Collective Intelligence in Citizen Participation for Sustainable Cities

Collective Intelligence in Citizen Participation for Sustainable Cities

Thursday 28.4 at 13.15–14.45


Participatory housing budgets in marginalized areas

Sanna Ghotbi, Annie Hermansson & Pierre Mesure, Digidem Lab

Since 2019 Bostadsbolaget, a public housing company in Sweden, has been testing and developing participatory budgeting(PB) in a housing context in the area Biskopsgården, Gothenburg. Similar to a regular PB, tenants are encouraged to submit proposals and then vote on their top choices which are implemented using part of the housing company’s budget. Housing PB:s have previously been tested in cities such as Toronto and Paris but this is the first of its kind in a Nordic context. The area Biskopsgården is what the Swedish police and social authorities title as a ”particularly vulnerable area” and recently the public housing companies have been given a greater responsibility to remove Biskopsgården, alongside with other areas in the same category, from the police’s list. Over half of its inhabitants don’t have Swedish as a first language and around 63% of all children in the area live in low-income households. Simultaneously Biskopsgården is home to many urban activists that are tired of the negative stereotypes and top- down approaches that are often handed to them by decision makers. Digidem Lab, a democracy lab based in Sweden that studies and tests tools and methods for participatory democracy, has been supporting Bostadsbolaget with their PB process since its start. Through the research project COLDIGIT Digidem Lab has been able to further study the implications of the project in Biskopsgården focusing especially on themes such as trust, co-creation and power relations. Together with GRI, Gothenburg’s Research Institute, Digidem Lab is conducting interviews, focus groups and participatory observations with all levels of actors in the area. Answering questions such as what it means when a PB is implemented under the notion of public safety and how we should design methods and digital tools in marginalized areas in order to strengthen trust within the community.

Mainstreaming collective intelligence and digital democracy

Oli Whittington, NESTA

This session will explore the barriers many municipalities face when moving beyond individual pilots and towards the sustainable delivery of participation projects. We will  present an emerging framework that municipalities can use to identify and address these barriers when delivering collective intelligence projects. The framework maps barriers along three dimensions: people, process and technology alongside actionable tips and tools for municipalities. Finally, we will explore the opportunity for municipalities to sustain existing democratic innovations, build a more inclusive and accessible digital democracy and institutionalise participation.

Social work: advocating for the client’s right to the city through a theoretical framework

Leigh Anne Rauhala & Tiina Lehto-Lundén, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

Traditionally, social work has focused on social issues related to urbanization and industrialization. One of the main historical tasks of the profession was to help people/communities flourish and to question unfair structures. Over the years, case and community work have become central to the profession and our focus has moved away from the wider social and societal structures. This shift is supported by an increased individualization of social problems and social policies that focus more on workfare than welfare.

Erasmus+ funded, Urban SOS project, developed a theoretical and analytical framework for analysis, which we believe can counterbalance the very individualized, neo-liberal and evidence-based thinking social work that is the norm in European welfare states. The framework rests on the roots of emancipatory social work and draws from multiple disciplines such as geography, sociology/economics/political science and anthropology. The framework brings together perspectives from these different disciplines to enable professionals working in the social and healthcare fields to become more place-sensitive.

Harvey (2008) argues that the right to the city is one of the most neglected human rights. With this framework we hope to revive and reinforce already existing theory and methods such as advocacy, activism and lobbyism etc., which historically have been effective in the struggle for creating more socially just cities—in any given national or local context.

Learning through online participation: Comparing two rounds of participatory budgeting using Big Data indicators

Mikko Rask & Bokyong Shin, University of Helsinki

As online participation proliferates, local authorities today hold Big Data in digital platforms that contain citizens’ diverse participatory activities. While it provides new opportunities to study online participation and assess its democratic quality, empirical studies are rare. This article fills this gap by analyzing online participation in a case of the OmaStadi participatory budgeting project in two rounds with six democratic indicators. After a pilot phase, OmaStadi shifted its entire process online in the second round because the COVID-19 pandemic restricted offline gatherings. In this context, this article found that online engagement was enhanced during this period. However, the participatory platform is still young and needs to mature for promoting more democratic decision-making with a broader population.

Using citizen knowledge systematically and transparently in city planning organizations

Saana Rossi, Aalto University

 The right to participate in planning has been integrated into Finnish land use planning practices and building legislation. Planning is understood as a practice that shapes the cohabitation of a shared environment in which citizens’ realities are fragmented and needs and behaviors varied. To facilitate development of a functional living environment, all who are affected by planning should be invited to collaborate in the process. Cities have become more aware of how living environments can affect health and wellbeing, and tools for gathering place-based experiential knowledge to support planning have been adopted by many planning organizations. A key question of participation remains to be solved consistently – what is done with citizen knowledge after the participation process? How does participation shape planning outcomes?

In collaboration with the City of Espoo, we carried out a city-wide Public Participation GIS survey in the fall of 2020 with 6600 respondents, the results of which are to be used as background material in all future strategic and detailed planning processes in Espoo. Through the adjoining research project, we have organized workshops for the Espoo city planning department and interviewed planners to shed light on existing challenges to disseminate, utilize or communicate the effects of citizen knowledge gathered through participation.

Using action research methods, we have developed practices to share participatory knowledge systematically within the planning organization and tested ways to introduce citizen knowledge as background information, so that future participation processes can focus on deepening understanding of key themes recognized through existing data. The goal is to increase capabilities to utilize citizen knowledge in planning and to improve the communication between cities and participants by clearly presenting how participation impacted planning outcomes and how different prioritizations have been justified.