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.

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.

Summary

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.

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.

Master’s thesis on the thematic classification of participation contributions with Active Learning

As part of his Master’s thesis in the MA Computer Science at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Boris Thome dealt with the classification of participation contributions according to the topics they contain. This thesis continues the work of Julia Romberg and Tobias Escher by examining a finer classification of contributions according to subcategories.

Summary

Political authorities in democratic countries regularly consult the public on specific issues but subsequently evaluating the contributions requires substantial human resources, often leading to inefficiencies and delays in the decision-making process. Among the solutions proposed is to support human analysts by thematically grouping the contributions through automated means.

While supervised machine learning would naturally lend itself to the task of classifying citizens’ proposal according to certain predefined topics, the amount of training data required is often prohibitive given the idiosyncratic nature of most public participation processes. One potential solution to minimize the amount of training data is the use of active learning. In our previous work, we were able to show that active learning can significantly reduce the manual annotation effort for coding top-level categories. In this work, we subsequently investigated whether this advantage is still given when the top-level categories are subdivided into subcategories. A particular challenge arises from the fact that some of the subcategories can be very rare and therefore only cover a few contributions.

In the evaluation of various methods, data from online participation processes in three German cities was used. The results show that the automatic classification of subcategories is significantly more difficult than the classification of the main categories. This is due to the high number of possible subcategories (30 in the dataset under consideration), which are very unevenly distributed. In conclusion, further research is required to find a practical solution for the flexible assignment of subcategories using machine learning.

Publication

Thome, Boris (2022): Thematische Klassifikation von Partizipationsverfahren mit Active Learning. Masterarbeit am Institut für Informatik, Lehrstuhl für Datenbanken und Informationssysteme, der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf. (Download)

Master’s thesis on the automated classification of arguments in participation contributions

As part of her master’s thesis in the MA Computer Science at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Suzan Padjman dealt with the classification of argumentation components in participation contributions. This thesis continues our team’s previous work by looking at cases in which argumentative sentences can contain both a premise and a conclusion.

Summary

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.

When classifying argumentative sentences according to type (here: premise or conclusion), it can happen that one sentence contains several components of an argument. In this case, there is a need for multi-label classification, in which more than one category can be assigned.

To solve this problem, different methods for multi-label classification of argumentation components were compared (SVM, XGBoost, BERT and DistilBERT). The results showed that BERT models can achieve a macro F1 score of up to 0.92. The models exhibit robust performance across different datasets – an important indication of the practical usability of such methods.

Publication

Padjman, Suzan (2022): Mining Argument Components in Public Participation Processes. Masterarbeit am Institut für Informatik, Lehrstuhl für Datenbanken und Informationssysteme, der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf. (Download)

Project work on the automated recognition of locations in participation contributions

As part of her project work in the MA Computer Science at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Suzan Padjman worked on the development of methods for the automated recognition of textually described location information in participation procedures.

Summary

In the context of the mobility transition, consultative processes are a popular tool for giving citizens the opportunity to represent and contribute their interests and concerns. Especially in the case of mobility-related issues, an important analysis aspect of the collected contributions is which locations (e.g. roads, intersections, cycle paths or footpaths) are problematic and in need of improvement in order to promote sustainable mobility. Automated identification of such locations has the potential to support the resource-intensive manual evaluation.

The aim of this work was therefore to find an automated solution for identifying locations using methods from natural language processing (NLP). For this purpose, a location was defined as the description of a specific place of a proposal, which could be marked on a map. Examples of locations are street names, city districts and clearly assignable places, such as “in the city center” or “at the exit of the main train station”. Pure descriptions without reference to a specific place were not considered as locations. Methodologically, the task was regarded as a sequence labeling task, as locations often consist of several consecutive tokens, so-called word sequences.

A comparison of different models (spaCy NER, GermanBERT, GBERT, dbmdz BERT, GELECTRA, multilingual BERT, multilingual XLM-RoBERTa) on two German-language participation datasets on cycling infrastructure in Bonn and Cologne Ehrenfeld showed that GermanBERT achieves the best results. This model can recognize tokens that are part of a textual location description with a promising macro F1 score of 0.945. In future work, it is planned to convert the recognized text phrases into geocoordinates in order to depict the recognized location of citizens’ proposals on a map.

Publication

Padjman, Suzan (2021): Unterstützung der Auswertung von verkehrsbezogenen Bürger*innenbeteiligungsverfahren durch die automatisierte Erkennung von Verortungen. Projektarbeit am Institut für Informatik, Lehrstuhl für Datenbanken und Informationssysteme, der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf. (Download)

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 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.

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.

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

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.

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. 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.

Publication

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

MA-thesis on participation of pupils during the Corona pandemic

In her thesis for the MA Social Sciences: Social Structures and Democratic Governance at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Maria Antonia Dausner has investigated the possibilities of pupil participation during the Covid-19-related school closures, focusing on an analysis of selected elementary schools in North Rhine-Westphalia.

More information is available in German.

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.