100+ shades of geoparticipation

2 min read

Map-based consultations can support all types of urban planning policies from the neighbourhood to the metropolitan level. It is now totally cliché to say that good design and evaluation are essential for effective public participation to work in spatial planning. Because it is true! And professionals agree on at least one thing: it takes a lot of effort.

Together with geoparticipation expert Jirka Panek (Associate Professor at Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic), I was honoured to co-deliver the first webinar of the international Participatory Mapping Network. The illustrious network was founded by industry-leaders Christopher Raymond, Marketta Kyttä and Nora Fagerholm, and in memory of the profusive work by the late Greg Brown, one of the most acclaimed participatory mapping experts who largely shaped the field, if not created it.

You can access the webinar recording here or directly on YouTube.

Below are a few highlights with some slides.

Featured image: map-based consultation at Palaiseau, Greater Paris, using Carticipe-Debatomap. Web snapshot image courtesy of Repérage urbain (2022).

The webinar looks into different approaches to geoparticipation in urban planning, and how to design and assess its effectiveness. This includes traditional models such as Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation and the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation, as well as more recent benchmarking indicators produced by community engagement professionals in France, among others. This also includes Lita Akmentina’s ‘Spectrum of Blended Participation‘, which echoes with Nabatchi’s ‘Modified Spectrum of Public Participation‘, because it considers information flow alongside levels of participation, and examples of hybrid participatory methods that fit each level.

The view from France – a glance at the collaborative work of the French institute of community engagement professionals (ICPC) to evaluate public participation, and public consultancy agency Cerema’s own guidance for an internal evaluation of participatory processes.

The webinar also covers the main findings of a joint paper published in November 2021 entitled ‘Between consultation and collaboration‘ that argues that geoparticipation might perform best at involving participants rather than delegating power to them, not to mention simply informing them about what’s going on where live and work. This said, information is seen as key building block of meaningful engagement rather than a low-hanging fruit. Civic Tech companies constantly remind their clients that communicating is not engaging. But, as we’ve observed, there cannot be any effective engagement without high quality information.

In essence, the most progressive forms of geoparticipation we have identified are hybrid (both in-person and web-based), which has also been termed ‘blended’ or ‘phygital’ engagement by consultants and academics alike. At their best, analog and digital forms of geoparticipation are not simply concurrent (both at the same time) or sequential (one after the other), but they shape and (re)define each other almost synchronously as people engage with those methods. Online geoparticipation platforms can also be used conveniently to display and store the input from physical participation (e.g. workshops, charrettes, stalls, field visits with residents) for transparency, consistency and also simplify comprehensive data analysis of all contributions by participants. Data can therefore be conveniently analysed while public consultation is taking place, or to synthesise the sum of all contributions when all stages of consultations have closed.

Going forward, future experimentation and upscaling could promise to deliver fully ‘phygital’ engagement in seamless ways wherever appropriate, for example through public-private-people (4P) partnerships funded by green finance to retrofit and futureproof neighbourhoods at scale. We also need to go beyond data in order to understand it fully and leverage its full value for planning. Toward this end, one must heed pending challenges in town planning systems around the world, primarily of keeping data always fresh and salient to inform placemaking processes, improving agility in plan-making and development management, and optimising workflow integration rather than focusing on impressive / fully immersive new technologies. Simply put, the participatory planning revolution will not (just) be digitised.

Blended (geo)participation for the 21st century – leveraging the best of data and participatory planning in all circumstances.

Enjoy the full recording!

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