated issues that need careful attention in planning processes.

To advance any development project, modern-day urban planners are required to invest considerably into communication and collaboration with various stakeholder groups to strike a balance among competing interests and values.

However, to employ problem-solving that truly serves the needs of local communities and results in shared ownership of any city’s future, it is essential to concentrate on listening to residents.

This has brought community engagement into the core of urban planning. During recent years, the design of a good public participation strategy that reaches out to as many as possible, has become a key question for implementing successful development initiatives.

The foundation for any effective engagement strategy is to apply a mix of conventional and modern outreach tools. But as everyday life increasingly happens through various internet platforms and mobile devices, people’s interest is rapidly shifting towards online participatory applications.

We have compiled seven steps that will help you toward more successful participatory planning using digital participation tools such as Maptionnaire.

7 steps to maximize the reach of public participation:

Make participation fun

A positive atmosphere lowers the bar for sharing opinions and attracts more people to get involved.

  1. Be sure to use visually appealing tools

An enjoyable visual appearance awakens people’s interest.

  1. Be open and honest

Be honest and transparent within your planning process. This will help citizens trust you – also in the long term.

  1. Use the data gathered productively

Share public consultation results using attractive visualizations and maps. Furthermore, things don’t need to end with communicating outcomes: if you asked where new flower benches should be placed, invite residents to plant the flowers with you!

  1. Be creative

Participation programs don’t always need to be the same. There are many interesting ways to organize your participation work. How about using interactive content or adding a little gamification to your project?

  1. Don’t be afraid of the public

People can be direct but don’t take it personally. They just want to help build a better environment to live in.

  1. Involve residents from the beginning

The earlier residents are involved in an engagement process, the more likely they are going to participate during the later phases.

In our work, we are excited to observe how cities and towns across the globe have started to understand the importance of well-thought public participation. Increasingly many are boldly experimenting with new tools to invite residents to join in co-shaping their surroundings.

It can take a lot of time and energy to organize and plan an effective participation process that is accessible to everyone. But if you’re striving to make your city liveable, it’s worth it.

getting people to participate

Banner picture by Jens Johnsson

The Perks of Digitizing Participation Methods

The digitalization of participation methods cuts across boundaries of the traditional approach to getting people involved in the future development of their surroundings. Digitalizing these methods has made communication between residents and city administration much easier. Feedback is flowing to city halls even through Facebook and Twitter. Much of this data, however, remains hidden or in an unstructured format.

A big part of participation discussions still take place in public meetings and charrettes. Obviously, face-to-face meetings are very important as the concept is very easy to understand and it feels reliable. However, the same thing cannot be said about the data such events generate. It’s flawed. A bunch of post-it notes stuck to a wall will hardly make sense a few months after any meeting.

Figuring out a way that convinces residents to answer enthusiastically to a questionnaire, and at the same time, generates results that make sense to urban planners, has taken many hours of research and development. At Maptionnaire we have created an approach with which residents can participate in building their cities in a way that is meaningful to them. As many of the questions that concern urban development are spatial in their nature, people need to visualize them before they answer.

 

What is a better way to ask about a city than to use a map?

 

Questionnaires designed with Maptionnaire allow adding quick briefings and visualizations, making them easily digestible for respondents. On top of that, the people-generated spatial data that you collect with Maptionnaire can be turned into insights about desired future developments. This takes urban planners and developers one step closer to getting their job done. If you’re wondering which tool you could use for your future project, go ahead and give Maptionnaire a try. That’s the best way to figure out if it is what you need.


Banner picture by Alexander Dummer.