Citizen participation in the post-political era I & II

Time: 09:30 - 11:00 and 13:30 - 15:00, Thursday October 28
Room: V130, P44 OsloMet

Urban development is often a challenging zone of conflict. To mitigate this, city governments and planning authorities have long been mandated to engage with residents on urban development proposals.

In recent years formal consultative requirements have been integrated with wider moves to implement participatory modes of governance (McCann, 2017).

Changes in local neighbourhoods typically motivate residents and local businesses to mobilize politically, particularly when urban development negatively affects them in their everyday lives. Conflict is often sharpest in inner city districts where development pressures are greatest, and densification or gentrification alter urban character and social networks.

Mobilization against the consequences of urban development may take a range of forms, from engagement with city governments through to formal participatory or consultation mechanisms, to direct political action.

Politicians and civil servants are more preoccupied with participation than ever because they believe that input from residents will make solutions better and reduce conflict levels if residents are won over. It’s a paradox, at the same time, that residents are invited to participate more and more, while the authorities have less and less power over the actual urban development.

Planning in the post political era, where the public sector uses New Public Management control systems, leaves less decisions open for democratic deliberation. Arnsteins’ classic participation ladder problematizes how residents are often asked to give their opinion only of whether the fence should be red or blue.

Most often they are not given the opportunity to co-decide on important matters in their neighbourhood, that impact their lives. This creates potential conflicts and stalemate because residents feel manipulated.


This session is divided into two parts. Each presentation gets 10 minutes followed by questions and discussion. We will not have assigned discussants since this conference do not require papers to be presented beforehand. The order of speaking might be other than indicated in this setup. 

Part one: 09:30-11:00

Paper 1: Participation and influence in urban development: Does the city’s participatory strategy matter? Sissel Hovik et. al, OsloMet

Cities increasingly use ICT and new social media to inform, consult and involve citizens (Bonsón et al., 2015; Lidén & Larson, 2016), but to different extent and in different ways (United Nations, 2020). And the effects of digitalization are contested (Gilman & Peixoto, 2019).

Digital channels are added to conventional participatory channels and coexist with informal channels for political participation, such as lobbying and traditional media. We lack knowledge of how cities e-participation strategies impact citizens choices among participatory channels. And, furthermore, we lack knowledge of how these city strategies impact the effects different channels have on citizens’ influence.

This paper addresses these knowledge gaps by investigating the practices and assessments of active citizens, that is citizens that actively involve themselves in urban development matters. Which type of participatory channels do these citizens use most often? How does their participatory practice impact their perceived influence on urban development policies? And how are these practices and assessments related to city government strategies for digital participation?

By focusing on active citizens, we can compare the use and effect of different participatory channels. The activists have knowledge about and access to different channels, and they will probably make conscious choices regarding how to involve themselves based on consideration about what is the most effective way.

We compare actors use and assessment of various participatory channels among the three cities of Madrid, Melbourne and Oslo, and discuss possible explanations to observed differences. We do that by analysing data from a survey to active citizens in the three cities. The survey data is combined with data from interviews and document studies of the participatory strategies of the three cities.


Bonsón, E., Royo, S., & Ratkai, M. (2015). Citizens’ engagement on local governments’ Facebook sites. An empirical analysis: The impact of different media and content types in Western Europe. Government Information Quarterly 32, 52–62.

Gilman, H. R. & Peixoto, T. C. (2019). Digital participation. In S. Elstub & O. Escobar (Eds.), Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Lidén, G. & Larsson, A.O. (2016). From 1.0 to 2.0: Swedish municipalities online. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 13 (4), 339-351.

United Nations. (2020). United Nations E-Government Survey 2020: Digital Government in the Decade of Action and Sustainable Development. New York: United Nations

Paper 2: Activists and Politicians: channels of influence in big cities – the cases of Madrid, Oslo and Melbourne, José M. Ruano, Universidad Complutense, Madrid

The aim of the article is to analyse the relations between political authorities and active citizens in local decision-making from a comparative perspective and taking as an object of study the cities of Oslo, Melbourne and Madrid, which have different representation structures, administrative cultures and problems.

Thus, the three cities under analysis, despite having very different traditions, problems and political-institutional structures, have opted for a combination of face-to-face channels of communication with citizens and the development of digital instruments as an important means of expressing political demands. These digital platforms become arenas in which ordinary citizens have the opportunity to debate, produce content and participate in the local public sphere while becoming meeting places with local authorities, which, in turn, can create the right conditions for more equal access and political follow-up of grassroot initiatives.

The hypothesis of the paper is that, although belief in the democratising power of technology has given rise to different institutionalised participatory tools, the results and forms of relationship between political representatives and active citizens will vary from between cities.

The methodology is based on the application of a common structured questionnaire addressed to local elected officials and representatives of social organisations that contains open questions of qualitative explanatory power. In addition, in-depth interviews have been carried out to try to contrast the quantitative analysis of the survey.

The main points of analysis covered in the survey are: a) the profile of political representatives and active citizens; b) their perception of participatory instruments; c) the reasons for participation; d) the use of face-to-face or digital channels of communication; and e) their perception of the influence exerted and the limitations of communication channels.

Paper 3: Expectations and Realities of Digital Community Engagement, Ian McShane and Bhavna Middha, RMIT Melbourne

This presentation discusses expectations and experiences of digital engagement platforms that facilitate community engagement with urban planning. These platforms are part of an expanding repertoire of public spaces and events – physical and digital – that signify the participatory turn in municipal governance.

However, we argue that local officials and residents are overly optimistic about the democratic and administrative capacities of the digital sphere. Drawing on data from the DEMUDIG project, we argue that the experience of new participatory digital platforms falls short of expectations, for both residents and officials.

Data show that well-documented problems with established modes of community engagement such as agenda control and ‘black boxing’ of responses, are replicated in on-line settings. The wariness residents have of administrators and elected officials are overlaid by new concerns of digital distrust and digital exclusion. For officials, using these digital spaces effectively requires time to develop and apply new skills.

Our study suggests that digital spaces are not homogenous but are made up of diverse and complex practices and interrelationships. The multiplex relationships making up these digital spaces suggest that strategic and contextual combinations of online and offline engagement may be a path towards inclusive and democratic community engagement.

Paper 4: How is community in an area important for urban development? Kristin Reichborn-Kjennerud, OsloMet

What does urban development really mean? From the word you would think that it has to do with the development in an area, for the worse or for the better. At the same time it´s not a given that what is experienced as positive, for those who visit, is necessarily seen as a good thing for those who live there.

If visitors think it´s fun to laugh aloud outside of bars at night, that might be experienced differently by residents in the area. Also people living in an area have different preferences. Religious minorities may have a different view about the new coffee shops and bars, than the newly arrived, young home owners.

To consider how the city develops and to understand why it develops the way it does it is useful to consider different dimensions. The city can develop materially, through building new roads, parks and buildings. The city can also develop socially, through residents taking local initiatives to improve the area. Or the situation can deteriorate socially.

Last, but not least, the city can develop digitally. TV and newspapers can refer to areas as problematic and dangerous, or as hip and trendy for young creatives. Mainstream digital media and social media can focus on nice parks and interesting events and initiatives, and social media can also be used to gather people for protest action or festivals

These three dimensions interact. We see the result when we pass by on the street. The nice murals on the walls, young people playing volleyball in the new park with design benches. Some things are good and other things are not so great. How can we get more of what is good and avoid what is considered less desirable? And how can we make residents happy when almost all of them have different preferences and needs?

Part two: 13:30 – 15:00

Paper 1: Playing with the Possible: Co-Producing the Right to the City from the Bottom-Up, Tatiana Bodnar, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm

This thesis aims to explore possible alternatives to the current neoliberal development by developing, implementing, and analyzing one possible alternative way of framing participation. Working under the name of Fluke, I have co-developed a research project using participatory action research from the bottom-up that creates a more engaging and inclusive urban co-production process using play and games.

By exploring this process from a practical perspective, I argue that playful co-design processes applied at the local scale have potential to allow people opportunities to ensure what Lefebvre calls the ‘right to the city’ — their right to be not only consumers, but also their right to become a co-producer of urban space.

Situating our action research in our student housing neighborhood of Stockholm, Sweden, I hope to articulate that urban co-design processes have the potential to explore the boundless possible urban futures in an inclusive manner. Within our process, we developed playful urban analysis tools like a place analysis Easter Egg Hunt, a playful visioning workshop, and a place prototyping game.

Through this five-month period where Fluke worked alongside our local tenant association and artists, over 300 residents participated in different manners with the co-creation of a temporary festival exploring the possibilities of urban space: Lappis Summer Dream Day. Through this participatory exploration, we co-produce alternative valuations of urban space that fulfill social and creative needs, not just the needs of capital, to co-create what Hou (2018) calls the ‘new commons’.

Paper 2: Flexible concepts and urban planning: The practical use of co-creation and sustainable development in Norwegian municipal planning, Mathias B. Reinar, Nord universitet, Bodø

The vagueness and flexibility of many planning concepts allow them to be filled with different meanings and serve a range of purposes. In this paper I explore the deployment of two concepts with currency in contemporary planning: co-creation and sustainable development.

Co-creation has in the last years been embraced by planning officials and policymakers who are looking for ways to make the planning process more democratic.

Sustainable development has been a guiding idea in planning for the last 30 years, and is currently manifested in the form of 17 sustainable development goals.

While both concepts signal a departure from business as usual, they might however be criticised for disguising power structures and supporting status quo, rather than challenging them. Through a case study of an urban planning process in the town of Leknes, I explore what kind of content these concepts are filled with, and what kind of practical effects they produce.

With roughly 5000 residents, Leknes is a small town on the Lofoten archipelago in Northern-Norway. While being small by most standards, it serves important functions as a main urban centre in the region. The smallness of the case provides an opportunity to explore how these concepts are translated at a scale far away from the big urban centres often addressed in the literature.

Through participatory observation, analysis of planning documents and interviews with key actors, I explore the practical work and interpretations shaping the planning process.

Preliminary findings suggest that the concepts mobilise and engage. The radical potential of co-creation seem however to be limited by existing power relations, while ideas of sustainable development only to a limited degree play a role in the practical work.

Paper 3: Context_Process_Participation: Participation as Production of Awareness, Knowledge and Creating Commons, Apolonija Šušteršič, researcher and visual artist

Participation has been widely discussed, used, and even abused, not only in the art context but in the wider interdisciplinary field of spatial practice in relation to urban issues. It became a legitimation for performing democracy, especially for official urban development projects.

Regardless of the good intentions of participatory processes, we do need to examine the subject critically and not just take it for granted.

In the following text, I’m discussing participation as a process situated within a specific context that is producing an awareness, knowledge and creating commons. The arguments are based on tree selected projects part of my artistic research practice which is situated in-between architecture and design, sociology and urban studies.

I wish to clarify from the very beginning that the presented research text does not have the ambition of becoming an art history or sociology research, or for that matter, any other empirical studies research.

Hopefully, it can contribute to all of them from its own artistic position. This is clearly art research based on case studies such as Hustadt Project (Germany), Master Plan for Duamdong (South Korea) and Neighbors and Citizens (Sweden); art projects produced for an urban/suburban situation.

Paper 4: On the threshold, Israa Ghozlan, Bergen School of Architecture

Many immigrants gather in specific neighbourhoods where the representation of Norwegians is at its least levels. Although the gathering of immigrants in certain areas is beneficial to alleviate the impact of immigration and strengthen their identity, it leads, in the long run, to a huge gap between them and the local society.

How to avoid the formation of closed and segregated societies? How to create a sense of belonging to a new place? And where to start? I worked on neighbourhoods, as integration starts from the place we live in. Togetherness starts in our houses and their immediate surroundings, they are the birthplace of our sense of belonging to the place and community.

The plan is to establish an attractive neighbourhood for both locals and immigrants. The idea is based on the principle of co-living which is used to increase the possibilities of interaction. This is achieved by having different levels of shared-spaces, facilities and common activities.

The project focuses on immigrants coming from Syria. Syrians are the fourth-largest immigrant community in Norway, and they are the most recent group to arrive in the country. Studying the example of Syrians does not exclude other groups, as the findings can be applied to different groups of immigrants.

I targeted different groups of Syrians and locals through online surveys. The surveys focused on their residential needs, relations to neighbours and their acceptance of sharing specific spaces and facilities with neighbours. My role in this was to assess their needs and try to turn them into a design.

In order to achieve the desired sense of belonging, I followed two strategies. First, I worked on including different recognizable elements from both cultures in the design. Second, I worked on establishing different levels of shared facilities or common areas in order to ease the making of new relationships with the surrounding community.


  • Sveinung Legard (OsloMet Handelshøyskolen)
  • Kristin Reichborn-Kjennerud (OsloMet – AFI)
  • Sissel Hovik (OsloMet Handelshøyskolen)
  • George Anthony Giannoumis (OsloMet, Institutt for informasjonsteknologi)