Possibilities for proceeding the participation?

When participation processes are conducted in planning and urban design, there are some very interesting questions that occur. Among them: How to transform the information from the participation process into specific plans and design? And further: Are there possibilities for proceeding the participation after the plan and design are finished, and in which ways can this eventually be implemented?

A timeline in this context may be useful by separating the process into different phases; 1) the phase of participation process, 2) the phase of decision making related to planning and design, 3) the phase where the plan and design are turned into real spaces and real objects with the following adoption (or rejection) by people. The first and second phase may appear separate or partly connected depending on whether the participation process is narrow or wide. A narrow process may only serve as a possibility for people to tell their stories while the actual decision making is performed by experts and professionals (with their own interest and preferences). A wide process, however, expands the participation into the phase of decision making where it is performed by the participants themselves alone or in different types of collaboration with the professionals and experts. In both cases, the timeline emphasizes that the phase of decision making is the conventionally turning point with a “before” and an “after” concerning the possibilities for participation.

A participatory planning and design processes can be said to serve (at least) four different purposes:
Correspondence: implies that the plan or design correspond or in some way are “true” to the preferences of the users, needs and interests of the affected persons and corresponds with general views and opinions.
Influence: the participation process opens up for bottom-up initiatives and enables persons and groups to speak and fight for their interests and make real impact on decisions that affect them.
Socializing: independent of the outcome from the plan and design phase, a participation process may anyway result in meaningful personal learning and positive social interaction.
Legitimization: a participation process can one the hand ease and fasten the decision making process because a certain project is grounded among its users etc. Or, on the other hand, the (symbolic) participation process can be misused in order to legitimate decisions that neither corresponds with the users or are wanted by other affected groups.

When participatory planning and design is discussed, the purposes of Correspondence and Influence are often highlighted by relating them to democratic values. These two purposes are however strongly related and limited to the phase of participation and the phase of decision making. So what happens when the plan is approved and the design is built, are these two key features then only belonging to the past? Or can (aspects) of the participation be continued after the realization of the (decided) spaces and  objects, or is this a contradiction?

An relevant issue when discussing participation; today’s societies are to a large extent characterized by mobility and dynamics, which implies that people move, groups of people circulate and change places and people gain new experiences through their lives. This may result in quite significant changes of preferences, interest, needs, views and opinions among the inhabitants that live in a place. This condition of change is especially challenging the purpose of Correspondence: Even if a project have ambitions of realizing the highest degree of correspondence with the users and affected groups, their preferences, interests, needs etc are inevitable linked to a certain moment in time. After 1, 5 or 10 years the people will be different and their preferences, interest, needs etc will also probable be quite different. The German architect Klaus Schuwerk, now drawing the new National Art Museum in Oslo, said that he don’t care about what people think of the museum when it is opening, but he is instead aiming and hoping for a future correspondence: “If people like the museum in 50 years, then we have succeeded.”

Is it possible to transcend the above mentioned challenges for participatory planning and design, or are its profits and gains seemingly short-lived?

My next blogpost will discuss strategies and approaches for proceeding the participation.