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The main goal of this book chapter is to present a framework for analysis of online participation platforms. Recently, the whole range of various participation platforms emerged and there is a need for a model, which would enable to analyze their specific characteristics. The framework presented in this chapter, the participatory cube, is based on models proposed by Fung (2006) and Ferber et al. (2007). It consists of three axes which include interactive communication, access to space of participation, and decision power. These three categories play a major role in the analysis of the implemented study cases. The study cases were taken from two countries; Germany and Brazil. We concentrated on the selection of a variety of different examples of technologies that support to give voice to citizens either as an actor or as principal interlocutor of civil society organizations, aiming to offer, inform or try new ways and solutions to problems and issues raised by contemporary urban life. The participatory cube served as the model for the comparison of the selected cases. We conclude the article with a discussion about the framewok and further research directions.
The Participatory Cube: A Framework for
Analysis of Online Participation Platforms
Alenka Poplin | HafenCity University Hamburg, Germany
Gilberto Corso Pereira | Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil
Maria Célia Furtado Rocha | PRODEB, Salvador, Brazil
CUPUM 2013, July 2-5, University of Utrecht
Communication between the planning agencies and citizens:
• Participation as a matter of right since mid-1950s
• Mandate to engage the public | minimum possible effort
• Often complex urban planning projects
• Expert vs. Non-expert
• Rational ignorance
• Increasing lack of trust
processes in urban planning.
The problem of civic engagement in urban planning
Stuttgart: October 2010 |
100.000 people demonstrating
• Town-hall meetings
• Round tables
Abt (1970). Serious Games
Sanoff (1979). Design Games
They require a
physical presence on
a specific day at a
Non-digital methods of participation in urban planning
"Good - Let's say we agree."
(Cartoon by Pierre Kroll)
Defined by Habermas as “a realm of our social life, in which
something approaching public opinion can be formed”
(Habermas 1974: 49).
It presents a domain of social life in which public
opinions can be expressed.
Its ultimate goal is public discourse and debate related to
a variety of issues relevant for the society and individuals.
Papacharissi (2009), in a contemporary democracy, the
citizen can act from a private sphere, whereas previously
their engagement would have been activated through the
Internet | Public Sphere
Recent developments in technologies enable citizens to
share their knowledge and information online.
Campbell, Eisenman et al. (2006) refer to such processes
as people centric urban sensing in which citizens act as
Goldman et al. (2009) defined as “a new collective
capacity…in which people participate in sensing and
analysing aspects of their lives that were previously
Web 2.0 | Citizens as sensors
Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)
Goodchild (2007a, 2007b) focuses on a particular use of
geographic information and citizens collecting and
contributing geographic information via online platforms.
Examples: Wikimapia and OpenStreetMap
which enable the citizens to create global
network of “mappers”.
Web 2.0 | VGI
Recently, the whole range of various freely available online
participation platforms designed for the citizens or organizations
They implement concepts like urban sensing, volunteered
geographic information, crowd-sourcing.
There is a need for a model, which would enable to analyse
their specific characteristics in a systematic way.
Motivation for our research
Built on the models proposed by Fung (2006) and Ferber et al.
• Decision power
Capacity to transform opinions into decisions and actions
Lukes (1974) Power a Radical View
Arnstein (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation
• Interactive communication
Forms of interaction within the community; direction of
communication and ways of communication
• Access to the space of participation
Importance for placing and sharing public opinions through the
democratic exchange of ideas
Framework for the analysis
Examples | Case Studies
Implemented online platforms – examples of volunteered
geographic information, urban sensing, virtual sphere
Examples from Brazil and Germany
Methodology: The Participatory Cube
Its main goal is to collect the information about empty
apartments or offices in Germany.
It enables the users to participate in a discussion forum,
enter their suggestions for the protection against climate
change on the interactive map, and vote for other’s
Climate change in Elmshorn
The citizen registered on site can report a problem in the
city of São Paulo, classify it according to the predetermined
themes - transit, transport, garbage, noise, etc. – add a
date, address and attach photos, videos.
The Participation Cube concentrates on the aspects of
• interactive communication,
• the ways the users can access the content published on
the platform, and
• the decision power that the users can/or cannot gain
through their online participatory activities.
It enabled to structure the analysis around three suggested
axes and provided the framework for the analysis of the
selected study cases.
• The majority of the platforms enable high level of access
to the content and to the possibilities to participate.
• The use of maps is still very limited; only some of the
platforms included an option of interacting with maps:
Difficult to implement
• Recent initiatives for free and open data stimulate further
development of participatory platforms.
• There is a growing need for people to express opinions
freely and through the accessible media.
Conclusions | Trends and Issues
I hope you enjoyed my presentation!
Contact: Alenka Poplin, PhD
Democracy Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA
Assoc. Professor at HafenCity University Hamburg