E-Planning and Public Participation: Addressing or Aggravating the Challenges of Public Participation in Planning?

E-Planning and Public Participation: Addressing or Aggravating the Challenges of Public Participation in Planning?

Mhairi Aitken
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2014040103
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The challenging nature of public participation in planning has been well-documented and there are frequent observations that this does not go far enough. Accordingly, since the turn of the century attention has turned to the ways in which public participation might be strengthened and improved through e-participation methods. This article aims to explore the extent to which e-planning methods address the long-standing challenges of traditional participation approaches. The article discusses some key themes within the planning theory literature relating to public participation and focusses on two important challenges which are summarised as: 1) Whose voices are heard within participatory processes, and how can less articulate voices be supported? And 2) Who controls participatory processes and to what extent, and in what ways can power be devolved to public participants? Developments in e-planning go some way to addressing these challenges; for example in opening up new channels for public participation and removing barriers to participation. However, e-planning certainly does not represent a panacea and requires critical reflection to ensure that it does not aggravate, rather than alleviate, these problems. For example, reliance on ICTs may risk leading to new inequalities in access to planning systems. Furthermore, questions relating to who participates, and who controls participation in planning processes remain relevant and pressing.
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Public Participation In Planning

The planning theory literature, whilst engaging with the challenges that participation presents, has extolled the potential value of public participation. Advocates of participatory planning have argued that: ‘From our modernist reliance on state-directed futures and top-down processes, we have to move to more community-based planning, from the ground up, geared to community empowerment’ (Sandercock, 1998: 30). Incorporating the views of members of the public into planning decisions is seen to give greater legitimacy to those decisions (Buchy & Hoverman, 2000). ‘Collaborative planning’ has come to be something of a buzz word since the mid-1990s (Healey, 2003) and it has been contended that: ‘The participatory approach in the public planning domain has become institutionalized as a method of good planning practice’ and that ‘democratic principles and public participation have become increasingly accepted as means for balancing and rationalizing multiple interests and preferences’ (Kaza, 2006: 256). Within planning theory there is said to be a ‘new orthodoxy [which] clusters around the idea that the core of planning should be an engagement with a range of stakeholders, giving them voice and seeking to achieve planning consensus’ (Rydin, 2007: 54, see also Masuda et al., 2008).

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