By Abhijeet Chavan
47th Annual Conference of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA)
Cities, non-profits, and communities are using Web 2.0 and free software to engage citizens in the urban planning & design process. Powered by free software and Web 2.0 techniques, public agencies can now inform and engage constituents, citizens can organize and collaborate, and non-profits can attract volunteers and donations by creating dynamic, interactive websites.
To facilitate public participation using web technologies:
Identify stakeholders and make sure they can find your website. Collect ideas, feedback, and relevant material, and compile resources.
Make relevant data easily available in a timely fashion and presented so that it can be understood by laypersons. If possible make it available in formats that make it easy for the data to be reused, analyzed, and aggregated.
Enable stakeholders to engage in discussions with decision-makers and experts.
Early websites presented static information and interactions were limited to web forms and simple polls. Later we saw the rise of blog, wikis, and features such as interactive mapping, photo galleries, podcasts, and stream video. Today's websites need to connect with social networks and be available on the mobile devices. In the near future we may see the growth of Semantic Web and more sophisticated use of web data such as visualizations, aggregation and processing of structured web data. Here are some examples of Web 2.0 tools used to facilitate public participation:
Incorporating multimedia content into a website has never been easier. Services such as Flickr 5 and Picasa 6 are popular for managing and image collections. YouTube 7 and other services do the same for videos.
Twitter 8 and Identi.ca 9 provide an instant micro-blogging platform. Social networking sites such as Facebook 10 can be used to reach out to established and active online communities or create new ones using services such as Ning 11
All of the above need to be brought together with a website that is capable of growing with these evolving technologies. A content management system (CMS) is a necessity for running such a website. One of the major benefits of a CMS is that a website can be managed using a web browser; programming expertise not required.
Open source software is developed in a transparent fashion by a community of users and developers 14. It offers the following benefits:
Selecting a suitable open source CMS for the several hundred available alternatives can be a formidable task. Here are seven criteria for making the right choice 15:
Drupal is the CMS used for running Recovery.gov a website with the objective of disseminating information and engaging citizens. We have used Drupal to build several growth visioning, comprehensive planning, design & planning charrettes, and city planning websites.
Some examples are the Planitulsa 18 website for the City of Tulsa, OK growth visioning initiative and the Compass Blueprint 19 website for the Southern California Council of Governments (SCAG). Another example that incorporates interactive mapping is Navigate Hollywood 20 21.
Powerful open source web content management systems such as Drupal along with a variety of easily available Web 2.0 tools can be used to foster public participation in the urban planning process.
Copyright © 2009 Abhijeet Chavan
Facilitating Public Participation with Web 2.0 and Free Tools by Abhijeet Chavan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
1 Google Maps maps.google.com
2 Mid City West Community Council www.midcitywest.org
3 Many Eyes manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com
4 Dipity www.dipity.com
5 Flickr www.flickr.com
6 Google Picasa picasa.google.com
7 YouTube www.youtube.com
8 Twitter www.twitter.com
9 Identi.ca www.identi.ca
10 Facebook www.facebook.com
11 Ning www.ning.com
12 Chavan, A. 2009. Infographics For The Rest Of Us. Planetizen. www.planetizen.com/node/34623
13 Steins, C. 2009. Top 10 Free Web Applications for Planning. Planetizen www.planetizen.com/node/38952
14 Chavan, A. 2004. Developing an Open Source Content Management Strategy for E-government. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, Reno, NV, November 7-10. pp. 98-107. www.urbaninsight.com/~chavan/2004/urisa-cms
15 Chavan, A. 2005. Seven Criteria for Evaluating Open Source Content Management Systems, Linux Journal, May 11, 2005. www.linuxjournal.com/article/8301
16 Drupal www.drupal.org
17 Chavan, A. & Jelks, M. 2006. Migrating to Drupal. Linux Journal. www.linuxjournal.com/article/8710
18 Planitulsa www.planitulsa.org
19 Compass Blueprint www.compassblueprint.org
20 Navigate Hollywood www.navigatehollywood.com
21 Berg, N. 2009. A Case Study of the NavigateHollywood.com Website. Urban Insight. www.urbaninsight.com/articles/hpoa0609.html