Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Scrutinizing Virtual Citizen Involvement in Planning: Ten Applications of an Online Participatory Tool

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Abstract:  How to organize citizen participation in planning is continuously debated. The amount of Online Participatory Tools (OPTs) to facilitate inclusive and efficient participation has increased. While studies have assessed their functionality, usability and effectiveness in planning, they have rarely analyzed OPTs beyond single-cases, targeted tools that are widely used or assessed how OPTs affect broader values of participation. Targeting this absence, this study analyzes how ten applications of a widely used OPT, CityPlanner™, affect the normative, substantive and instrumental values of citizen participatory planning in Swedish cities. By analyzing 1,354 citizen proposals and interviewing urban planners, we find that citizens more extensively submit proposals and initiate debates on planning when using the OPT. Results suggest a more even age and gender distribution among proposal users than with conventional methods, facilitating normative values of participation. The OPT was generally applied early in planning and generated high-quality inputs. Our results, however, nuance previous analyses by also emphasizing the importance of place-specificity of OPT applications and of joint participation strategies among departments. Key for OPT development includes the need to improve their ability to analyze overarching trends among inputs.

Keywords:  citizen participation; governance; online participatory tools; planning; visualization


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© Mattias Hjerpe, Erik Glaas, Sofie Storbjörk. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.