Dissertation Abstracts

Digital participation in urban planning

Author: Robin K Lybeck, robin.lybeck@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Åbo Akademy University, Finland
Supervisor: Mikko Lagerspetz
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Participation , Urban Planning , Digitalization , Big Data
Areas of Research: Participation, Organizational Democracy and Self-Management , Science and Technology , Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change


Novel participation methods based on information and communication technologies (ICT) have resulted in the development of new participation cultures. Compared to conventional participation, such as town hall meetings and voting, these new participation cultures are based on online action such as forums, instant messaging and sharing of citizen collected data. They consist of participation initiatives hosted on formal, mixed and informal discursive spheres. From a structural point of view they are organized either from the bottom-up (citizens and social movements) or from the top-down (local government institutions). The type of discursive sphere they appear in depends on the platform rather than the source of the initiative. In the context of urban issues the degree of formality of the discursive sphere is defined by the degree of involvement by local government in the design and implementation of the participation platform, ranging from social media groups to formal channels for citizen feedback. The opportunities for wide scale collaboration and citizens to official deliberation exist within these new participation methods. However, it remains unclear how well these opportunities are utilized, and whether there is any noticeable trends in how citizens participate in the decisions concerning urban issues. In my thesis I will study how the culture of participation has changed since the introduction of participation methods based on ICT. I will address questions about the meaning of location when participating, the differences between bottom-up and top-down participation, and the types of knowledge shared in the participation platforms. To answer these questions I will rely on large sets of citizen feedback data collected in the backend of municipalities formal channels, social media and a trial in mobile participation conducted in Turku in 2015. I will explore the possibilities of using semantic “big data” analyses based on learning algorithms as a sociological method of conducting large scale data analyses. My aim is contribute to the growing body of knowledge about the transformation of citizen participation in urban issues.

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