Digital Community Planning: The Open Source Way to the Top of Arnstein's Ladder

Digital Community Planning: The Open Source Way to the Top of Arnstein's Ladder

Enzo Falco
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7030-1.ch067
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Citizen participation in planning as a decision-making and future-oriented activity is still in the hands of government. New advances in Information Communication Technologies and community informatics have allowed new forms of e-participation and e-planning to emerge. The article refers to theories of social psychology and digital rationality to support the use of ICTs and Web 2.0 in planning as means to deliver more meaningful and independent participatory processes. Moreover, it looks into different planning approaches to and theories of participation to argue and conclude that a digital community and plural planning approach may provide communities with a better setting to move up Arnstein's ladder of citizen participation. The article presents three different open source software and one proprietary software which can be used in practice by citizen groups to produce planning documents. Based on these findings, future research will explore the application of the approach and tools in an urban setting in close collaboration with grass-roots and citizens organizations.
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Citizen participation has long and widely been discussed in planning, public policy and public administration literature (see e.g. Davidoff, 1965; Arnstein, 1969; Fagence, 1977; Day, 1997; Forester, 1999; Wagenaar, 2002; Healey, 2006). As Arnstein (1969; p.216) put it, “no one is against it in principle because it is good for you”. The problem with citizen participation in planning is both theoretical, or philosophical, and empirical. From a theoretical point of view, it concerns theories of democracy, representative, deliberative, participatory and direct democracy for example, redistribution of power and the ability to influence decision making and the contested concept of the public interest (Fagence, 1977).

From a contextual point of view, it has to do with elements such as: nature of planning agency and its functions and activities, structure of the organization, legislation and regulations, resident population (Day, 1997). Participation is in many cases required by law or simply by political culture, but it can be extremely hard to get citizens involved, especially lower-income ones (Peattie, 1968). People may not want to get involved, may not have time, may feel underrepresented, that delegation through voting is enough to guarantee their needs, that they have no influence on decision-making and on policy-makers. Within the literature, despite the complexity of the issue, it has been stated that there are various advantages connected with and intrinsic to citizen participation and involvement in the planning process and government decision-making in general. The advantages range from a better understanding of the problem to tailored solutions and more accepted outcomes, building of a wider consensus, self-transformation of values and preferences, reduction of hostility and increased public trust towards government (Forester, 1999; Irvin & Stansbury, 2004; Agger, 2012). Participation is desirable also in consideration of the innovation, ideas and solutions to a specific problem that might come from outside the planning agency as it happens in business strategies of open innovation such as crowdsourcing (Seltzer & Mahmoudi, 2012).

Limits to and downsides of citizen participation in decision-making have also been widely discussed in the literature. Citizen-participation programs might serve a marketing purpose (Irvin and Stansbury, 2004, p.57); routinisation of citizen participation may reduce the public pressure for reform; it can be costly and time consuming; there can be less resources available for later implementation stages; and so on (Russel & Vidler, 2000).

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