Innovation in Public Participation

people walking onto huge stairs build in Rotterdam, Netherlands

How do you involve citizens in the major transitions of the coming years?
How do you involve citizens in transitions such as switching from natural gas to sustainable energy sources and developing new vibrant neighbourhoods? In the project ‘Innovation in Public Participation’ the Urban Futures Studio engages with this question, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Drawing on a combination of research methods, we develop an overview of existing and new approaches to participation on the neighbourhood level and their strengths and weaknesses. Our focus is on how public participation can be designed in an inclusive way, that incorporates the diversity of backgrounds and desires in our society.

mock up cove essay - yellow background, black font

Towards a shared perspective on the future
The energy transition has major consequences for the way we live, work, move and consume. For such complex transitions, governments need to engage and collaborate with citizens and other stakeholders. Their participation can lead to a shared perspective on the future and stimulate change. But how do you shape and organize such a participatory process? Many cases have illustrated the difficulty to include diverse groups of citizens and to bridge discrepancies between government approaches and people’s lived experiences. Customary methods such as public meetings and surveys have their limitations, but we do not yet know if and how new techniques such as visioning, virtual reality, gaming or design studio’s offer solutions.

Rethinking public participation
In this project, the Urban Futures Studio investigates and sorts existing and new participation techniques and their features. Our focus is on how to cope with vulnerability and improve inclusivity in participatory processes on the neighbourhood level. How can participation be designed to include people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized?

We employ a relational approach of participation, by which we view participation as collective experimental practices that shape and are shaped by the participatory process. This view places emphasis on the form and conditions under which the interaction takes place. For example, the initiative of Places of Hope showed that engagement can be organized in diverse ways and can create new collectives.

We also know from research that by letting people experience and imagine possible new futures (‘experiental futuring’), participation can lead to new shared perspectives. While these insights have implications for the collaboration between government and society, they are often overlooked. In this project, we start from these insights to help rethink participation practices and techniques.

This is an ongoing project of the Urban Futures Studio. Interested to know more? Please contact Irene Bronsvoort.