On all levels of society, there is a growing consensus that a sustainable transition of the mobility sector (“Mobilitätswende”) is inevitable and urgent for German Cities; and there is a growing repertoire of professionally agreed concepts and strategies to implement this transition. While in spatial planning, participation is often implicitly or explicitly perceived as improving sustainability through the inclusion of new knowledge and ideas, documented processes, practical experience in municipalities and first scientific analysis tell us that participation processes and their effects differ widely and might not always increase sustainability. There is only very fragmented research on the actual effects of participation on the content of a plan or decision. Empirical research on participation processes is dominated by single case studies, systematic comparisons of participation processes are scarce.
Different effects of public participation processes on the sustainability of political decisions in the field of mobility can be imagined: they might have a positive effect through new knowledge or a shift of the plans focus; they might have no effect at all on sustainability, or they might have an adverse effect through settlement on the lowest common denominator or due to public pressure against sustainable transport solutions. The effect likely depends on a variety of factors in context and process. Therefore, the main question this research project raises is what impact public participation processes have on the substantive sustainability of political decisions for a mobility transformation, and which factors determine this increase or decrease of sustainability.
This question is relevant and pressing, not only because participation might strongly affect and possibly reduce substantive sustainability, but also because it is becoming an increasingly resource-intensive task for both administrative staff and citizens. The urgency of the transformation and the scarcity of resources means that setting a focus on those processes that contribute to the substantive sustainability of a transport project is necessary. In order to understand processes and their mechanisms in detail, the research will be conducted as an in-depth case-study research, tracing and comparing different processes using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods like semi-structured interviews, panel surveys, regression-analysis and content-analysis.