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Special - Spatial Planning and Energy for Communities in All Landscapes Town and Country Planning Association European Union

Knowledge Pool

Module 5: Module 5: Communication and Participation

5.2 Participation


Participation is fundamental to all planning processes in an urban context, also for the integration of renewable energies and planning. Policy makers and administrations face tensions between 'streamlining' planning procedures, engaging with diverse publics to address what is commonly conceived as 'NIMBY' (not in my back yard) opposition, and the need to maintain democratic, participatory values in planning systems.


Participation is fundamental to all planning processes in an urban context, also for the integration of renewable energies and planning. Policy makers and administrations face tensions between 'streamlining' planning procedures, engaging with diverse publics to address what is commonly conceived as 'NIMBY' (not in my back yard) opposition, and the need to maintain democratic, participatory values in planning systems.

The involvement of concerned interests and a discursive approach are important factors in pursuing renewable energies and planning related concepts and projects (to be included through workshops, expert forums, etc.). In the stricter sense of urban development law, such as the Federal Building Act in Germany, public participation means the involvement of general citizens in the administrative planning procedure, especially on the communal level (activities such as land use plan formation, legally binding land use plans, etc.). The practice experience shows that there is a need to go further than the formal procedures given by participation law and engage in additional informal procedures.

Community involvement should be appropriate to the level of planning concerned while remaining continuous, transparent, accessible and well managed. Community renewable energy is associated with sustainable municipal and rural development and more locally appropriate projects. There is much interest in the scope for more decentralised modes of renewable energy development with greater community involvement. One factor of success of renewable energy projects is the direct participation of citizens by financial sharing of investment and profits of wind power or solar power plants.

But in most cases there are strong and serious efforts necessary to plan and realise renewable energies concepts and projects. Typical for most projects is challenge to overcome obstacles of citizens, stakeholders and opinion leaders.  Renewable energy or network/ grid expansion projects often affect nature and landscape or cause emissions (noise, shadow). Therefore arguments of parties concerned hast to be reflected in a sound and transparent manner.

There is a wide range of participation methods that are usually applied in formal and informal planning procedures. Acceptance of renewable energy projects with the citizenship strongly depends on the sense of justice. This is closely connected with both the question of whether the costs of the investments and profits are distributed. On the other hand, it is important that the citizens perceive the planning and implementation process as just and fair. Central questions in this context are: Where a project is implemented? And how is it implemented?

Core values for the practice of public participation

The following principles have been published by the International Association of Public Participation (see http://www.iap2.org ).

  1. Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.
  2. Public participation includes the promise that the public's contribution will influence the decision.
  3. Public participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
  4. Public participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.
  5. Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.
  6. Public participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
  7. Public participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.
Levels and intensity of participation

In general there are several levels of participation and the possibility to influence decisions:

  • Informative public participation means gathering the information of interested parties about a proposition and its effects, like information meetings, hotlines, public hearings or the publication of plans,
  • Consultative public participation enables citizens to deliver their opinion on presented suggestions, plans or decisions as well as produce their ideas that have to be considered during the decision making process, such as during the development of a urban development concept,
  • Co-determination means that the concerned and interested parties receive the possibility to take part in the decision making process during the development of a proposition, its execution and implementation.

In more practical terms, the levels of participation can also be subdivided into „Information“, „Inclusion“, „Active co-operation” (see figure 1, including the respective instruments to be applied).

Figure 1:  Levels of participation

(based on: Handbuch Partizipation 2012)

Figure 2: An additional approach showing the different levels of participation

Source: http://www.ngi.no/no/

Different participation techniques

When doing participation one can differentiate methods: 

  • to gain input in the form of opinions (e.g., public opinion surveys and focus groups)
  • to elicit judgments and decisions from which actual policy might be derived (e.g., consensus conferences, and citizens’ juries).

Some of the common formal participation methods are:

  • Referenda
  • Public hearings/ inquiries
  • Public opinion surveys
  • Negotiated rule making
  • Consensus conference
  • Citizens jury/panels
  • Citizen/public advisory committees
  • Focus groups

All these methods differ from their representativeness of participants, independence of true participants, the possibility to do an early involvement, influence on final policy, transparency of process to the public, resource accessibility, accuracy of task definition, possibility of structured decision making and cost-effectiveness (cf. Rowe, Gene and Lynn J. Frewer (2000): Public Participation Methods: A Framework for Evaluation, in: Science Technology Human Values 200 25 3).

There are a lot of techniques and methods that can be integrated in participation methods or could be applied separately like computer simulations, simulation games, participatory mapping, design charrettes, the visual preference survey, facilitated meetings, guided tours, and formal neighborhood groups. Other new method for participation processes are the metaplan method, open space conferences, future conferences, mission statement workshops and planning workshops.

Practice relevant aspects

The following aspects have been drawn from practical experience:

  • Participation in decision-making processes leads to more transparency, helps to increase acceptance and improves communication between all stake-holders
  • Participation helps to develop identification, social responsibility and democratic competences
  • Participation does not mean decision-making in consensus
  • Participation is no guarantee to prevent later occurring conflicts
  • Resistance and conflicts against e.g. building projects are common triggers for Civic Engagement, which often comes out in the form of protest at first
  • Suitable Methods can help to use the energy of the civic engagement for developing solutions
  • Groups have the ability to deal with conflicts (and to solve them!) by themselves
  • Working separately with different target groups can strengthen the acceptance towards other viewpoints
  • Procession involvement often leads to a lack of tangible results and therefore needs a continuous motor from the outside
  • Participation is voluntary and non-binding, high fluctuation leads to contrary decisions
  • Well-organized interest groups can dominate the participation process
  • Not all groups have equal opportunities and access to participate processes

Participation needs...

  • …clear and comprehensible definitions of objectives
  • …an early and transparent definition of the importance and integration of the results
  • …a collective development and establishment of clear rules as THE important basis for successful negotiation of conflicts.
  • ...an early and continuous communication of limits concerning the „object“ of participation and rules of communication
  • …a flexible and constant reflection of the process
  • ….a professional, technically competent but independent moderation, that promotes exchange between different stake-holders and takes care of the results.