In this article in the journal Policy & Internet, Tobias Escher and Bastian Rottinghaus explore the question of how participation in local consultation processes (on planning of cycling infrastructure) affects attitudes towards local politics. To this end, in 2018 they examined a total of three participation procedures in which the cities of Bonn, Cologne (district Ehrenfeld) and Moers consulted their citizens on local cycling infrastructure. In each case, for five weeks citizens were able to submit, comment on and evaluate proposals through an online platform. In total, more than 3,000 proposals were collected which were to be incorporated into the subsequent cycling planning (see further information on the Cycling Dialogues project).
In order to generate legitimacy for policies and political institutions, governments regularly involve citizens in the decision-making process, increasingly so via the Internet. This research investigates if online participation does indeed impact positively on legitimacy beliefs of those citizens engaging with the process, and which particular aspects of the participation process, the individual participants and the local context contribute to these changes. Our surveys of participants in almost identical online consultations in three German municipalities show that the participation process and its expected results have a sizeable effect on satisfaction with local political authorities and local regime performance. While most participants report at least slightly more positive perceptions that are mainly output-oriented, for some engagement with the process leads not to more, but in fact to less legitimacy. We find this to be the case both for those participants who remain silent and for those who participate intensively. Our results also confirm the important role of existing individual resources and context-related attitudes such as trust in and satisfaction with local (not national) politics. Finally, our analysis shows that online participation is able to enable constructive discussion, deliver useful results and attract people who would not have participated offline to engage.
- The participation processes we studied and to which citizens were invited by their respective councils do indeed have an influence on the attitudes of those who participate in such consultations.
- For many of the participants, the positive effect that was hoped for does indeed occur: they are more positive about the local institutions (mayor, administration) and local politics as a whole. The decisive factor for the assessment is whether one expects local politics to take the citizens’ proposals seriously and act upon them. In other words, the result of the process is more important for attitudes than the process itself.
- It is noteworthy that this holds true also for those who have rather negative views of local politics to beginn with. However, previous experience with local politics also plays a role: those who already have a higher level of satisfaction and trust in the municipality are becoming more positive by participation.
- At the same time, participation can also lead to less satisfaction. We were able to show this, on the one hand, for those who were intensively involved in the participation process and made a lot of proposals. On average, this group was less satisfied in the end, probably because their expectations of the impact of their efforts were disappointed. Those who did not actively participate but only visited the online procedure without making suggestions themselves were also more dissatisfied. These people were apparently mainly concerned about the fact that the process took place exclusively online.
- Overall, however, our results show that such online participation processes not only enable constructive participation, but that they also reach additional groups: Almost half of the respondents would not have participated if the process had only been conducted with on-site formats requiring physical presence.
Escher, Tobias; Rottinghaus, Bastian (2023): Effects of online citizen participation on legitimacy beliefs in local government. Evidence from a comparative study of online participation platforms in three German municipalities. In: Policy & Internet, Artikel poi3.371. DOI: 10.1002/poi3.371.
On 25 & 26 October the three SÖF junior research groups with a focus on mobility met in Hannover to exchange insight from their current research, identify common themes and discuss possible future opportunities for collaboration.
There is more information available in German.
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.
- 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
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.
On 30 November we invited representatives of the municipalities with whom we cooperate in order to discuss the first results of the extensive surveys conducted by our research group. The focus was on the question of how the respective participation procedures are assessed by those participating and which aspects motivate or discourage such participation.
Despite the diversity of the five projects we examined (and the still small number of participants), the assessments of the people participating in such processes show a relatively high degree of agreement. Overall, the evaluations of the participation processes are rather positive with regard to the course of discussion and transparency. At the same time, however, there are also comparable challenges in all processes. For example, the representation of one’s own interests is rated as relatively good, but gaps in the representation of other opinions are perceived. Also, a balance of interests is not always achieved. Furthermore, the participants are rather sceptical about the actual impact of the participation results on the political process, even though they still deem such an impact possible.
There is more information available in German.
In this presentation at the AESOP (Assosiation of European Schools of Planning) annual Congress in 2022, Laura Mark, Katharina Huseljić and Tobias Escher introduced a framework of distributive socio-spatial justice and the way consultation procedures can contribute, before evaluating the case study Elbchaussee in Hamburg regarding socio-spatial justice, using qualitative and quantitative results.
Our current transport system exhibits significant socio-spatial injustices as it has both major negative environmental effects and structurally disadvantages certain socio-economic groups. Planning processes increasingly include elements of public participation, often linked to the hope of better understanding and integrating different mobility needs into the planning process. However, so far there is little knowledge on whether public participation results indeed in more socio-spatial justice.
To approach this question, we focus on socio-spatial justice as distributive justice and investigate how well consultative planning procedures do actually lead to measures that both contribute to sustainability (i.e. reduce or redistribute negative external effects) and cater for the needs of disadvantaged groups (e.g. those with low income or education, women and disabled people). To this end, we have investigated in detail the case study of the reconstruction of the Elbchaussee, a representative main road of citywide importance in the district of Altona in Hamburg, Germany. We are drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data including expert interviews and public surveys.
We first show that the process did result in planning measures that contribute slightly to ecological sustainability. Second, in particular through improving the situation for pedestrians and cyclists as well as the quality of stay, the measures should contribute to more justice for some groups but this is recognized only by non-male groups. Beyond this there are no effects for people with low income, low education, those with mobility restrictions or with particular mobility needs often associated with these groups. Overall, we conclude that the consultative planning process provides only a small contribution to socio-spatial justice and we discuss potential explanations.
- The consultative planning process as a whole resulted in measures that contribute slightly to socio-spatial justice, since they support the transition to more sustainable mobility and will benefit some disadvantages groups, though both to a limited degree.
- We find that the consultation procedure had no significant influence on the policy. In terms of socio-spatial justice, no positive effects can be traced back to the consultation procedure. Notably, those that participated in the consultation did indeed report less satisfaction with the measures.
- We trace those limited contributions back to some general features of consultation and the current planning system, but also find that in the case study the scope of possible influence was very limited due to external restrictions and power imbalances.
We are working on a publication for a peer-reviewed journal. The publication will be linked here as soon as it is published.
This term we are offering a master course in which we use proposals from online consultation processes in conjunction with individual-level survey data to analyse if social status of participants is reflected in the language they use in their written proposals. To this end, we utilize AI-based methods of Natural Language Processing.
More information is available in German.