Participatory planning

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Participatory planning is an urban planning paradigm that emphasizes involving the entire community in the strategic and management processes of urban planning; or, community-level planning processes, urban or rural. It is often considered as part of community development.[1] Participatory planning aims to harmonize views among all of its participants as well as prevent conflict between opposing parties. In addition, marginalized groups have an opportunity to participate in the planning process.[2]

Theoretical basis[edit]

Arnstein's Ladder of Citizen Participation[edit]

Responding to the gap between the desires of local communities, and government programs such as urban renewal, Sherry Arnstein wrote A Ladder of Citizen Participation to "encourage a more enlightened dialogue".[3] She developed the ladder as a typology, with eight rungs ranging from various degrees of nonparticipation, to degrees of tokenism, and ultimately, citizen power. Her critical assault on planning methods of the time has informed policies affecting the growth and change in participatory methods, broadening access to planning processes.[4]

1971 U.S. Department of Transportation seminar[edit]

A 1971 U.S. Department of Transportation publication summarized seminars where professional planners, public administrators, and citizens debated the idea of participatory planning.[5] The U.S. Department of Transportation recognized that citizens felt excluded from the current planning processes.[5] In the seminar the following questions were asked: "Why do you want citizens to participate? What kind of citizens should be included? When should citizen participation enter the planning process? How do you organize citizen participation? How much power should be invested in citizen participation groups? Where do local elected officials fit in the citizen participation element? What are the responsibilities of the planner regarding citizen participation?".[5] The consensus was that citizen participation is valuable for better planning as well as for minimizing confrontation; however, not everyone agreed on how to effectively involve citizens.[5]


Planning needed a structure to allow natural and meaningful input from citizens.[6] In order for this to happen, planning needed to move away from its hierarchical model and move toward a reticular model.[6] The reticular model would allow for more citizen participation.[6] While there is some demand for a top-down approach with centralized decision-making from experts, participatory planning uses a bottom-up approach. Participatory planning aims to add more participation in decision-making, increase the legitimacy of politicians and officials, and provide for more criticism of experts' plans.[7] The standard approach to planning can be defined in the following quote:

Town and country planning might be described as the art and science of ordering the use of land and the character of siting of buildings and communication routes so as to secure the maximum practicable degree of economy, convenience and beauty (Keeble,1952)

This approach does not withstand the addition of complex regional and local socio-economic aspects. The top down model lacked a way to approach planning. Taylor proposes an entirely different approach to Keeble:

It suggested the need for a new kind of planner altogether, one who was trained in analyzing and understanding how cities and regions functioned spatially in economic and social terms – a planner, that is trained in economic geography or the social sciences rather than architecture or surveying (Taylor 1998)

Participatory planning demands that planners incorporate a variety of interest groups in their process.[8]


In the UN Habitat document Building Bridges Through Participatory Planning, Fred Fisher, president of the International Development Institute for Organization and Management, identifies Participatory Reflection And Action (PRA) as the leading school of participatory planning. He identifies Paulo Freire and Kurt Lewin as key pioneers, as well as claiming planning fathers Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford as participatory planners. Freire's belief that poor and exploited people can, and should be, enabled to analyze their own reality was a fundamental inspiration for the participatory planning movement. Lewin's relevance lay in his integration of democratic leadership, group dynamics, experiential learning, action research, and open systems theory, and his efforts to overcome racial and ethnic injustices.

In general, PRA has been supplanted by Participatory Learning and Action (PLA), which emphasizes the links between the participatory process and action. Related work has been done on community-based participatory research (CBPR).[9]


Robert Chambers, whom Fisher considered a leading icon of the movement, defines PRA according to the following principles;

Handing over the stick (or pen or chalk)
Facilitating investigation, analysis, presentation and learning by local people themselves, so they generate and own the outcomes and also learn.
Self-critical awareness
Facilitators continuously and critically examine their own behavior.
Personal responsibility
Taking responsibility for what is done, rather than, for instance, relying on the authority of manuals or on rigid rules.
Involves the wide range of techniques now available, from chatting across the fence to photocopies and e-mail.

PRA and PLA methods and approaches include:

  • Do-it-yourself: local people as experts and teachers, and outsiders as novices
  • Local analysis of secondary sources
  • Mapping and modeling
  • Time lines and trend and change analysis
  • Seasonal calendars
  • Daily time-use analysis
  • Institutional diagramming
  • Matrix scoring and ranking
  • Shared presentations and analysis, and
  • Participatory planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring.



Participatory e-planning is relatively new way to engage citizens in urban planning. E-participation is defined as "technology-mediated interaction between the civil society sphere and the formal politics sphere"[10] According to Horelli and Wallin (2010), "participatory e-planning, similarly to e-participation, can be an important instrument of e-democracy and e-governance".[10] Participatory e-planning is also related to engaging the general public to use tools traditionally used by urban planning experts, such as Geographic Information Systems and Planning Support Systems.[10] Participatory e-planning research has focused on incorporating forms of participation with existing governance and urban planning processes. The e-planning research is also limited to needs of current participatory planning.[10] The original investigations used tools like online questionnaires, surveys, and polls to consultant citizens.[10] The feedback from participating citizens is then used or not used by experts and professionals. Before e-planning, citizens could provide only their opinion via direct confrontation, snail mail, phone calls, or e-mails.[10] The e-planning participation tools allow for more organized and substantive participation from the interested public. The tools are:

1."Plans-on-the-map", which is a website that allows citizens to get acquainted with existing plans

2. "Tell-it-on-the-map", which is a questionnaire-based online tool to collect citizens' comments on specific issues presented by planners.

3. The planning competitions website, where citizens can get acquainted with ongoing planning competitions and comment on them.


These tools allow feedback, but still do not allow the public to spotlight issues they find important. Critiques challenge the e-planning tool to empower citizens to collaborate on the same level with experts. More and more citizens own devices that allow them to produce media. Participatory e-planning can not only use customary collaborative urban planning tools but must delve into sharing media content.[10]

Managing forests with participatory planning[edit]

Forest management involves a variety of stakeholders, including the owners of the forest, locals, tourism enterprises, recreational uses, private or official conservationists, or the forest industry. Each of these parties has a different goal in using forests, which complicates planning.[11] Participatory approaches and computerized tools like decision support systems (DSS) have opposing views in sustainable forest management. Researchers question whether these tools can work together and/or combine with other tools to allow for positive participation.[12] The features of DSS that may help participatory processes are the following: "group decision support, possibilities to include other values than timber production, flexibility of system to include non-traditional forest data and management options, and multi-criteria decision analysis tools.[12]"


World Bank[edit]

The community-driven development approach advocated by the World Bank is an example of participatory planning.

A number of examples link participatory community plans with local government planning. One widely applied example is South Africa's national policy of community-based planning methodology, and an adapted version, the Harmonised Participatory Planning Guide for Lower Level Local Governments,[13] which is national policy in Uganda. Community-Based Planning has been applied across the whole of eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality in South Africa, including the City of Durban, and is being rolled out in Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality.[when?][nb 1] Community-Based Planning is an example of the practical application of the sustainable living.

Case Study: Britain in the 1940s[edit]

After the bombing of British cities during World War II, planning advocates wanted to use the reconstruction planning as a way to engage the public.[14] The planners wanted more authority in the political system to play a more substantive role within their democracy. The planners created new techniques to, "communicate with laypeople, including mobilizing publicity, measuring public opinion, organizing exhibitions, and experimenting with new visual strategies"[14] They also developed a forum to educate and ask the public about various plans and policies.[14]

Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood[edit]

Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine's Comprehensive Plan was created in a participatory planning process, but its consistent monitoring of its implementation failed.[2] Looking at Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, geographers saw potential logistical ways to obtain "necessary data, create a land-use GIS to analyze the data, update the data, and monitor the progress of the implementation of the Over-the Rhine Comprehensive Plan".[2] In the case of Cincinnati, it is proven that plans that are not carried out fail to live up to the participatory planning theory. Failures like that of the Over-the-Rhine plan make it harder for further progress toward plan's goal and objectives as well as muting the participants.[2]


Ensuring that all sections of the community are able to participate is a challenge for participatory planning. Some approaches, such as Community-Based Planning, separate the community so that the livelihoods and preferred outcomes of different social groups can be identified.

Many experiences with participatory reflection and action and participatory planning suffer from a lack of follow-up. PRA has often not been part of a system, but an ad hoc process. Community-Based Planning has tried to overcome this by linking planning to the mainstream local government planning system.

Another challenge is caused by a lack of funds to actually implement the plans, which can lead to participation fatigue and frustration among communities. In the social-investment funds supported by the World Bank, participatory planning is often the first step, often leading to planning of infrastructure. In some cases, such as Community-Based Planning in South Africa, amounts of around[quantify] US$3,500 to $6,800 are provided to each ward to implement activities arising from the ward plan. This then stimulates more widespread community action.

Organizations working in participatory planning[edit]

Center for Urban Pedagogy[edit]

The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) in New York City "is a nonprofit organization that uses design and art to improve civic engagement".[15] CUP projects aim to involve more individuals to work on policy and urban planning issues. CUP increases the public understanding of urban planning systems so that more of the community becomes involved. "CUP projects are collaborations of art and design professionals, community-based advocates and policymakers, and our staff"[9]. Together, these community members work on issues ranging from the juvenile justice system to zoning law to food access. CUP takes these issues and simplifies them to accessible, visual interpretations.[15] The tools created by CUP are used by New York City organizers and educators to push for better communities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For further information on community-based economic development in Uganda, South Africa, Ghana and Zimbabwe, visit the African Institute for Community-Driven Development's website.


  1. ^ Lefevre, Pierre; Kolsteren, Patrick; De Wael, Marie-Paule; Byekwaso, Francis; Beghin, Ivan (December 2000). "Comprehensive Participatory Planning and Evaluation" (PDF). Antwerp, Belgium: IFAD. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2008-10-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c d [McTague, C. & Jakubowski, S. Marching to the beat of a silent drum: Wasted consensus-building and failed neighborhood participatory planning. Applied Geography 44, 182–191 (2013)]
  3. ^ Arnstein, Sherry R. (July 1969). "A Ladder Of Citizen Participation". Journal of the American Institute of Planners. 35 (4): 216. doi:10.1080/01944366908977225. hdl:11250/2444598.
  4. ^ Griffin, Greg P. (16 October 2014). "Geographic specificity and positionality of public input in transportation: a rural transportation planning case from Central Texas". Urban, Planning and Transport Research. 2 (1): 407–422. doi:10.1080/21650020.2014.969442.
  5. ^ a b c d [Metropolitan transportation planning seminars. (Washington :, 1971). at]
  6. ^ a b c [Smith, R. W. A theoretical basis for participatory planning. Policy Sci 4, 275–295 (1973)]
  7. ^ [Murray, M. Participatory Spatial Planning : Learning from Rural Ireland. (Ashgate Publishing Group, 2010). at <>]
  8. ^ [Davidoff, P. Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 31, 331–338 (1965).]
  9. ^ Fisher, Fred (2001). Building Bridges through Participatory Planning. UN-HABITAT. ISBN 978-92-1-131623-0. Retrieved 2008-10-21. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h [Saad-Sulonen, J. The Role of the Creation and Sharing of Digital Media Content in Participatory E-Planning: International Journal of E-Planning Research 1, 1–22 (2012).]
  11. ^ [Kangas, A., Kangas, Jyrki, Kurttila, Mikko. Decision Support for Forest Management. (Springer Science + Business Media B.V, 2008)]
  12. ^ a b [Menzel, S. et al. Decision support systems in forest management: requirements from a participatory planning perspective. Eur J Forest Res 131, 1367–1379 (2012).]
  13. ^ "Harmonized Participatory Planning Guide for Lower Local Governments". Republic of Uganda Ministry of Local Government. August 2003. Retrieved August 30, 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ a b c [Cowan, S. E. "Democracy, Technocracy and Publicity: Public Consultation and British Planning, 1939-1951. (2010). at <>]
  15. ^ a b [CUP: About. at]


External links[edit]