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.
In this presentation at the 18th annual conference of the Mobility and Transport Working Group (AK MoVe) 2023, Laura Mark, Katharina Holec and Tobias Escher presented a survey on the scope and design of consultation in municipal mobility planning. From the results, statements can be derived about the participation landscape in Germany.
Municipalities as key actors in the transport transition are increasingly using consultative public participation in planning. So far, however, it is unclear to what extent they use participatory processes in mobility-related planning and how these are designed. Given the challenges associated with the transition to a climate-neutral transport system, taking stock of existing efforts is highly relevant in order to assess the practical significance of participation processes and to better investigate the role of different types of procedures and contexts.
This study fills this gap based on an analysis of the consultative, discursive participation processes for mobility-related planning in German cities since 2015. The study examined ‘participation-oriented’ cities with guidelines for citizen participation, which were compared to a random selection of ‘typical’ municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony as well as the three German city states.
Based on these approximately 180 cities and 350 procedures, it becomes clear that discursive consultations are carried out regularly, in particular in municipalities with guidelines and larger cities. Worth criticizing is that the formats used can usually reach only certain groups of the population and that for a significant proportion of the processes examined no information on the results of participation can be found. This means that the potentials of discursive citizen participation in addressing the municipal transport transition have not yet been sufficiently utilised.
- Participation in municipal planning procedures related to mobility is no longer an exception, but not yet the rule either. Based on the data of our sample, it can be presumed that in most municipalities in Germany there was no possibility to participate in such procedures in the period under consideration. The context is decisive here: in the municipalities with guidelines, 75% offered such an opportunity for participation.
- In general, cities with guidelines involved their citizens more frequently, more often and with more diverse topics and formats. Medium-sized and large cities consulted their citizens significantly more often than small towns.
- Weaknesses are evident in the participation formats used: The majority of municipalities relied on self-selected selection processes. First attempts with target group-specific formats or random selection can be found mainly in the municipalities with guidelines and in the city states. A large proportion of the procedures were also carried out purely online.
- For 5 to 10% of the procedures, no current status could be found, and for a larger proportion it was unclear what happened after the consultation. This is true for all municipalities, although less so for those with guidelines, and can be regarded as a lack of transparency and impact of participation.
We are working on a publication for a peer-reviewed journal. The publication will be linked here as soon as it is published.
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.
Dissertation Projekt, Laura Mark
In my dissertation project at the Faculty of Architecture at RWTH Aachen University, I am using two case studies to investigate the substantive impact of consultative public participation on political decisions and the implications for sustainable development. My object of investigation is planning for the sustainable mobility transition, since on the one hand it is important and urgent for sustainable development and on the other hand it directly affects people’s everyday lives and thus often leads to resistance.
A socio-ecological shift in transport requires profound changes in public space that affect the daily lives of users. This redistribution of road space and change in conditions of use is primarily carried out through spatial planning on the part of the public sector, in which the public is also increasingly involved. This is usually associated (implicitly or explicitly) with the public having an influence on the content of the planning; however, the actual effect has hardly been researched.
I am investigating the mechanisms through which the substantive impact of public participation comes about or is prevented, and which factors influence these mechanisms. I am interested in the conditions under which these substantive effects contribute to integrated transport planning, measured both in terms of democratic theory and substantive criteria.
Two municipal transport transition projects in Hamburg serve as case studies, in which the public can participate or has participated through consultation offers and other forms of participation: the redesign of the Elbchaussee in Hamburg and the low-car design of the Ottensen neighbourhood in Hamburg. The processes differ, among other things, in their framework conditions, spatial scale, tasks and participation offerings. For the detailed reconstruction and analysis of these processes, I mainly rely on data from qualitative interviews, document and media analyses, supplemented by results of quantitative population and participant surveys.
Expected results are theses on public participation in the context of the mobility transition. These deal with the mechanisms and factors that influence policy impact and come about through a detailed analysis of the individual case studies, a targeted comparison of the two case studies with each other and the embedding of the empirical results in the state of research as well as other results from the project. These theses are intended to contribute to the discussion on the role of the public in the context of a socio-ecological transformation.
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.
In this publication in the Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation, Julia Romberg, Laura Mark and Tobias Escher introduce a collection of annotated datasets that promotes the development of machine learning approaches to support the evaluation of public participation contributions.
Political authorities in democratic countries regularly consult the public in order to allow citizens to voice their ideas and concerns on specific issues. When trying to evaluate the (often large number of) contributions by the public in order to inform decision-making, authorities regularly face challenges due to restricted resources.
We identify several tasks whose automated support can help in the evaluation of public participation. These are i) the recognition of arguments, more precisely premises and their conclusions, ii) the assessment of the concreteness of arguments, iii) the detection of textual descriptions of locations in order to assign citizens’ ideas to a spatial location, and iv) the thematic categorization of contributions. To enable future research efforts to develop techniques addressing these four tasks, we introduce the CIMT PartEval Corpus, a new publicly-available German-language corpus that includes several thousand citizen contributions from six mobility-related planning processes in five German municipalities. The corpus provides annotations for each of these tasks which have not been available in German for the domain of public participation before either at all or in this scope and variety.
- The CIMT PartEval Argument Component Corpus comprises 17,852 sentences from German public participation processes annotated as non-argumentative, premise, or major position.
- The CIMT PartEval Argument Concreteness Corpus consists of 1,127 argumentative text spans that are annotated according to three levels of concreteness: low, intermediate, and high.
- Der CIMT PartEval Geographic Location Corpus consists of 4,830 locations and the GPS coordinates for 2,529 proposals from public consultations.
- The CIMT PartEval Thematic Categorization Corpus relies on a new hierarchical categorization scheme for mobility that captures modes of transport (non-motorized transport: cycling, walking, scooters; motorized transport: local public transport, long-distance public transport, commercial transport) and a number of specifications, such as moving or stationary traffic, new services, and inter- and multimodality. In total, 697 documents have been annotated according to this scheme.
Romberg, Julia; Mark, Laura; Escher, Tobias (2022, June). A Corpus of German Citizen Contributions in Mobility Planning: Supporting Evaluation Through Multidimensional Classification. In Proceedings of the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (pp. 2874–2883), Marseille, France. European Language Resources Association. https://aclanthology.org/2022.lrec-1.308
Corpus available under
In this publication in the Workshop on Argument Mining, Julia Romberg and Stefan Conrad address the robustness of classification algorithms for argument mining to build reliable models that generalize across datasets.
Public participation processes allow citizens to engage in municipal decision-making processes by expressing their opinions on specific issues. Municipalities often only have limited resources to analyze a possibly large amount of textual contributions that need to be evaluated in a timely and detailed manner. Automated support for the evaluation is therefore essential, e.g. to analyze arguments.
In this paper, we address (A) the identification of argumentative discourse units and (B) their classification as major position or premise in German public participation processes. The objective of our work is to make argument mining viable for use in municipalities. We compare different argument mining approaches and develop a generic model that can successfully detect argument structures in different datasets of mobility-related urban planning. We introduce a new data corpus comprising five public participation processes. In our evaluation, we achieve high macro F1 scores (0.76 – 0.80 for the identification of argumentative units; 0.86 – 0.93 for their classification) on all datasets. Additionally, we improve previous results for the classification of argumentative units on a similar German online participation dataset.
- We conducted a comprehensive evaluation of machine learning methods across five public participation process in German municipalities that differ in format (online participation platforms and questionnaires) and process subject.
- BERT surpasses previously published argument mining approaches for public participation processes on German data for both tasks, reaching macro F1 scores of 0.76 – 0.80 for the identification of argumentative units and macro F1 scores of 0.86 – 0.93 for their classification.
- In a cross-dataset evaluation, BERT models trained on one dataset can recognize argument structures in other public participation datasets (which were not part of the training) with comparable goodness of fit.
- Such model robustness across datasets is an important step towards the practical application of argument mining in municipalities.
Romberg, Julia; Conrad, Stefan (2021, November). Citizen Involvement in Urban Planning – How Can Municipalities Be Supported in Evaluating Public Participation Processes for Mobility Transitions?. In Proceedings of the 8th Workshop on Argument Mining (pp. 89-99), Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Association for Computational Linguistics. https://aclanthology.org/2021.argmining-1.9