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Title: Technology-enabled planning participation: Designing & deploying digital technology to encourage citizen participation in urban planning
Authors: Wilson, Alexander
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Citizens increasingly want to formally engage with the governmental and policy processes that manage how places change. Whilst enhancing the role of citizens in urban planning has been a longstanding objective for academics and communities, translating these aspirations into practice has proved to be more challenging. Although a range of conceptual ideas and practical techniques have been developed in planning to provide opportunities to enhance citizen involvement, these ideas and methods have faced several challenges. These include the strict legalistic and policy parameters that determine what sort of comments that are permissible, the governmental initiators of public engagement, and the need to understand and utilise the often complex language of planning. And yet citizens and communities are increasingly resorting to social media and digital communication to express their views about urban change. This research assesses the degree to which new digital technology can be designed and deployed to enhance citizen engagement within urban planning and identify whether it offers one potential method to address and overcome some of the challenges being experienced in citizen engagement. Through designing, deploying and evaluating speculative digital technologies, the research aims to understand the potential role of technology in facilitating enhanced citizen participation in planning. Working with citizens, community organisations and planners, the research explores the factors at play when innovative and bespoke engagement methods are used to amplify citizens’ voices in urban change. An action research approach was taken, which uses a continual cycle of designing and planning, deploying different types of technologies and reflections to inform design. Three technologies were piloted in different settings and contexts: a social media example addressing a complex planning issues; a smart watch application to support in-place engagement; and an interactive digital device that encourages people to communicate their feelings and aspirations through visual and oral means. Across the three examples, over 1400 citizens participated in the research. Findings demonstrate how the three digital initiatives encouraged people to be expressive when communicating complicated feelings towards urban change, and the influence different methods have on what people communicate. They illustrate how different participation methods can support differing levels of engagement, and how digital technologies might better align with how citizens would like to participate. The research critiques the suitability of current participation methods, and the extent to which they can support a genuine discussion about where people live and what they care about. It concludes by questioning whether current planning engagement methods can adequately equip non-experts with the tools to participate. The overall conclusion is that by employing digital technologies, a much more productive and fruitful conversation can be designed to facilitate citizen participation in planning compared to traditional methods.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis.
Appears in Collections:School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

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