12 Notes for the implementation of e-participation processes
The information listed below comes from the report "E-Participation in Urban Development" and can serve as an orientation in the planning and implementation of an e-participation process.
E-participation and participation
1. E-participation is participation.
E-participation procedures do not differ in their basic features, i.e. among other things in their framework conditions, goals and processes from classic, offline participation procedures. Regardless of the online medium, the same prerequisites as for participation processes in real space must be met. The questions listed in the checklist "Participation and Participation Processes" (2006) on the four process phases "Preliminary clarifications", "Preparation", "Implementation" and "Implementation of the results" are also valid for e-participation procedures. However, there are certain specifications that emerge from the following explanations.
2. E-participation should ideally have a foothold in real space.
Whenever possible, participatory urban and neighbourhood development processes should not take place exclusively in virtual space. With a mainstay in real space, be it through information events, guided tours or exhibitions, a local reference is made and additional participants can be addressed.
Offline and online participation can also be combined in one process and thus enrich each other. The contributions of the participants are allowed to flow from offline participation into online participation or vice versa. With such a combination, it is important that the two offers are open to the same group of participants. Since e-participation and participation processes are not (so far) offered by the same providers, the coordination effort for the client increases. It should therefore be noted that the linking of the two formats is defined at the beginning of the participation process in a higher-level process design.
Scope and target groups
3. E-participation is suitable for the following three types of participation procedures: "Participation in concepts/strategies/planning", "Participation in concrete construction projects" and "Activating processes".
E-participation is not equally suitable for every type of participation procedure (see Checklist Participation and Participation Processes, p. 7). A possible implementation of an e-participation offer is recommended in the case of "participation in concepts/strategies/planning", a "participation in concrete construction projects" or an "activating process". An application in a "dialogue process" or "cooperative planning", on the other hand, is hardly suitable. In the first three participation procedures, e-participation is suitable because the widest possible range of participants is advantageous and this is technically made possible by e-participation. A "dialogue process", i.e. a dialogue in a conflict-prone or already conflictual situation, is less suitable because in this situation direct face-to-face communication with the affected interest groups is central. "Cooperative planning" is also hardly suitable, as those affected are usually limited to a relatively small circle of landowners or project owners.
4. E-participation is suitable for projects with a large spatial perimeter or with a large symbolic value.
While offline participation is particularly suitable if the problem perimeter is local and the question does not affect the entire city or region, online participation is rather the opposite. One of the biggest advantages of e-participation is that, thanks to the decoupling of time and location, the number of possible participants is increased. For this reason, e-participation is particularly suitable for questions that affect a large perimeter or have a high symbolic character and thus appeal to a broad public.
5. E-participation per se does not change the type of participants.
E-participation cannot per se reach different target groups in urban and neighbourhood development processes than traditional participation; not even adolescents, as is often assumed. The topic, the form and the sender decide on the type of participants and not the medium or the tool. The analyzed examples of the public sector on urban and district development show that a similar group of participants participates as in offline participation. However, it can be assumed that online participation also includes people who do not dare to participate in a plenary discussion at local events or people who do not have the opportunity to participate in events.
Resources and Duration
6. E-participation, like any participation process, is resource-intensive.
E-participation processes, like classical participation processes, require considerable resources. With e-participation as a text-based form of participation that can generate large amounts of data, a high moderation and evaluation effort must be expected both during and after the active participation phase.
7. The steps of compaction and evaluation prove to be a challenge in e-participation.
The methodical steps of condensing and evaluation often pose a challenge in e-participation procedures due to a high amount of data. An electronic tool for content text analysis of discussions does not yet exist, so that this must still be done by means of classic text analysis. Electronic text evaluation is currently limited to counting terms and their relation to each other. Topic wikis represent a form of text condensation in the sense of a thematic summary, but these are done "manually".
On the basis of rating (rating by users) and ranking tools (automatic ranking lists), discussion contributions can be weighted, which also makes the evaluation partly easier. To simplify the evaluation, it can be specified that only a part of the contributions, e.B the ten or twenty contributions with the best ratings or rankings, are evaluated. However, this must be communicated transparently.
8. A relatively short period of active participation is recommended.
For resource reasons, but also due to the decreasing attractiveness or activity with increasing duration, the time span of the active e-participation process must be kept relatively short. Online participation windows, which are open for two to a maximum of four weeks, have proven their worth, whereby the (non-interactive) online platform remains activated as an information channel before and after.
9. Participation on the online platform shall require the registration and approval of game rules.
10. The online platform should be moderated.
A moderation of the online platform is necessary in order to structure the discussion and , if necessary, to enliven it. In addition, moderation makes sense to monitor compliance with the rules of the game, whereby experience shows that the degree of self-regulation among the participants is high. If the platform is moderated, this should be recognizable to the participants. With an external, independent moderation, as with classic participation, role conflicts can be avoided and the project management can be relieved of time.
11. The discussion forum is the central element of the online platform.
The collection of ideas and concerns always takes place in a text-based discussion forum, which represents the core of online participation. A good technical and visual structure of the forum is central to maintaining the overview, as many contributions or even very long discussions can arise. In addition to the discussion forum, other non-text-dominated tools can be used with which the participants can contribute in a different form. These include georeferenced maps, rating tools and survey tools. In addition, topic wikis and chats can be used, whereby a time-limited chat is suitable for the appearance of VIPs in order to generate attention.
12. Targeted marketing and rapid communication are essential for e-participation.
E-participation is usually offered as part of larger urban development projects. Nevertheless, targeted marketing is necessary to reach potential participants.
In addition to the classic advertising and PR means, Internet advertising is particularly suitable to avoid a media break. It is also important to use multipliers who address specific target groups via their own channels. In addition, social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter can be used for marketing purposes, whereby the proportionality of the high support effort must be assessed depending on the project. The location- and time-independent online medium also forces the organizers to react quickly during and after the active participation phase. This is a particular challenge for the communication of the time-consuming evaluation.