AI for the evaluation of participation? The potential of language models to recognise modes of transport in participation contributions

In this article in the journal Internationales Verkehrswesen, Laura Mark, Julia Romberg and Tobias Escher present a language model that can be used to reliably recognise modes of transport in participation contributions. They show that supervised machine learning can usefully support the evaluation of participation contributions in mobility-related online participation processes.

Summary

Consultations are an important part of transport planning and can help to integrate knowledge from the public into the planning process. However, online formats in particular often result in large volumes of contributions, the thorough evaluation of which is resource-intensive. It is hoped that the use of AI will support this.

The language model presented in this article is based on the concept of supervised machine learning for text classification. Pre-trained models are re-fined using smaller data sets. In this way, a model can be adapted to a specific area of application, such as mobility-related consultation processes.

A pre-trained German-language version of the high-performance RoBERTa language model was used as a starting point. Using a categorisation scheme that mainly distinguishes between the modes of transport mentioned, 1,700 contributions from seven transport planning consultation processes were manually coded. The resulting data was used partly as training data for fine-tuning the language model and partly for evaluation.

Results

  • Overall, it was shown that language models already available today are suitable for supporting the evaluation of consultation processes in practice. The language model developed here for recognising the modes of transport can serve as the basis for a specific application in municipal planning practice.
  • The post-trained RoBERTa language model is very effective at assigning the appropriate modes of transport. The model presented by us can always reliably assign well over 90% of the entries correctly to the modes of transport they contain.
  • For the processes on whose contributions the model had been trained, an average of 97% of the categories could be correctly assigned (on a separate test set). For contributions from other transport-related participation procedures, the appropriate modes of transport could still be assigned very reliably with an accuracy of 91 to 94%.
  • The performance of the model therefore hardly deteriorates when it is applied to previously unknown data from mobility-related participation procedures. This means that manual coding in advance can be omitted, at least for similarly structured participation procedures, which significantly reduces the effort involved.

Publication

Mark, Laura; Romberg, Julia; Escher, Tobias (2024): KI zur Auswertung von Beteiligung. In: Internationales Verkehrswesen 76 (1), S. 12–16.

Pushback for the municipal mobility transition? Joint closing event of SÖF Junior Research Groups CIMT and MoveMe

The two junior research groups in Social-Ecological Research CIMT and MoveMe are holding a joint final event showcasing some results of their research into the transition to sustainable mobility. The event is scheduled to take place online on 26. April 2024. More information is available in German.

Is that fair? An evaluation tool for local mobility measures

In this article in the journal Internationales Verkehrswesen, Laura Mark, Annika Busch-Geertsema, Jessica LeBris, Gesa Matthes and Kerstin Stark present a practical approach to assess the justice of transport measures in various dimensions. The approach and the article were developed in the context of the working group “Mobilität, Erreichbarkeit und soziale Teilhabe” of the Academy for Spatial Development in the Leibniz Association (ARL).

Summary

This paper presents a practical tool for taking a systematic “second look” at mobility transition measures through the lens of justice. It can be used for conceptual support during planning and implementation, for reflection during or after the process as well as ongoing monitoring. Three dimensions of justice can be used to analyse which population-groups benefit from these measures. The dimensions used are distributive justice, recognition of different realities of life and procedural justice, which have been further differentiated and combined in an easy-to-use matrix.

To differentiate the recognition of different realities of life, the Persona approach is employed. In a Persona, specific characteristics are combined that can influence and restrict mobility options, decisions, and activity chains. The article proposes a system for developing custom Personas, but the Personas already developed by the authors can also be used for the application.

The article provides a detailed presentation of the dimensions of justice and the Persona approach. It can be downloaded here:

Furthermore, the evaluation tool, including a user manual and suggestions for Personas, can also be downloaded in Excel format from the ARL Mobility Working Group website (scroll down). The authors welcome feedback and encourage free use and further development.

Effects of online citizen participation on legitimacy beliefs

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).

Abstract

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.

Key findings

  • 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 begin 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.

Publication

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.

Mobility transition in practical terms: Perspectives of the SÖF junior research groups with a focus on mobility

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.

Consultation of citizens in mobility projects: The participation landscape at municipal level in Germany

In this article in the journal Raumforschung und Raumordnung, Laura Mark, Katharina Holec and Tobias Escher present the results of a survey on the scope and organisation of consultation in mobility-related municipal planning. From these results, conclusions can be drawn about the participation landscape in Germany.

The results were presented in an earlier version at the 18th annual conference of the Mobility and Transport Working Group (AK MoVe) in June 2023.

Abstract

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.

Key Findings

  • 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.
  • 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.

Publication

Mark, Laura; Holec, Katharina; Escher, Tobias (2024): Die Beteiligung von Bürgerinnen und Bürgern bei kommunalen Mobilitätsprojekten: Eine quantitative Erhebung konsultativer Beteiligungsverfahren in Deutschland. In: RuR (Spatial Research and Planning). DOI: 10.14512/rur.2239

Database

The database, i.e. the systematically collected compilation of the participation processes and their coding according to specific aspects, can be researched and downloaded here.

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.

Summary

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.

Mobility Transition through Participation? Policy impact of discursive, consultative public participation on urban transport projects for sustainability

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.

Abstract

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

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.

3rd workshop for practitioners on first results from surveys in case study municipalities

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.

Socio-spatial justice through public participation?

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. 

Abstract

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.

Key Findings

  • 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.

Publication

We are working on a publication for a peer-reviewed journal. The publication will be linked here as soon as it is published.