Online tool for formal participation in urban planning tested in Hamburg

16. July 2008 – 09:00 by Bengt Feil

On Wednesday June 9th we started the hot phase of the project BOP. This project aims at transferring the process of formal participation in urban planning to the internet. This kind of participation is mandatory in Germany – Every urban land-use plan etc. has to be public and the stakeholders relevant to this plan as well as citizens are asked to state their opinion. „Bauleitplanung Online – Pilot (BOP)“ employs an online participation platform to transfer the offline process of formal participation in urban planning to the web. Since Wednesday this platform is live and in use by the involved parties.

The project was commissioned by the City of Hamburg and is organized as a pilot case. The goal of this pilot process is to identify the requirements, wishes and expectations which all involved parties have towards an internet based participation process in urban planning. This will lead to further development of the process as well as to the integration in the IT-infrastructure of the whole city region.

There are several arguments supporting the use an online tool for this form of participation:

  • The hurdles to getting involved in the process are much lower than in the case of the traditional offline version.
    The process is much more efficient. There is no need to print out and send large amounts of maps and documents because the system allows displaying these easily for example by using an interactive WebGIS solution. The workload for evaluation of questions and statements concerning the urban planning issue at hand by the public administration is significantly reduced because of the integrated workflow management tools.
  • Transparency and accountability are enhanced because the whole process runs in one end-to-end system with no discontinuity of media.
  • Participants who were already involved in formal participation do not have to change their way of handling the process. The platform is set up so that the existing processes on the site of the public administration and the participants are mirrored.

To test the process and the technology in a real world situation the existing case of Lokstedt 56 has been selected. The involved public administrations and representatives of public interest will use the online platform to view all necessary information and to submit and manage all statement concerning the selected use case. Over 80% of all parties involved decided to only use the online platform even so this is a test case. Consequently the parties involved already save a significant amount of resources.

Structure of the participation platform

The two main goals of the participation platform are firstly to present the content of the urban planning case and the attached procedures in an accessible form and secondly to conduct the participatory process in a user-friendly way and without discontinuity of media. User should be able to understand all steps of the procedure, to formulate and enter their own statements to the given case and to understand the decision making processes of the public administrations responsible. The platform is structured in four different thematic modules:

  • Overview and general information
  • Text and reasoning of the planned urban development
  • Map, plans (WebGIS)
  • Additional data and information

In addition to those four modules all user have access to their personal area. The functions etc. in this area depend on the role of the user in the procedure (e.g. rights attached to the account). The management and evaluation of statements concerning the case are of high importance to the public administration responsible for the participation process. The platform includes a sophisticated solution to store, visualise and evaluate all statements directly using the platforms user interface. These functions can only be accessed by authorized personal (e.g. members of the responsible public administration). To manage the whole process an administrative area is implemented. This area is restricted to super-users.

Central functions of the platform

It has been already mentioned that BOP is aimed at making existing processes more efficient and transferring them into the online realm. To achieve this offline process of participation in urban planning has been modelled. Its key mechanisms are the submission of statements about the suggested plan and the management of these statements by the public administrations responsible. These functions will be described in more detail.

Submission of statements
Through the use of the participation platform statements concerning the suggested plans can be submitted online. The timeframe for the whole processes can be adjusted according to regulations etc. which have to be followed. The submission form for statements is available both in the module “Text and reasoning of the planned urban development” and in the “Map, plans (WebGIS)” area. The form is equipped with a rich text editor which allows users to format their texts in a familiar way. Is finished text can then easily be located on the map or one of the plans at hand. All function of the WebGIS solutions described earlier on can be used for this purpose. Statements are first saved as drafts in the personal area of the user. Users can edit their statements if needed and submit them to the public officials.

Management of statements
The public administration in charge of the process has direct access to the evaluation database in which all submitted statements by involved parties can be managed and evaluated. All statements can be categorized, commented, annotated and managed using the build in workflow management. All relevant information concerning the evaluation of the statements are transparent and can be distributed if needed. By using filters and the platforms search engines single statements can be identified easily. If a statement is located in the WebGIS system the official in charge can simple pull up the map and plans for reference. The official can also use the platform to get in touch with the person submitting a statement in case any information is missing etc. After the process of evaluating the statement the user who submitted it is informed about the result using the participation platform.

Formal participation is one an important factor to ensure functioning communities and make sure the best possible solutions for all effected citizens are put into place. Urban planning may be the most established area in which formal is used but other fields, like the legislative processes could also benefit from more clear processes and easier ways to integrate the publics concerns and ideas.

If you got any questions concerning this project just post them as a comment here!

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  2. Oct 30, 2008: Pep-Net - Pan European e-Participation Network » Blog Archive » DEMOS-Plan tool for participatory processes in urban planning successfully implemented and awarded price

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