4th debate


Final Announcement

Winners of the “best contribution” awards:

The committee members (Christopher Bryant, Lisa Bornstein, Gonzalo Lizarralde, and Mahmood Fayazi) acknowledge the engagement of all participants and their thoughtful contributions to this debate. They determined that the winners are:
Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal First prize – best comments
1000 CAD$
Kristen MacAskill Second prize
500 CAD$
Congratulations to winners.


The moderator’s opening remarks:

The Canadian Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Reconstruction Research Alliance (Œuvre Durable for its acronym in French) and i-Rec (Information and Research for Reconstruction) are organizing an on-line debate (and competition) that explores the following question:
Is public participation really the key to success for urban projects and initiatives aimed at disaster risk reduction?
Whereas some specialists and decision-makers consider public participation as a means to achieve effective and sustainable urban change, others see it as a final end in itself. The former typically argue that public participation adds value to decisions, allowing for open discussion concerning individual interests and expectations while also reinforcing the common good and safety, thus achieving greater social justice. They also argue that public participation allows decision-makers and experts to better understand problems and find more appropriate solutions to risk reduction and other problems of public interest. The latter often emphasize the importance of “participating,” seeing it as an outcome that –by itself – increases social capital and resilience, develops a sense of community and engagement, and empowers community members and civil society groups.
However, opponents of public participation raise serious doubts about its effectiveness and how it should be implemented. They claim that participatory decision-making is often expensive and lengthy, and that the unequal distribution of power among participants hampers its effectiveness. They note that elites and well-organized social groups often shape public opinion and take advantage of participatory activities to manipulate non-experts and citizens. They contend that public influence over urban choices often produces solutions that are too costly or technically infeasible, and which cannot realistically be materialized, making citizens cynical and frustrated, and eroding their trust in political and administrative representatives and participation processes. Public participation sometimes also leads to opposition to policies, programs, and projects aimed at disaster risk reduction that some individuals might dislike, but the greater public needs (in other words, NIMBY reactions to DRR policies and programs).
In this debate, we invite two internationally-known experts in the urban and regional planning fields to defend two opposite viewpoints. Over the next ten days, our panelists will present their most persuasive arguments, but the results of our debate rest in your hands. Do not be afraid to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Even better, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision. We look forward to reading the comments of all of those who participate.
Gonzalo Gonzalo Lizarralde is a professor at the School of Architecture of Université de Montréal. He has long experience in consulting for architecture and construction projects and has published important research in the fields of low-cost housing and project management.  Dr. Lizarralde is the director of the IF Research Group (grif) of Université de Montréal, which studies the processes related to the planning and development of construction projects. He is also the co-director of Œuvre Durable, a multi-university research team focused on vulnerabilityresilience and sustainable reconstruction. Dr. Lizarralde is the author of the book The Invisible Houses: Rethinking and designing low-cost housing in developing countries and the co-author of the book Rebuilding After Disaster: From Emergency to Sustainability. 
csm_christopher_bryant_w_01_1c02105bb5 Christopher Bryant, 
Christopher Bryant is a full Professor (1990 – 2014) and Adjunct Professor (2014 – present) at Department of Geography, Université de Montréal, Canada. He is also Adjunct Professor (2012 – present) at the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Ontario. Christopher Bryant holds a Ph.D. on the transformation of agriculture around Paris, France from the London School of Economics and Political Science (1970). During the last twenty years, his research is positioned in the field of development. More specifically, his research interests are community participation, sustainable community development, rural development, land use planning, strategic management/planning of development, and the adaptation of human activities to climatic change. His research findings are presented in about 200 journal articles, more than 500 conference papers, and over 160 book chapters and 31 books.
me110bn-copy Camillo Boano,
Dr. Camillo Boano is an architect, urbanist and educator. He is Senior Lecturer at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College of London (UCL), where he directs the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development. He is also co-director of the UCL Urban Laboratory. Camillo has over 20 years of experiences in research, design consultancies and development work in South America, Middle East, Eastern Europe and South East Asia. A qualified architect with a Masters in Urban Development and a PhD in Planning from Oxford Brookes University. As an academic interested in practice, he combines interests in critical architecture, spatial production, transformations, urbanism with the exceptional circumstances of disasters, conflicts and informality.
The proposer’s opening remarks
Public participation is one of the most constructive components of planning – urban planning, land use planning, dealing with environmental issues, development planning of economic, social and cultural activities and disaster risk reduction (DRR), which can become one of the Strategic Orientations of a community or territory. We focus initially on urban, land use and development planning and then tackle DRR. Circumstances vary between territories, cities, and countries regarding how public participation is viewed and practiced sometimes, it is hardly practiced at all because of a lack of appreciation by ‘leaders’ – e.g. some elected officials and planning professionals. However, public participation is increasingly viewed as an essential element of managing change in society in all dimensions of sustainability.
What are the most important contributions of public participation? Among many positive aspects, four are identified here. Public participation can involve: 1) The integration of local knowledge into different kinds of planning; 2) Recognizing that some local knowledge can be  more important than that of  elected leaders and planning professionals – a community’s citizens can include people who are also planners in neighboring communities, and they can also include business owners and people from many walks of life all potentially with different knowledge bases; 3) Many citizens are concerned about what happens in their community – where their children grow up, live and may eventually work – so many are prepared to devote energy to helping their community; and 4) Some citizens who are perfectly capable of developing initiatives and managing them.
Thus, public participation has already established its role in many jurisdictions as one of the keys of urban land use and strategic development planning for municipalities, including action.
These positive elements represent major contributions to the dynamics of change in a community or territory; however, to be effective it also requires real efforts to mobilize and communicate with the different segments of legitimate interests in the community or territory, including young people.
What about urban projects and initiatives aimed at DRR? Of course, when a disaster strikes (natural or human-based), citizens frequently take initiatives and provide support to help fellow citizens cope and survive. But how can public participation help DRR efforts in the long term? The suggestion is that the potential for disasters and DRR be integrated into long-term strategic development planning and that this should also include building resilience and community solidarity.
The community or territory does not have to have already experienced disasters – the probability of certain disasters (e.g. floods, tidal surges, forest fires, earthquakes, etc.) occurring can be appreciated by observing similar communities in the broader region (e.g. neighboring coastal areas and nearby earthquake prone areas).
This can be anticipated in strategic development planning in several ways: e.g. 1) improving protective infrastructure for coastal communities; 2) preventing development in some areas (e.g. flood prone areas); and 3) organizing citizens to prepare to help others. Therefore, for urban projects and initiatives aimed at DRR, DRR must be integrated into strategic development planning.  Public participation is essential: 1)  local and regional politicians and professionals cannot be expected to have all the knowledge necessary to develop community resilience and solidarity, but citizens, with their local knowledge and commitment, can make substantial contributions; and 2) in anticipation of disasters, citizens through public participation can help identify different segments of the population most at risk and in need of assistance, and propose initiatives that they themselves can manage. This has included young students in schools trained to assist other students in the event that a major disaster – (e.g. the south of France where many coastal communities have experienced devastating floods and anticipated others).
The opposition’s opening remarks
Participation is very important, but rarely works. It is essential in any dimension of social life, including city making, but almost never results in real emancipation. Despite improvements in the management of urban projects and urban design, Chambers, Cooke, Kothari, and especially Erik Swygedouw argue that ‘public urban participatory schemes’ are nonetheless ‘spaces where citizenship is constrained rather than activated.” Cornwall says that invented and invited spaces of participation shape any act of city making. Invented spaces are grassroots-led forms of collective political mobilisation functioning in confrontation to the invited spaces that are externally established and expert managed. Urban citizens are invited to participate individually or collectively via civil society organizations. The reality is that often DRR is imposed and participation is manicured with invited spaces and so my answer to the moderator’s opening question, then, is NO. We must rethink participation: What is public? Who initiates urban projects and who benefits from them? Who is intended to participate? Who is able to participate?
To address those questions, we have to situate participation within political discourses amongst the forces, structures, problems, and strategies that shape our collective life. State-, municipality-, or agency-led participation have become normalised components of city governance and programmes, resulting in the construction of a rhetoric of participation: platforms for sharing information and listening to citizens’ voices. Having extended an invitation to residents to participate, states, municipalities, and agencies often claim that their actions are legitimate and that they have a mandate to implement imported solutions that lack sensitivity to the particular context at hand. Such invited spaces are complicit in that they can cement elites’ position, prevent resident ownership of processes, and undermine voices of marginal or vulnerable groups. These shortcomings confine participation to a set of best practices and actions and reduce its emancipatory potential.
Participation as a political concept, however, sheds light on how collective actions could change outcomes at any scale. Placing participation within territories of tensions enables residents to actively, if imperfectly and contingently, demonstrate their urban citizenship. In reflecting upon competing practices of city making, we must resist the depoliticisation of participation. To use Holston’s terminology, spaces of participation where citizens can act and perform their rights, ambitions, and obligations, are inherently insurgent.
My point is that participation cannot be given, but is instead practiced, claimed, and demonstrated. Cornwall and Gaventa contend that urban participatory mechanisms offer a space for citizens to be active ‘makers and shapers’ who determine the form of their citizenship, rather than passive ‘users and choosers’ of assigned participatory spaces that perpetuate their exclusion though apparent inclusion.  In Rancière’s term politics is to question the ‘natural’ order of things and verify the equality. Spaces in which participants can exercise their citizenship to challenge structural power dynamics are radical, transformative political projects.
Because states, municipalities, and agencies often employ participation as a technique for city management, participatory urban projects and initiatives for disaster risk reduction are rarely effective. Moreover, as a complex interaction between space, power, and knowledge that straddles urbanisation, capitalism and democratic processes, participation impels the practitioner to question basic facets of his or her work: authorship, expertise, and control. Without actively interrogating practices of recognition, emancipation and activation and the elements of ‘common’ and ‘use,’ participation seldom works, let alone in recovery and DRR processes where trauma and resilience are stressed and visions of the future compromised by the difficulties and the complexity of the situation.
The proposer’s rebuttal remarks
Based on the various comments so far from colleagues, the debate has been very interesting and constructive. It is certainly important to re-think participation – Who? Who initiates urban projects (and projects in any type of territory)? What do we mean by urban projects? And how can we link experiences in public participation in urban planning and urban projects with DRR?
It is clear that how public participation is organized, who organizes it and who has to be mobilized and communicated with in order to encourage citizens to participate are all important questions that have to be answered. The answers will not be the same in all cities, towns or territories. Furthermore, public participation in many instances is a process that will evolve in a community of whatever type.
While municipal authorities can take the lead, and initiate the process of public participation in, for example, a process on strategic planning for development BY and FOR the citizens, it is important to ensure that ultimately the citizens take over the process, create the vision of the city (even the neighborhood), town or community and discuss what strategic orientations are necessary to achieve the vision. These strategic orientations can include DRR.
What is essential for successful public participation is a leadership (in terms of elected officials including the mayor and their supporting professionals such as planners) that: a) honestly wants to share the process of planning and preparing for the future with citizens; and b) is ready to accept the fact that citizens can construct initiatives important for the community and can actually participate in their management or even manage them totally.  This has been happening more and more with substantial success stories. In several cases that I have been involved in, towns had used the services of a professional consultant to develop a strategic development plan on several occasions; unfortunately, in most cases, the consultant only consulted elected officials and the towns’ professional planners with the result that practically nothing contained in the final plan was actually implemented. In these same municipalities, as an almost last resort, the decision was made to undertake a strategic planning process BY and FOR the citizens, and in each case, the plan gave rise to many initiatives that were implemented and managed by teams of citizens and their success was absolutely fantastic! One of the mayors presented the process his community had become involved in at a major municipal conference – when a member of the audience asked him how he (the mayor) felt about the fact that citizens were taking initiatives and managing them, suggesting that the citizens were taking over his job,  the mayor replied that when he witnessed the discussions of the citizens (organized into small groups), he suddenly realized what his most important role was – supporting citizen-initiatives that were invented and realized by them and which were convergent with the overall objectives of the citizens of the municipality.
Thus, what is critical is to be able to communicate effectively with the different segments of interest in the community, which means understanding how people communicate with each other (potentially differently in each segment of legitimate interest in different communities), and to communicate with them to encourage their participation in a planning and reflection process. Real public participation does not focus on elites! And teenagers play important roles in most communities because they represent in a sense the future of the community. Therefore, public participation has to be prepared carefully, and sometimes it may mean that the values and perceptions of elected officials and municipal planners need to be addressed with the intent of trying to get these people to critically assess their own values concerning public participation. One thing is for sure, public participation can achieve things that otherwise might never be undertaken (e.g. taking initiatives to mobilize citizens in a given area to have them consider initiatives and how to manage them to reduce vulnerability to disasters).
Never forget, engaging citizens and encouraging their involvement in planning and initiatives can be seen as one of the bases of a democratic society, As Dr. Jamal said, citizen participation is the best way to move towards sustainable re-construction or constructive urban change.
The opposition’s rebuttal remarks
The point I was trying to make is that it is impossible to be ‘against’ participation; but it is crucial to interrogate how the practice of participation, the making of it, is not simply symbolic or a cover-up. To be real participation has to be transformative. It should be implemented as part of a radical political project whereby participants can exercise their citizenship to challenge structural contexts that in DRR are related to social positions in relation to risks and vulnerabilities. An isolated technical and instrumental dimension is to be avoided.
Placing DRR in community involvement is crucial to identify diverse and unknowns risks. Hazard identification discovered through local knowledge can help to understand diverse pre-existing risks. When communities are involved in the process, they can be more aware and get engaged in the design and planning of adaptation processes. Community participation in all the phases of designing and developing safe houses can increase mutual understanding between stakeholders, allow sharing knowledge and providing options that are adequate to specific contexts, and empower users. These processes of bottom-up engagement and involvement must be based on the experiences, knowledge and capacities of local people, not those of the expert master planner. Innovative practices are the ones that put forward a way of producing space and knowledge that starts from the people themselves, from their community, and where their collective endeavors are seen as central to develop resilient and adaptive approaches to housing and city making. Specifically, urban poor groups and other grassroots organizations are fundamental components of the production of the whole city: they are the ones who keep it going, and their role is crucial, since it also sparks off political responsibility and a sense of ownership over the process and the results it will produce.
“Instead of the city being a vertical unit of control, these smaller units – people-based and local – can be a system of self-control for a more creative, more meaningful development” remind us Somsook Boonyabancha, the Secretary General of the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights. Being active part, and exercising effective agency, is the key element here. Pateman was suggesting that ‘participation, as far as the majority is concerned, is participation in the choice of the decision makers”. Pateman suggest that we should look for a full participation that emerges when each individual member of a decision-making body has equal power to determine the outcome of the decisions. This is certainly an ideal and a trajectory: an ethics that seems impossible to achieve in design, planning and city making as it depends on the shared level of knowledge and a different mode of communications within codes and norms. Jeremy Till is calling this a ‘transformative participation’ based on the recognition of ‘the political aspects of space, of the vagaries of the lives of users, of different modes of communication and representation, of an expanded definition of architectural knowledge and of the inescapable contingency of practice’. In Jaques Rancière’s term this ‘inclusion of the excluded’ is the wrong way of thinking politically about public participation and then democracy.
The logic of identification is ineffective, as it will reproduce risks and vulnerabilities and not transformative changes. Participation in urban design and city making as well as in DRR is abandoning the master/expert knowledge for a willing acceptance, in both directions, of each party’s knowledge. It is only manifested when plans, projects, and interventions are informed by the multiple voices of the insiders, not in a synthetic expert manner, but in a cacophony of imperfections. Markus Miessen’s interesting book with a prophetic title “The Nightmare of Participation” does not give us the recipe for success but alert us to think on three positions in which modes of proactive participation can become meaningful: “attitude, relevance, responsibility.”
The proposer’s closing remarks
Based on all the various comments concerning public participation I would like to offer some final comments. I understand that there are some jurisdictions where the direct participation of the public is not very well developed if at all. It is a shame for the governments at all levels in these jurisdictions because public participation can bring a great deal in terms of innovation and the identification and realization of different types of projects, including in DRR. The long-term answer in such jurisdictions is to work with citizens towards involving them in small groups to discuss certain issues, and then to move further forwards. This is important because we cannot rely just on elected officials and professionals (e.g. in the planning domain). Elected officials do not necessarily represent all the legitimate segments of interest in the community and there have been many examples of where elected officials and planning officials seem to think they know everything, and when they recognize that they don’t, their answer is often to hire an external consultant.
Furthermore, the challenge is not just one of recognizing the real issues but also one of ensuring that whatever decisions are taken (and do not forget there are any initiatives that have been taken for instance to build resilience and community solidarity where the initiatives are taken without much if any involvement of the local, regional, provincial or central state government involvement!) are reasonable and can contribute to the community (city, town or territory) achieving the broad objectives that its citizens appreciate and approve of.
In order to pursue this, we also need to recognize that the different actors in the different levels of government are people like the rest of the citizens. If we look at the research domain of the dynamics of actors in planning and managing development, we note that: 1) actors (mayors, other elected officials, deputies elected to parliaments and every other actor) have been seen to have multiple interests, and not only those associated with the territory, city or town they are directly affiliated with. This was part of one of the first conceptual frameworks that I constructed in the early 1990s based already on over 25 years of research into the dynamics of territorial development – a framework that has been used in many different cultures by other researchers with an interest in the dynamics of change. These multiple interests include following through with implementing the objectives of the community (assuming that the community has developed some long-term objectives, but also personal interests – income generation for the actor as well as his or her family, personal development, helping friends achieve their own objectives through initiatives taken by the territory and community, and even developing actions that can thwart the plans of other actors! And in relation to these multiple interests, the analyses of the dynamics of change in territories, cities and towns also need to take into account the informal networks in which the actors such as mayors, elected officials, planning professionals and other professionals function! For instance, a long time ago, I was invited to attend a meeting of a Table de Concertation in which there were about 20 organizations from the county involved. One of the members of this committee picked me up to take me to the meeting. During the journey, the colleague received a phone call from one of his contacts … the objective of the call was to ask the colleague taking me to the meeting to make sure that certain interests and options were discussed and presented in a way that there was agreement about how they should be tackled! Nothing too dramatic! However, it is not uncommon for elected officials such as mayors to have been prosecuted for pursuing their own personal interests, and in some cases, sentences of prison terms have been determined.
What I suggest is that, while hopefully most elected officials and planning professionals are able to put aside their own personal interests, one of the ways of avoiding such awful situations is to engage the public in a major way and for the long term in participating in discussions and in taking decisions about the future, including initiatives and plans to deal with DRR.
The opposition’s closing remarks
I had focused in the previous two entries on the participation side of the question hoping not to suggests that participation is unnecessary, rather to instill, as several comments reiterate, the need to take it seriously and to link it with emancipation, resistance and recognition. Participation is power and cities are made of the complex intersections between space, power and knowledge as generative matrix. For me any actions that attempt to shape the city and so in this specific dialogue, shape it with a DRR emphasis, is a matter of navigating the entanglements between spaces (material and otherwise), knowledge (experts and everyday or to use again Till’s ‘citizen experts’) and powers. Any actions made by planners, architects or city maker are always processes that involve power and there is always some sort of complicity. Even if you go with the best intentions, there are always certain issues that occur during participative processes making participatory processes ‘always imperfect’. But when you acknowledge the existence of such power structures and deal with them responsibly, humbly and with a sense of ‘resistance’ at least such processes can be more honest, acceptable and potentially emancipatory. However, let me close with a point on the urban side of the question of the debate. I’m sure we all agree that the urban we are thinking and practicing is a social thing is as social product and political assemblages in which a multiplicity of institutions (formal/informal, expert/new comers, powerful/less equipped) are forged and continue to shape and being shaped as politics over time. Cities are socially constructed environment in which humans transform and control, nature, capitals and knowledge to produce urban forms of habitation. Cities emerge from the interactions of different ranges of practices whose complexity is influenced by regimes of powers and interface with the complex highly dynamic, improvising and generative actions of urban poor and marginalized communities in shaping everyday urbanism. Any urban project and urban condition has come to term with the dimension of complexity and how this is constructed, produced and imagined by various dynamics of power. This is what Edgar Pieterse call “constitutive complexity” that need to be mapped out not simply listing the different powers at play in an urban context but rather highlighting “the practices through which power operates, the symbolic and the material effects power produces and its performance”. An approach that force us to think broadly about the forms and agency entailed in city making, the range of actors involved ‘creatively, logistically and politically’ in the planning, development and construction of cities goes well beyond the expert and the plan. Edgar Morin once postulated that embracing a complex thinking is then to abandon the cause-effect logic (more participation, better effect/impact) and adopting a complementarity and agonistic dialectis (eg: formal/informal; order/disorde; visible/invisible; legal/illegal, planned/unplanned, etc). As well as is to embrace that products and effects (urban form, density, people’s movement, rent increase, risks, vulnerabilities etc) are at the same time producing and produced (intended and not intendeed, desinged or not-desinged, inherited and new). But also when knowledge about a societally relevant problem is uncertain, when the concrete nature of problems is disputed, and when there is a great deal at stake for those concerned by problems, dealing complex thinking have to effectively operate transdisciplinarity renouncing to the supremacy of one discipline/approach to the other. At the end, the responsibility of any participation process is to suggest don’t get people together in a classic participative manner, but creatively and incessantly engage in new forms of spatial production involving collaborative techniques. To paraphrase Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosopher when he speaks of philosophy as transdisciplinary intensity we can say the same for participation not as a discipline with a fixed essence, but rather “an intensity that can suddenly give life to any field: art, religion, economics, poetry, passion, love, even boredom”.
The moderator’s closing remarks: Public participation strongly linked to success in disaster risk reduction, despite doubts about its implementation
Our latest i-Rec-Oeuvre durable online debate addressed the role of public participation (PP) in the success of urban projects and initiatives aimed at disaster risk reduction (DRR). Given the widespread acceptance of the PP paradigm, it is not surprising that most participants exposed the positive outcomes of participation and the value of participating. About 70% of votes defended consistently this position during the 20 days of the debate.  Yet it is more surprising that, even though some participants identified the common drawbacks, limits and secondary effects of PP, the impact on the general perception regarding its effectiveness and value was negligible. Moreover, most participants seem to find in PP an intrinsic value that is not necessarily dependent on contextual conditions or specific characteristics.
Obviously, participants consider PP as an opportunity for citizen involvement in decision-making processes, creating a balance in power relations between them and authorities and experts. Less than 30% of participants raised doubts about the intrinsic benefits of PP. For this minority, the benefits of PP depend on significant variables, notably the form of power – preferring “claimed and demonstrated” participation over the “given” sort. This exchange raised an important question: Are the problems of PP accidents in implementation (thus, mistakes that need to be corrected and can be avoided) or are they the consequence of the very concept of “making/letting people participate”?
From the proposers’ point of view, the lack of “mobilization and communication with the different segments of legitimate interests in the community or territory” threatens the participatory decision-making process. Dr. Bryant points to authorities’ tendency to make decisions based on their own personal interests, neglecting the view of all legitimate stakeholders (he fails to clarify, however, how this legitimacy is obtained). He contends that sharing “the planning process with citizens” and involving citizens’ capacities for constructing and managing local initiatives are common challenges for leaders (e.g. mayors and their supporting professionals). But they largely determine the initiative’s outcomes.
From the opposition point of view, Dr. Boano points to the literature to distinguish between invented and invited spaces of participation. He recognizes that invited forms of participation, established and managed by (often external) experts, typically “cement elites’ position, prevent resident ownership of processes, and undermine voices of marginal or vulnerable groups.” He sees increased value in “grassroots-led forms of collective political mobilization,” which he sees as the real transformative spaces where participants exercise their citizenship to challenge structural contexts. Finally, he recognizes the existence of sophisticated power structures that complexity and make participatory decision-making processes “always imperfect”.
Bloggers and participants such as Amal Mohammed, Kristen, Lee, Nhmd Noman, and Reinaldo, developed nuanced, sophisticated and elaborated arguments about public participation. They raised interesting points about: (a) the intrinsic and extrinsic value of PP, (b) links between PP and the political nature of urban planning, (c) the relationship between PP and freedom to change, (d) the ethical parameters of PP, (e) the reasons for failure in PP and the responsibilities to fix it, and (f) planning and participation fatigue.
These results confirm that PP is an unavoidable aspect of DRR and urban interventions, but they also invite us to keep questioning its ethical (intrinsic or extrinsic) value and role in the exercise of power between authorities, experts and lay citizens.
I want to thank Dr. Christopher Bryant and Dr. Camilo Boano, as well as all the contributors for their compelling arguments. We will announce the winners of “the best contribution” awards in the next few days.
Our i-Rec-Oeuvre durable online debates will now move to another issue of great importance: refugee’s settlements in host countries. Information about this debate will be posted online in the next few months. I invite you all to participate on it!
Thank you,
Gonzalo Lizarralde

About 40 comments were submitted by participants during the 4th debate

Online debate
Comment posted by Sarah-Alice Miles and is copied from LinkedIn “I think absolutely yes! To maximize our citizenship is to be a fully participating member of society. This entails challenging and engaging with the main pillars of our democracy: i.e. politics, the economy, the law and disaster management. Our Society belongs to all of us and it is what we make of it, it reflects who we are as a nation. What we put into it creates what we get out of it”.
Reinaldo Martínez
Participation in the past did not have the power to affect much of the development of cities. But today it has a decisive influence in the outcome of every urban project.
30 years ago you had to sit in a libray and devour a dozen books to get a short glimpse on any subject. People nowadays has access to a larger and freer reservoir of knowledge just a few clicks away. Public is better better informed today than before. And social development has managed to induce a greater collaborative and participatory attitude in most people, specially city dwellers.
But participatory projects is not only about the more or less quality of the outcome; it has a lot more to do with allowing people to soak in the decission making process, This alone will predispose people in a far more positive way than having the greatest urban planner do the job. The reason is simple: participattion gives people a chance to express themselves and even if they say no, they will appreciate that somebody gave them the chance to be there. A job done by experts allow expeets only to make decissions.
Is a “YES” for me.
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal
I voted yes because I agree that public participation and community engagement is very important for any sustainable change. There is several examples in the ancient past that show that the concept of public participation is rooted and applied in the old times and proved to have the power to affect any new development or influence the outcome of any project as well as be successful without giving this democratic process a specific name like we do in now days.
Based on my field study and documented research of the built heritage of the Old Town of Ghat in Libya, the historical capital of the Kel Azjer Tuareg former Sultanate, it is the community collective efforts and direct involvement in the decision making that helped rebuilding and restoring this old mud town after it was hit twice with natural disasters. The first destruction resulted from the collapse of Cocaman Mountain rocks on the summit of the lower hill, which brought the houses built on it down with them and killed a large number of people and the second destruction caused by rare heavy Sahara rain. Despite the fact that this oasis town was during that old times under the firm control of the Tuareg leaders, the different ethnic groups (blend of Arabs, Africans, and a Tuareg majority) that inhabited this built landscape had their say of how to rebuilt their town and where. This ancient town structure was able to survive until now because of the people direct and collective involvement in the decision making which created a homogenous social and built structure. No matter how long it takes to finish this process, still public participation is the best way to produce sustainable re-construction or urban change that represent and satisfies the interests and expectations of a great segment of the society.
Online Debates
In reply to Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal.
Very interesting! Thank you for the comment.
Lee Bosher (Loughborough University, England)
Thanks for generating this important discussion. I am sure many readers will initially agree that public participation should (of course) be central to the success for urban projects and initiatives aimed at disaster risk reduction. However, to move from the ‘it is good in theory’ to an ‘it is good in practice’ situation, there are important caveats that need to be considered before ‘participation’ is viewed as some sort of panacea, including:
a) What types of participatory methods are actually going to be used? For instance (when drawing from Arnstein’s well known ‘Ladder of participation’) are we merely manipulating the local citizens/stakeholders or is the plan to actually empower them by giving them control? Or is the reality somewhere rather vague in-between these two extremes of ‘participation’? Basically, how much control are the so called experts (or people in power) willing to devolve to the local people?
b) What is the scale and complexity of the problem being addressed? Is there a case that sometimes top down decisions that align with an overarching (re)development strategy (if such a thing exists) are required or is it the case that the apparent complexity can more effectively be addressed by looking at the problem in a different/localised way (i.e. rather than being viewed as one intimidating system the complexity is seen as an interconnected system of smaller more manageable systems)?
c) What are the timescales involved? It is acknowledged that post-disaster contexts are often used as a (typically politically motivated) excuse to rebuild things quickly to get ‘life back to normal’ but when this occurs many mistakes of the past can be repeated leading towards further disaster risk creation. This apparent need to get the job done quick can lead to ‘participation’ being viewed as a long drawn-out obstacle or a chore than needs to be undertaken quickly (and thus not very thoroughly). Therefore a more nuanced vision of what needs to be done immediately/quickly and what can be done incrementally/slowly over time (with scope for proper participation) is required.
d) The underlying socio-politics of the affected area/country will have a bearing on whether public participation is feasible or indeed desirable and what type of participation (as mentioned in point ‘a’ above) is going to be most effective in delivering the right results for the local people. I am sure there are many of you that can provide further insights into this point alone!
So in short, I am a ‘yes’ but I thought it would be useful to highlight just a few important considerations (off the top of my head) to help get the ball rolling. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.
Online Debates
In reply to Lee Bosher (Loughborough University, England).
Thank you so much for your comment. In the following days, this and the opposition’s remarks will raise more doubt about “participation.”
Moderator (Gonzalo Lizarralde)
Thank you to Sarah-Alice, Reinaldo, Amal and Lee for your comments. Sarah-Alice, Reinaldo and Amal seem to focus on the benefits of PP. Lee, on the other hand, seems to focus on the main challenges that a good principle may face in real life implementation. These two different perspectives become a great way of starting our online debate.
Are the benefits of PP intrinsic? That is: Do they emerge just because the principle is adopted? Or else, are these benefits extrinsic and only emerge under certain conditions and in certain contexts/moments? If the latter is true, then PP is probably not really the key of success of projects and initiatives aimed at DRR.
However, voters seem to be convinced that the merits of PP are rather permanent regardless of context and conditions. Why is that?
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal
In reply to Moderator (Gonzalo Lizarralde).
Public participation should not be considered as needed only in a time when a difficult or important decision must be made or to reach reconciliation in case of a dilemma or controversial issue. I believe that the benefits of the public participation are applicable to all circumstances and works in peaceful times before any crisis strike and during and after disasters times. Also, as we know, it is a process not a single event that should engage the public in decision-making and gives full consideration to their input in making that decision.
Consequently, public participation is ineffective or useless if it is just to give comments or suggestions that can be considered or discarded. Unless the public participation is empowered to take decisions and follow up the implementation process, it is effect is minimal and nominal simply because the outcome of any participation meetings is not binding. Also, the public participation should not, in my opinion, be only a small gathering of a small number of stakeholders. The meaningful input should come from a wide spectrum of people’s views and concerns to create a potential for public influence on any decision to be made. For any public participation to be successful, it should give the people the power to develop decision criteria and alternatives and identify the preferred solution. The way I see it most of the time in public consultations is that it is a session to convince people of what has already been decided upon. The changes to be made for any project or for how to deal with a particular issue, if any, are minimal and meaningless.
With regard to the challenges that the public participation principle may face in real life implementation including ” being viewed as a long drawn-out obstacle or a chore” as pointed by Dr. Lee Bosher, who by the way made very good points, it is better, if there is no other choice, to be safe than sorry. When crisis strikes, we should not make it worse with hasty or quick ill-thought decisions. Such imposed from the top actions and decisions to swiftly mitigate the problem could end up in a difficult to mitigate and costly situation both socially and economically compared to a bottom-up approach, where the people have the upper hand in any decision taken.
With regard to the mechanism of how to run those public consultation meetings to guarantee that all the voices are heard and their opinions are respected and considered in the final decision and with regard to the follow-up to the implementations of such decisions, there is some successful examples around the world where such transparent mechanism is used not only to discuss some topics from time to time, but discussing every single matter of their life and how to run their country. Therefore, it is not difficult or impossible. In the cases that I am familiar with, broadcasting of these public meetings made it easy for people to reach to a united decision that represent and reflect the opinion of a great variety of the participants. The positive thing about this system (Public Congresses) is that no one will blame a person or agency or institution or the government for the final outcome because everyone was able to discuss and had the full chance to present his/her opinion from the start and convince the others. It is difficult to describe this system in few words, but I am saying is not impossible and still more effective than the process where decisions are imposed from the top. Sometimes even if such decisions were maybe better, but if the public and those most affected by such decisions are not satisfied and have a different opinions, the failure or resistance will follow every or any action.
Around 1958, the King of Libya at that time ordered to build a new town for the people of Ghat instead of their mud fragile old town. The surprise was that the people refused to move to these well built houses. For several years resisted moving. This reaction could have been avoided, if people were consulted first to know what they really need to be considered in their new houses or new town.
In recent case, the very few participants in the public consultation, held in Ottawa for The Fairmont Château Laurier were not given the proper chance to state their opinions, give their comments or give their full suggestions in order to be used to make any intrinsic changes to the proposed design of the new addition to this landmark hotel. It was like informing session with no real opportunity or potentials for actual public influence on the decision. The public participation was very limited and does not even represent a tiny portion of the capital city wide spectrum of the population. Such public meetings that discusses and involves a dramatic change for an iconic heritage building and its surroundings, such as the Château Laurier, should have been arranged to allow all Canadians to have their say on it. After all, it is a Canadian Heritage building and the way I see it is a man-made disaster that needs a bottom-up approach to straighten up, as a start, the heritage laws that are vague, incomplete, and includes a lot of loop holes and passed in the absence of potential and actual well informed public participants.
That is why I am convinced that the merits of PP are rather permanent regardless of context and conditions.
Online Debates
Comment posted by Barry Hokanson and is copied from LinkedIn “No choice needed. Have your cake and eat it, too. The best example is on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktRJx_1UK6o&feature=youtu.be and one of the resulting projects is on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/123959079
Listen carefully to what Christine Butterfield says about preparing for citizen engagement after a big disaster, not one easy step but lots and lots of coordinated, sophisticated steps.”
Online Debates
Comment posted by Nenad Tonic and is copied from LinkedIn “I agree Anne. It can be a “key” if used as a both-ways informative tool before the disaster and after-disaster revision mechanism for future plans. This front-end approach can be the best way to involve public for this matter.”
Online Debates
Comment posted by Anne Johncox and is copied from LinkedIn “Citizens know their communities best, Planners should engage citizens to develop disaster management plans, as ideas and information may come to the surface that Planners may not consider. This is especially true after disasters during recovery to better understand what worked and what did not, so future planning can be improved. Don’t just put a plan on a shelf to take down when the worst happens. Planners should be involved in Disaster Management and Planning not just Emergency Services, but this is not always the case.”
Moderator (Gonzalo Lizarralde)
In the opening remarks, Christopher Bryant points to the benefits of PP, suggesting that these benefits become the key of success of initiatives and projects aimed at DRR. A similar argument is also adopted by Reinaldo, Amal Mohammed and other comments posted on the linkedIn sites. In this approach the benefits of PP are taken as an intrinsic value that is not dependant on contextual conditions or specific characteristics. Amal specifies “I believe that the benefits of the public participation are applicable to all circumstances”.
Camillo Boano, on the other hand, invites us to consider two types of spaces of participation: those “invented” and those “invited”. In his view, the benefits of PP (if any) are rather extrinsic and he encourages us to recognize a significant distinction between forms of control imposed by elites (Lee reminded us that Arnstein refers to them as “manipulative participation” or “tokenism”), and genuine legitimate forms of insurgency, in which participation is not “given” but “claimed and demonstrated”.
Are the problems of PP accidents in implementation (thus, anecdotic mistakes that need to be corrected and can be avoided) or else, are they the consequence of the very concept of “making/letting people participate”?
Online Debates
Comment posted by Steve Chalo and is copied from LinkedIn “yes it is, more so it dictates the community project ownership, which is key to the sustainability and the success of the project.”
Online Debates
Comment posted by Rajdeep Bansod and is copied from LinkdIn “yes, without public participation DRR can’t work in Urban setup.”
Online Debates
Comment posted by Md. Abdul Hoque and is copied from LinkedIn “Yes! Public participation and experiences sharing is obvious for DRR…”
Amal Mohammed: any new perspectives on the rebuttal remarks?
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal miraanas2003@yahoo.com
In reply to moderator.
Are the problems of PP accidents in implementation (thus, anecdotic mistakes that need to be corrected and can be avoided) or else, are they the consequence of the very concept of “making/letting people participate”?
I believe that the issue is political in nature and the problems lay in the consequences of the very concept of letting the people participate. Planners are trained to work with the public, and encourage them to willingly participate. They are equipped with conflict management skills. As a planner, I learned to plan with the people and for the people. However, in real life, and mostly based on the political system of the country, planners can either be leaders or followers in their field. They either have the freedom and chance to play their effective role or become like chess pieces trying to find applicable ways to implement the orders or vision and proposals of the people in power that serve their agenda and/or ideology. It is an ethical dilemma too facing the planners.
Public participation can be a real threat and a nightmare for some governments because it could turn into something else and encourage the masses against their leaders; especially during disasters or crisis. Consequently, public participation could exist, but nominal or within certain parameters imposed from the people in authority. As a result, it is useless participation.
Planners with their educational background, training, and expertise can work with both the public and the governments to overcome any obstacles that hinder or delay the success of the public participation at all circumstances, guarantee the success of any proposed project or development and provide variety of proposals to overcome any issue in their area of expertise, as well as, work with other expertise to reach to an agreeable outcome for all. However, this is not always the case even in the most democratic countries. I feel like I am walking on mine-field discussing the relation of the political system and the politicians’ agenda to the public participation and the roles of the planners in the whole process. May be I should stop by stating that, the planners are under continuous pressure to implement the vision of the elites and take the blame for their mistakes in front of the public.
Thank you Amal Mohammed for this interesting comment. You are probably walking on a mine-field but revealing the links between PP and the political nature of urban planning/design is certainly a necessary step to clarify the scope and virtues of PP. I am glad that you are adressing these links, much in the way Camillo has also done it. Now, you also raise a pertinent argument here: PP is also the results of skills and capacities that are developed in built enviornment disciplines (urban planning, for instance). However, this does not clarify the value of PP but rather part of its origin. Doesn’t it?
Christopher Bryant
In reply to moderator.
Hello, I believe profoundly that the public needs to be involved much more directly in planning processes. It has become increasingly clear in the last 20-30 years that the simple forms of planning such as Land Use Planning can frequently not provide the benefits that the public is told will occur. While not in the urban planning context (in the built-up environment), when we look at agricultural land use planning since the 1970s (and way before) it is clear that putting agricultural land into agricultural zones (or even reserves where there is legislation to protect agricultural land (and sometime agricultural activities such as in Québec) is no guarantee of preserving the land for agriculture. I have had many personal experiences of this where the land in an agricultural zone has been bought up by developers who have waited 10 or more years before finding a way to persuade the municipality (elected officials and planners) that the best use of this land is to build residential development (it also brings in the most revenue to the developer and the municipality!). I have been undertaking research in this domain for just over 50 years now, in Canada, France and several other countries …. and although very different, it has become evident that effective public participation can make a difference. Real public participation needs to be properly planned and carried out. Not all cultures are the same and it is very unlikely that parachuting ways of mobilizing and communicating with people can be the same everywhere. Citizens need to have opportunities to be constructively critical as well as being involved directly in planning processes, and even to the point of being able to propose and manage initiatives. Christopher Bryant
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal
Elaborating on comments I and other contributors in this debate shared, I will state that the value of well established public participation lay, among other things, in its ability to freely criticize without fearing the consequences and in its capability to point to issues that went unnoticed by those in charge such as planners or governments. However, public participation should not work just like the thermometer that tells us when something goes wrong or right and should not only be a podium to comment on the end product and request changes, if still feasible. The significance of public participation is in the effective contribution every step of the way. It should not only be a stage to influence but an arena, if it has to be, to force the decision makers to take the participants’ input seriously in policy and decision making. This is again taking us to the different political systems which can see public participation as a right, privilege, accessory, or a threat and these categories affect the value and effectiveness of public participations.
Public participation inflicts a great responsibility on citizens, but because it is a collective responsibility, those who feel incapable of handling it, find this burden manageable with the support of the group. I do not want to make false judgments, predictions or pretend to be an expert in sociology or psychology, but eventually, those who at first feel reluctant, passive, or unwilling to take their position in public participation will be encouraged to do so when they see the wonderful rewards of being essential part of the equation than being a bystander and merely an observer on the sidelines.
In some countries, public participation is the masses ideology, as the case in Libya for four decades and until five years ago. To briefly explain how the public participation in this country allowed actual involvement in the decision making, I have to describe the smallest unit of public control. I am not promoting here any ideology; I am just giving an example and describing a real experiment used to get the most out of public participation. The Basic People’s Congress was the smallest unit of the masses self -governing system in Libya. A group of Basic People’s Congresses usually governed the equivalent of a municipality. The congresses consisted of every man and woman who has reached the age of majority. It includes a diverse spectrum of people, no “marginal or vulnerable groups” left out of the equation. No undermining to any voice and each individual has equal power and rights, as well as, is a member of this decision-making body. Day-to-day management and follow-up was provided by the people’s committee appointed by each congress; however, the actual gathering of people in this congress occurs three times per year. In case of emergency or upon necessity the congresses can convene any time. There were buildings assigned and reserved to host permanently the Basic People’s Congresses across the municipality. These places were visited by people without prior appointment to meet with the appointed members of the people’s committee everyday of the week to address and resolve personal matters or for review, if necessary. This self-control system reduced the municipality (city hall and its personnel) role to be just executive and technical body that implements what has been decided upon by these public congresses. There were some mistakes in the process of applications and implementation, but the masses were learning from their mistakes.
World citizens, due to the negative residue of wars, colonization, poverty, illiteracy, imprisonments, imposed ideologies, or disappointments in all the available fake, manipulative, or ineffective public involvement, became submissive and lost their confidence in their abilities to participate, lead, influence, and control. I believe these can be considered some of the reasons for some individuals in choosing the other opposite party and going against the concept of public participation with all it is evident and rewarding benefits. I am not saying here that those who are against public participation are of these categories, but I am trying to think of the possible reasons for going blind against the advantages that could be earned from public participation.
Prof. Bryant highlighted a serious issue, which is the unlawful manipulative rezoning, encroachment, or infringement on agriculture land; including those considered part of the reserve and supposed to be protected by legislations. He exposed the manipulative approach of developers and how there is “no guarantee” or enough protection in the legislative system. This must stop, but how especially when even legislations seem not working effectively and have many loopholes. The only way is through public participation, being present, and fighting for your rights all the way.
Hiding behind the screens and using social media or other forms of public media, as well as street demonstrations reflect weakness and are ineffective sluggish ways to claim or defend ones rights and may not be successful all the time for all the people or in dealing with all the problems. Media and social media can draw the attention to some issues selectively, but not all and has it is negatives and shortcomings.
Public participation provides the best platform for the citizens to democratically and collectively voicing their views, ideas, suggestions, disagreement, and refusal, as well as, provides direct, uncensored, and unrestricted interaction. One voice is easy to suppress, and one mind is easy to manipulate, but not masses. Limited, censored, controlled, or no public participation is a form of dictatorship.
I would like to point out that public contribution should not be seen as interference in experts’ jobs. Patients do not interfere with doctors’ works when they ask for more detailed medical information, question treatment methods or decline it, if they wanted to. They have the last say with regard to their health and types of treatments to be received. What the doctor sees from his medical point of view may not be the best after all to the patient. In the field of urban planning, there are many examples around the world where people resisted relocating for long years and refused well designed projects and costly developments simply because this is not what they wanted and they have not been consulted before any action is taken. What happened in the past in 1945 in Al Gourna village in Egypt and before the 1969 revolution in the town of Ghat in Libya are living examples.
If well organized and established public participation existed (it is not impossible) the upper elites control would have diminished or completely disappeared in the decision making process of any development or redevelopment. The existence of this upper hand is suffocating public participation, suppressing the people involvement and reducing it to a legitimate method to decide on serious issues.
Unless the public is empowered and has the final say on any matter related to their life including but not limited to urban projects, sustainable developments, and rehabilitation of communities after disasters, or issues related to land use and by-laws, public participation will not be the key of any successful interaction or rewarding outcome. It will be just like a bridge to legitimize formerly made decisions or like a steam valve that allows the hot air passing through to avoid boiling or explosion. As stated by Arnstein “There is a critical difference between going through the empty ritual of participation and having the real power needed to affect the outcome of the process.”
Supporting public participation is often a key goal in democratic systems but what type of support and what type of public participation they are aiming at and what type of interaction they will allow and who is really the beneficiary by the end of the day, all the people or a small group.
Unfortunately, the significance and the endless merits of the public participation are affected by these matters that are related to what I mentioned above and in my previous comments. Public participation is a basic right that should be asserted, signified and activated. Public participation, supposedly, is a blessing not a curse. Despite the fact that the way it is now, in some places, is the latter. However, we should not give up on this concept at all costs.
Kristen MacAskill
I see a need to take the adversarial position as I think it is easier to be pro participation (several references have been made in this debate towards projects where community desires were ignored and projects were unsuccessful because they failed to recognise what the community really wanted).
I have voted no: Participation is not the key to success for initiatives aimed at disaster risk reduction, but that is not to say that I believe that participation should not happen or is disadvantageous (indeed, it is important that engineers and planners work with communities where appropriate). I like Dr Bosher’s ‘caveats’ of participation concerning the methods used, scale and complexity of the problem, timescales and underlying socio-politics. Despite his ‘pro’ position these caveats could be used to create cases for why participation may not lead to the best outcome for a community.
Planning and executing a project is full of complexity and challenges. There are various critical factors that determine a project’s success. Such factors include funding mechanisms, well-structured legislation, collaboration across organisations and the role of experienced practitioners to conceptualise, design and deliver the project. Additionally, trust has a role in determining a project’s success and participation is less critical if there is trust in the decision makers. Of course, this trust must also be deserved. One means of gaining that trust may be through participation, but there are others, such as having a proven history of performance, demonstrating consistency and competency (further attributes of a leader a discussed here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipforum/2012/10/24/you-cant-be-a-great-leader-without-trust-heres-how-you-build-it/#35ec3c5d7a48)
To suggest that public participation is not the key is not to give up on the concept at all costs. It is more about highlighting that it is just one part of a much broader, complex system in which disaster risk reduction projects are delivered.
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal
In reply to Kristen MacAskill.
In this very rewarding debate my choice to be proponent to public participation was a matter of principle that stemmed from my rooted belief in the merits of this concept and not because it is easier to debate it.
I agree that Dr. Bosher’s raised very important and critical issues that may negatively affect the outcome of public participation; however, we should not take it out of proportion. Recognizing and addressing these issues should facilitate dealing with them, especially if there is a genuine desire and sincere intention. After all, some recent cases proved that the outcome of any development without the public participation was neither encouraging nor satisfying for whom this development was intended. Some recent development and rehabilitation projects that aimed to improve certain situations ended up creating more issues. Old slum areas replaced with new modern types of slums, where the people, the users, of these new developments added modifications to satisfy their needs that created more problems. These solo decisions ended up in wasting valuable time, efforts and resources too and without satisfying the users. This could have been prevented by consulting with the intended users every step of the way. As I stated before, we do not solve a problem by creating another that might be difficult or costly to mitigate.
I agree that “Planning and executing a project is full of complexity and challenges” and I also agree that “There are various critical factors that determine a project’s success”, but these factors are the ABCs that determine the success of other unrelated to urban planning projects that we do in life. We cannot use the above mentioned as an excuse to omit public participation or reducing it is critical importance in the success of urban project and disaster risk reduction. Sharing in public participation sessions can be a positive approach. Many of the people who attend public participation meetings are highly knowledgeable individuals, regardless if they have a specific knowledge in planning or not. They provide inputs that could reduce cost, time, or effort. They are the taxpayers and they have the legitimate right to know how their money is going to be spent and where in any development project. Moreover, the planners should know that they have learned how to plan, manage projects and make urban designs to make the people happy and satisfied of their built environment and are not hired to impose their own vision on the people no matter what. Planner should not guess what the people might need in particular development or situation by alienating the public and expecting them to trust what they do. It is rooted in their profession and discipline to plan with the people and for the people. Direct interaction is more rewarding and accurate than relying only on ill-prepared questionnaires or other sources of information.
As for the trust it is supposed to be mutual. The planners and those in power should trust the public abilities in participating effectively and in making the right and the wise decisions about the matters that relate to them and affect their life. They should learn how to be flexible, respectful to the minds of the public and their inputs. The citizens cannot keep track of who is carrying out, executing, and following up the implemented development, especially if they are kept out of the equation and away from the whole process, in order to check if the decision makers are trustworthy or not. Moreover, people can change jobs, get fired, retired, or die, therefore, trusting them based on “a proven history of performance, demonstrating consistency and competency” is not practical or useful because it is not a permanent situation.
Kristen raises an interesting point: Saying that PP is NOT the key of success does not mean that PP is not crucial. this distinction seems important in this debate.
Amal Mohammed: you raise very interesting points about power and empowerment. But, is PP the best way to empower citizens? if PP is used for empowerment then is it an end in itself? If so PP is no longer a tool but an objective. Is that right?
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal
In reply to moderator.
I would like to say first that in my previous comments, I pointed not only to why empowering citizens is important, but also to other important related issues regarding domination of elites on decision making, political system and ideology role in empowering citizens, types of empowerments, loopholes in legislations, ethical issues, the relation between funding and taxpayers rights, decisions and projects timeline issues, alienating public, advantages of bottom-up approaches, and the misconception of intervention to interference in planners jobs, as well as trust issues.
With regard to the question: Is PP the best way to empower citizens? if PP is used for empowerment then is it an end in itself? If so PP is no longer a tool but an objective. Is that right? I would like to clarify that what I stated and meant in all my comments, that included the points I summarized above, is that empowering citizens makes public participation worthwhile and useful not the opposite. The public participants will be able, then, in these gatherings to be the decision makers than merely observers or followers. They will not only influence decisions, but make them and take the control of their built environment and life in general.
Also, I pointed out in my comments to the vital issues of alienating the public or giving them a false role in the process. Since the citizens form the large part of the equation and they are the affected party by the decisions made, the situation should be reversed regarding who should have the final say and the power in decisions making. The planners should be the technical tool to implement what the public wants. If there are issues to be dealt with and affect what the people want, planners should go back to the people and tell them this is difficult and impossible technically, financially, or legally and so on and give them the chance to debate and decide based on the facts or new development.
The empowerment of citizens is a goal because without it the people in any public participation will have no say or effective role in any decision making about any development or redevelopment. Their opinions will not be heard, considered and enforced. They will only be observers and marginalized.
Online Debates
Thank Amel, Kristen, and the rest of participants. You raised very interesting points, and as it was expected, you developed more nuanced, sophisticated and elaborated arguments regarding public participation. Interestingly, there is no doubt over the importance and potential usefulness of public participation in decision-making processes in different fields and contexts, including zoning, land issues, agriculture, governance, and post-disaster reconstruction. However, the debate (at least in the comment section) switched to the “key of success.” For Amel, PP is undoubtedly the “key” to success, and she believes that by empowering citizens in a very democratic environment, we can expect successful initiatives, whereby benefiting all the public, minimizing dissatisfactions. On the other hand, Kristen argues that projects are very complex and various critical factors are involved, which determine the level of success. Kristen points to some factors such as “funding mechanisms, well-structured legislation, collaboration across organizations and the role of experienced practitioners to conceptualise, design and deliver the project.”
But now, as our moderator said: “if PP is used for empowerment, then is it an end in itself?” Or in other words, if the PP is the key to success, and it plays the most important role in an urban project, then how PP can deal with mentioned factors, which may threaten the effectiveness of projects?
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal
In reply to Online Debates.
How PP can deal with mentioned factors, which may threaten the effectiveness of projects?
The dilemma is not in how, since I presented briefly in previous comments a solution I experienced it myself, applied and was successful to a great extent with some treatable negatives that were dealt with one by one as time passes.
The dilemma as I see it not in how but in the will to change and the freedom to change and to hold, accept and tolerate all the consequent responsibilities that come with this change. It is a huge commitment but not difficult or impossible.
Thank you Amal for pointing to “the will and freedom to change”. You bring us to the ethical parameters of PP and remind us that PP is dependent on its moral worth. Like many other principles (sustainability, resilience, innovation, etc.) PP can serve as a framework for moral action, but at the end it is the moral values that determine the success or failure of our actions.
Mhmd Noman Abed (@MhmdAbed)
Definitely yes, public participation is the key to success and the key to failure at the same time, so that in case of public investment properly, this leads to achieve success in an effective manner, while working individually poses a possibility to drain the depletion of resources and increase the burden of time and effort. Although this may not succeed!
Let me give you a model from where I live in Gaza Strip, there are major problems plaguing Gaza Strip in the water sector for years, most notably: water pollution and depletion of aquifers. To solve this crisis, the local educational institutions cooperated with the associations in Gaza Strip to conduct research and studies on the nature of the problem and put forward solutions required to save the status quo.
The solution required is to build seawater desalination and sewage treatment plants, which are supposed to be pre-existing, but the political circumstances have made this geographical area lacks the basic necessities of life.
This project was needed to very large financing, we have succeeded in getting it, but there is no single organization can implement the big project individually , so the project was divided into stages, some of these were simultaneously, and operating organizations in Gaza Strip obtained different responsibilities for the implementation phases of the project.
Before few days, UNICEF has been able to accomplish its phase, and now the Gaza Strip waiting for others to get rid of the water crisis forever.
I am confident that individual action in dealing with the crisis of water in Gaza Strip needs to a very long time to achieve the desired success, and perhaps increase the environmental and health disasters caused by pumping waste water to agricultural land and seawater, and this has already happened! We will not do anything without public participation.
Kristen MacAskill
This debate has increasingly moved away from the initial topic on the basis that all participants agree that participation is—or can be—a good thing, provided the right environment is created. Debating whether public participation is the key to success is clearly the wrong subject and the discussion is rather: given increased participation is a generally accepted ideal, why does it fail and whose responsibility is it to fix it? Reflecting on Amal
Mohammed’s comment earlier that trust must be mutual, this responsibility must also be mutual. Decision makers need to show more flexibility, but those in the community also need to actively and continuously engage. I do not believe anyone has raised participation fatigue – a possible constraint on the ideals presented in the discussion?
Online Debates
n reply to Mhmd Noman Abed (@MhmdAbed).
Dear Ahmd Noman, you explained a very interesting experience. Would you please explain more how the public was involved (and will potentially be involved) in decision-making and implementation phases in Gaza Strip?!
Kristen: It is a good idea to explore “why PP fails and whose responsibility is it to fix it”. This can help us in the exploration of its role in project success. It is also pertinent to explore planning or participation fatigue (a problem that increasingly hampers initiatives in Haiti and other places that have been in the spotlight recently). Can you please expand on your argument about these forms of fatigue?
Dr. Amal Mohammed Hassan Jamal
Closing Remarks
In reference to the title and subject of our debate, I affirm that public participation is the effective approach to deal with all the concerns and topics. We cannot restrict the use of the concept of public participation to specific subjects or matters addressed in public gatherings. We cannot say that this concept is valid only if it is used to undertake planning issues or it is more suitable to determine and guarantee the success of certain solution in a particular sector. That is why in my debate I tried to focus on the broader and comprehensive use and significance of the concept and highlighting its inherited and rooted merits. I tried to encourage working on the obstacles rather than giving up on this valuable and effective approach.
Public participation must be an essential part of the equation in any development and not out of it. The equation if it misses such vital and fundamental factor will lead to projects failure. So, it is a major key for success. However, from my professional experience as a planner, I can affirm that in many cases it is the major or the only key for success. If citizens’ points of view, and what they need or want was not well and carefully considered in the equation then the proposed project will definitely fail in the short or long run. The public are the users and they are the affected by the development. Therefore, they should not only be consulted, but must have the last say on what they want and on the final outcome.
Public participation is a right that should be seized not given like a charity and bulldozed when the elites say so. Public consultations, for example, should not be under the mercy of the authorities to allow it, deny it or completely take it away whenever they feel like it.
The list of advantages of public participation can go on and on and other participants in this interesting debate did a great job of highlighting them. The negatives of public participation pointed in the opposite argument is the result of several factors including poor implementation of the concept, lack of transparency with regard to information and intentions, powerless thus unmotivated participants, misconception of public intervention to interference, the desire to control the outcome by those in charge of organizing these public meetings.
Hence, I stand by my statement that the public must be empowered to be the decision makers.
This will make their participation sound and effective. They should have the upper hand and the final say on any matter related to their life including but not limited to their built environment. Without empowering the public to be decision makers not observers, public participation will not be as rewarding. I strongly believe that muting or omitting public participation is the key to failure for urban projects and initiatives at disaster risk reduction.
Two years ago I completely believed that public participation can have a positive impact on how our cities functions.But I also do agree with the opposition’s remark, it is indeed very hard to make it work. During my work for the Master’s dissertation, where I worked with OSGeo and local authorities to apply the concept of VGI (Volunteered Geographical Information) for my home town, I faced numerous issues such as political and economic capacity, public interest and the main issue was with managing the entire work force.
Now I think, public participation should be properly governed and monitored by educational institutes, where “x” institute becomes the prime office which will provide guidance to the general public at a specified geographical zone or locality. This could be one of the ways by which academician’s involvement in public participation could be utilized to it’s full potential
Reinaldo Martínez
In reply to mapdhritiraj.
All the cases of failed participation only prove that it has been improperly approached. We have probably the less disciplined, most informal and the most apathic audience in the world, yet we made participatory sessions work, by simply applying the proper method, the tested systems and the proven approach. Tap Sherry Arnstein “The Staircase of Citizen Participation”, http://partnerships.org.uk/part/arn.htm and also The Community Toolbox http://ctb.ku.edu/en.
Dear Mapdhritiraj and Amal Mohammed: Thank you for your latest remarks. You raise different points of view that remind us that the analysis of PP advantages and limitations must continue….
Olusanya Tope Graham
Public Participation is the key to success for urban projects and initiatives aimed at Disaster Risk Reduction.
For effective risk reduction and implementation of appropriate solutions to Community problems/problems of public interest, decision-makers must involve the community members. This is because, although decision-makers due to their expertise and experience are in the position to proffer solutions to problems of public interest, community members from all works of life know their environment better and Public participation should be seen as fact finding or research. When these contributions from the Community members are put together by the decision-makers using their expertise and experience, the outcome will be a more lasting, all encompassing, effective and sustainable solution to the identified problems.
In other words, Community/ Public Participation provides a concrete base for finding effective and sustainable solutions to community problems by the decision-maker. This in turn gives the Community members a sense of belonging and brings about their effective participation in the implementation of these solutions and sustenance.
Community Participation i believe is the Key to finding solution to Community Problems and its effective implementation.
Christopher Bryant
Hello, you are completely correct! And as some else put it recently, when public participation is a failure it is because it has not been properly organized, which includes properly communicating with different segments of the population (e.g. teenagers generally require a different approach compared to seniors!). which is necessary to mobilize them effectively. Christopher Bryant
This debate about public participation attracted an interesting and international audience: 127 direct votes, 1086 visits from 424 people from more than 60 countries, about 38 comments on the blog, and nearly 17,000 followers in social media (LinkedIn and paid adds in Facebook). Thank you all for your contribution!