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.
As set out in the German Site Selection Act (StandAG), the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) is charged with the comprehensive information and participation of the public in regards procedure for the search and selection of a repository site for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste. In this context, in February 2022 BASE commissioned an expert report on the “Possibilities and limits of digital participation tools for public participation in the repository site selection procedure (DigiBeSt)” from the Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy (DIID) at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in cooperation with the nexus Institute Berlin. For this purpose, lead by Tobias Escher a review of the state of research and current developments (work package 2) was prepared has been summarised in a detailed report that will be publicly available from late 2023 onwards.
Selected findings from the report are:
- Social inequalities in digital participation are mainly based on the second-level digital divide, i.e. differences in the media- and content-related skills required for independent and constructive use of the internet for political participation.
- Knowledge about the effectiveness of activation factors is still often incomplete and anecdotal, making it difficult for initiators to estimate the costs and benefits of individual measures.
- Personal invitations have been proven to be suitable for (target group-specific) mobilisation, but the established mass media also continue to play an important role.
- Broad and inclusive participation requires a combination of different digital and analogue participation formats.
- Participation formats at the national level face particular challenges due to the complexity of the issues at stake and the size of the target group. Therefore, these require the implementation of cascaded procedures (interlocking formats of participation at different political levels) as well as the creation of new institutions.
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.
Part of the efforts of the research group is to develop tools that support the evaluation of citizen contributions from participation processes. On 10 December 2021 the research group hosted a workshop with practitioners (including local planning officials, participation officers and planning experts) to discuss our recent developments, part of which have been published in the Proceedings of the 8th Workshop on Argument Mining.
More information on the insights from the workshop is available in German.
We are pleased that Laura Mark is part of the aforementioned working group and can discuss our research with colleagues. Practitioners and researchers meet regularly in the working group to discuss various topics related to mobility and social inclusion. The working group started in the middle of 2021 and the content-related work is now taking more and more shape: Areas of interface with our research include the question of procedural justice in planning processes for the mobility transition – who participates and whose voices are heard? How should planning and participation processes for a sustainable mobility transition be designed in the future in order to include everyone? Here we will report on the further work and publications and events that develop within the context of this working group!
Our first practical workshop in summer 2020 focused on the question of how the evaluation of citizen contributions can be technically supported and what requirements practitioners have for a software solution designed to (partially) automate the evaluation.
More information can be found in the working paper (German version only!):