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!