Tools to improve stakeholder and citizen participation in spatial planning processes

Stakeholder involvement in spatial planning processes can be increased by following a participatory approach. Commonly used tools are surface tables for visualizing data such as geographical maps and intuitively interacting with based on multi-touch input and dedicated user interfaces, and participatory modeling tools that leverage expert knowledge instead on applying complex and detailed simulation models. This project studies the integration options and benefits of these tools, in combination with applications for handheld devices to be used to include citizen delivered information into the processes.

Issues surrounding spatial planning are complex because the relevant information exists divided across different knowledge domains; is not easy to combine (e.g. statistical data and spatial information); it is dynamic in nature; and it is usually difficult to understand for stakeholders who do not have the required expertise. Interactive visualization and participatory GIS applications can be used to present the information in an understandable way, and allow the investigation of cause and effect relationships. Thus they can increase the users understanding of a spatial planning problem, and hence the opportunities for real citizen participation. Citizens can also contribute by providing additional data to such a system, for example using a mobile application (through crowd sourcing).

In order to increase our knowledge about technological developments in areas relevant to such interactive applications, and to be able to build a real-life prototype to do e.g. usability testing, some of the project time has been used to find and define a present-day and socially relevant test case. It has been found in the problems associated with the large numbers of geese in the Schiphol airport region, where multiple stakeholders are involved each with his or hers own expertise. Addressing the issue is complicated because the views of stakeholders vary widely. Reaching consensus is difficult partly because the necessary information for decision-making is not readily available to all involved. This information about land use, geese, their distribution, abundance and behavior, expulsion methods and risks for aviation can be combined and made accessible through the use of participatory GIS and modelling systems, and combined with current information about e.g. geese migration, collected by crowd sourcing and the use of mobile technology. Stakeholders meeting in interactive workshops can then contribute their knowledge and ideas on the spot and discuss possible effects of e.g. policy measures or spatial planning.

The project’s activities in 2011 were focused on identifying, analyzing and categorizing the relevant information with regard to the selected geese test case, and consulting with the stakeholders and intended users to determine the expected functionality of the system and the design of the user interfaces. Specific to the surface table new interaction techniques were studied to better apply it as a platform for participatory applications. Lastly a mobile application has been developed, that allows people to submit (qualitatively) field report about number of observed geese, which we hope to test with users in 2012.