Inclusivity, transparency and policy effects – procedural justice through participation?

In a presentation at the annual congress of AESOP (Assosiation of European Schools of Planning) in 2023, Katharina Holec, Laura Mark and Tobias Escher presented results from a consultative participation procedure. Key question was whether the procedure could contribute to procedural justice.


Consultative participation is a frequently used tool to correct traditional inequalities in planning. It is often used to negotiate conflicts relevant to everyday life. Citizens are encouraged to express their interests and ideas. In addition, local administrations expect an increase in legitimacy beliefs among citizens through including them into processes. Procedural justice can be seen as an important aspect of the desired increase in acceptance. The underrepresentation of certain socio-economic groups in the input of consultative participation is one of the main challenges for procedural justice.

Our example is one of the case studies, which we have accompanied scientifically over the last years. Using a mixed methods we investigate the contribution that the procedure makes to procedural justice. We conceptualize this describing the relevance of the aspects inclusivity, transparency and policy effects of a consultative procedure.

Although inclusivity was the declared goal of the organizers it is hardly achieved in the input of the process – that is, in the question of who participates. Things look somewhat more positive when observing the throughput. Discussions were well organized and were also perceived positively by citizens. If we look at the evaluation of the transparency of the process itself, i.e. the throughput, the participants rated it positively. There are limitations in the evaluation of the transparency of the result and the communication after the process. A policy effect exists and is primarily perceived by the participants. However, the policy effect is limited to non-essential issues of the process.

Key findings

  • While the consultation process was organized aiming at an overrepresentation of specific marginalized groups, it fails to include lower educated and non-male individuals. The assessment of throughput inclusivity is more positive.
  • The consultation process was carried out with timely publication of the results of the individual procedural steps and is also perceived as transparent overall with few differences between different social groups. People with disabilities are somewhat more critical. The assessment of the transparency of the results is somewhat more negative.
  • Effects on political decision-making can be found in the fact that the process strengthened and supported the progressive ideas of the administration. Influences of participation existed but were mainly relevant for specific issues, such as the location of bike paths or bus stops not a general direction.
  • These effects are more strongly perceived by participants.

Meet-the-Team: Katharina

In the meet the team series, we introduce a member of the research group every week to give an impression beyond the scientific work. For this purpose, our student assistant Philippe Sander asked us a few questions.

Today in the interview: Katharina Holec. She is a sociologist and works on descriptive and substantive representation in participatory decision making and legitimacy beliefs. More information on Katharina’s research can be found here.

Foto: Tilman Schenk

What inspired you to pursue a career in your research field, and how did you get started in your field?

I started studying social sciences because I was interested in the dynamics of social inequality. During my studies, I realized that it is really interesting how researchers try to make these dynamics measurable. I learnt a lot about statistics and especially tried to acquire the necessary methods to research them myself. I did not want to stop researching these dynamics at the end of my studies, so I decided to explicitly try to measure how they might be (re)produced by political decisions in the context of political consultation.

Can you describe your current research project and what you hope to achieve with it? What do you personally find the most interesting about it?

My research is about the current biases in consultative participation. I work on questions like (1) who is involved in consultative participation procedures, (2) how are these people involved and (3) how their involvement relates to their legitimacy beliefs. Democracy is built on the thought of inclusion of citizens into the policy-making process through participation. While the approach of consultative participation of issues relevant to questions of everyday life may be a good idea at first, it does not always work. While some (usually resource rich individuals) participate, others do not. So, in the end not every interest is represented. This stands in contrast with the idea of equal democratic participation and is therefore interesting and important to explore.

Wie gehst du bei deiner Forschung vor? Welche Methoden, Theorien oder Frameworks verwendest du?

I try to make differences between socio-economic groups in the field of mobility visible by looking at their social practices. I am particularly interested in the conceptualization of the outcome, i.e., the question for whom living conditions are improved by consultative participation procedure. Methodologically, I take a quantitative approach and work with a mixture of confirmatory factor analyses, OLS-regression, and panel regressions.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work and how do you overcome them?

During the collection of data, I am always confronted with the problem of not being able to represent all social groups equally well, as some participate in surveys while others do not. This makes research in a field that aspires awareness regarding inequality dynamics a bit more difficult. Further, I wonder how to address the issue that data is a great way to approximate realities, but should be interpreted with caution especially when some groups tend to participate more often in surveys than others. Of course, good data and good analysis remain the best way to approximate reality.

How do you stay on top of the latest trends and developments in your field?

Mainly through platforms like Twitter and ResearchGate, but also by meeting with research groups and attending colloquia and conferences, as well as regularly searching for new articles in relevant journals.

How do you collaborate with other researchers or experts in your field to improve your projects?

Primarily through colloquia and conferences, but also through regular exchange with the colleagues from the CIMT project. It definitely helps to establish routines through which one maintains discussion on the research topic.

What impact do you hope your research will have on society or the field?

I am hoping that based on various research (not only done by me) tools can be developed that help to make more perspectives visible in consultative participation.  

Can you tell us about any interesting or meaningful experiences you had during your research?

I had some very interesting experiences during the collection process for the survey data in the project. I was the contact person for those who were asked to participate. However, learning about these reasons helps to understand why some groups are less well represented by research than others, which ultimately also enables a better interpretation of the results.

What advice do you have for students and aspiring scientists just starting out in their careers?

I would recommend to be curious and have fun with the topic you are working on. Good research is not produced under much time pressure but with constant and intense work.

Lastly, can you tell us a little about yourself outside of your work? What hobbies or interests do you pursue in your spare time, and how do they complement your research?

I DJ in clubs and am a guitarist/singer in two bands. guitar in two bands and sing. These activities make my everyday life much better.

The Structure and Antecedents of Citizens’ Perceptions of Local Democracy: Findings from a Survey in Different German Cities in 2021


Legitimacy is the voluntary recognition of political authority, which plays an important role in the stability and governance of political systems. At the system level, it is strongly conditioned by individual legitimacy attitudes at the micro level. The goal of our presentation is to illustrate and understand

  • How different objects of political support are constructed and interrelated (trust, satisfaction, and legitimacy beliefs)?
  • How strongly local and national political attitudes toward objects influence each other?
  • What individual factors ultimately influence local and national legitimacy beliefs?

To measure these relationships, we used survey data collected in the project to first operationalize the constructs of satisfaction with authority, trust in institutions, and legitimacy attitudes at the local and national levels. Methodologically, we use a confirmatory factor analysis and OLS regression.

Key Findings

  • Higher satisfaction with local than with national authorities, and greater trust in local than in national institutions, while mean differences in legitimacy attitudes vary
  • Strong correlations between the concepts of trust and satisfaction and legitimacy beliefs
  • Strong correlations between local and national levels for trust, satisfaction, and legitimacy beliefs
  • Hardly any systematic influences by individual factors on legitimacy beliefs when controlling for satisfaction and trust as influences on legitimacy

Inclusive Democracy, Sustainable Democracy?

PhD Thesis by Katharina Holec

In my PhD thesis at the University of Düsseldorf I look at the effects of decriptive and substantive representation in consultative citizen participation on legitimacy beliefs of individuals.


Legitimacy – as a sum of individual beliefs about the appropriateness and acceptability of a political community, its regime and authorities – is the key element in stabilizing nowadays democratic systems. But, dissatisfaction with the performance of political systems is increasing and understandings of democracy can be divergent. Especially when political involvement is reduced to the possibility of choosing representatives legitimacy beliefs remain hard to rebuilt and understandings of democracy remain hard to align between different citizens. To solve this “legitimacy problem” plenty democratic theorists and researchers suggest more possibilities for political participation in the democratic process. Consultation is one mean often used by local municipalities to increase satisfaction and understanding of political processes. But consultative participation often promises too much. Like all political participation consultation is biased. Social inequality in society influences who participates. And who participates will ultimately influence a processes outcome. . The risk of losing marginalized voices in the process is high.

I want to enable a detailed understanding of the advantages of including these voices for local democratic legitimacy beliefs. Therefore, I follow Pitkin’s (1972) ideas on descriptive and substantive representation applying them to a consultative participation process. I ask

(a) Does descriptive representation in the input of a consultative participation process increase substantive representation in the throughput and outcome of a political process?

(b) How important are descriptive and substantive representation for increasing legitimacy beliefs after the political process?

I focus specifically on three levels of the policy making process (1) the input level, where I consider descriptive representation to be relevant, (2) the throughput level, where I consider substantive representation as ‘speaking for’ relevant and (3) the outcome level, where I consider substantive representation as ‘acting for’ by local municipalities relevant. While I consider (1) and (2) to be relevant criteria for increasing legitimacy beliefs by improving the political process, I consider (3) to be relevant for increasing legitimacy beliefs by improving real life living conditions.

Transdisciplinary Research – Meeting FixMyCity and Liquid Democracy in Berlin

Transdisciplinarity as cooperation with practice is an enormously relevant aspect for our project. In order to incorporate the ideas and requirements of practice into the development of our concepts and procedures at an early stage, we went to Berlin on October 24th and 25th.

Once there, we first went to a meeting in the offices of FixMyCity, where Boris Hekele was waiting for us. After a short tour of the work spaces in the former Tempelhof Airport, the founder of FixMyCity told us about past and current experiences with participation in mobility transitions – mainly the improvement of cycle paths and cycle parking in various districts in Berlin. This gave us an insight into participation procedures currently running mainly online.

After a long walk across the Tempelhof field and thus the assessment of the impact of a previous participation procedure on the design of urban space, we finally arrived at the office of Liquid Democracy. We discussed the potentials of automated evaluation in participation procedures and possible deliberative potentials of these. The exchange was very helpful for us to identify needs in practice, as well as for the further conceptualization of the dissertations and the orientation of these towards problems in practice.

On Friday we had our first meeting with our mentor Dr. Oliver Lah and the Urban Change Maker Group, where we discussed our dissertation ideas in an international environment. The focus was again on the automated evaluation of participation contributions and the representativeness of procedures in the field of sustainable mobility. The feedback was very helpful for the further design of the dissertation projects.