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Building Social Capital in the Digital Age of Civic Engagement

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The use of digital technologies to enhance traditional public participation processes and to build a new form of a social capital— digital social capital—is being embraced in a range of planning practices. This article presents a discussion of how the digital age is influencing public participation and its implications for building social capital. The article highlights critical concerns to consider when embracing Internet tools for civic engagement and when evaluating such practices. The authors conclude with a call for scholarly research to assess the constraints and opportunities presented by this emergent trend and comparative studies to traditional modes of public participation.
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Journal of Planning Literature
http://jpl.sagepub.com/content/25/2/123
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0885412210394102
2010 25: 123Journal of Planning Literature
Lynn Mandarano, Mahbubur Meenar and Christopher Steins
Building Social Capital in the Digital Age of Civic Engagement
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Building Social Capital in the Digital
Age of Civic Engagement
Lynn Mandarano
1
, Mahbubur Meenar
2
, and Christopher Steins
3
Abstract
The use of digital technologies to enhance traditional public participation processes and to build a new form of a social capital—
digital social capital—is being embraced in a range of planning practices. This article presents a discussion of how the digital age is
influencing public participation and its implications for building social capital. The article highlights critical concerns to consider
when embracing Internet tools for civic engagement and when evaluating such practices. The authors conclude with a call for
scholarly research to assess the constraints and opportunities presented by this emergent trend and comparative studies to
traditional modes of public participation.
Keywords
public participation, social capital, civic engagement, social media, digital media, social network site, Internet
Introduction
We are living in the digital age, a period in which digital
technologies serve as the infrastructure of our communications.
The influence of information and communication technologies
is perceptible in all spheres of life including governance, edu-
cation, economy, and private lifestyles. As the availability of
mobile computing devices such as PDAs, iPhones, and
location-aware GPS-based systems has become increasingly
useful over the several years, and the usage of wireless access
to the Internet has dramatically increased throughout the
United States, so has the ordinary citizen’s expectation for
quick and easy access to information. In short, we are becom-
ing digital citizens; we are profoundly changing the way we
live and interact with others.
In response to the increase in access to and widespread
usage of digital technologies and Internet resources, govern-
ments are embracing the use of these tools to communicate
with their constituents. The four forms of e-government include
e-management, e-services, e-economy, and e-democracy
(Goodspeed 2008). While all forms of e-government are
relatively new and worthy of exploration, this article focus
on e-democracy, the use of Internet tools to enhance traditional
public participation processes and to build a new form of a
social capital—digital social capital.
This article focuses on the concept of digital social capital,
the process of building digital communities through planning
practice, specifically public participation processes that
embrace Internet tools. The article includes four sections: civic
engagement and social capital, the influence of the digital age
on communication, digital technologies in planning practice,
and evaluating digital social capital in planning practice. The
authors conclude with a discussion of the opportunities and
constraints relevant to digital civic engagement and social
capital as well as the need for scholarly research on the impacts
of digital public participation on social capital and for com-
parative studies to traditional public participation.
Civic Engagement and Social Capital
Having an informed and active civic society was a goal of
Thomas Jefferson and an element of Jeffersonian democracy
that stressed the role of the common people not aristocrats in
influencing government. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited
America in the early nineteenth century, he was fascinated by
how active Americans were in forming associations and how
knowledgeable they were about local politics. Such participa-
tion in associations including, for example, education, recrea-
tional, professional, and religious organizations, is a useful
barometer of community involvement (Putnam 2000). How-
ever, due to the dominance of systems and rational planning
theories, which view planning practice as steeped in technical
analyses and planners as technical experts, civic engagement
was limited up until the mid-twentieth century.
Starting in the 1960s, a new school of thought emerged
embracing the view of a planner ‘‘as not so much a technical
1
Mandarano, Department of Community and Regional Planning, Temple
University, Ambler, PA, USA
2
Meenar, Center for Sustainable Communities, Temple University, Ambler,
PA, USA
3
Steins, Urban Insight, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mahbubur Meenar, 580 Meetinghouse Rd, Ambler, PA 19002, USA
Email: meenar@temple.edu
Journal of Planning Literature
25(2) 123-135
ªThe Author(s) 2010
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expert ..., but more as a ‘facilitator’ of other people’s views
about how a town or part of a town, should be planned’’ (Taylor
1998, 161-2). This thinking led to dramatic changes in planning
practice opening the door to public participation becoming a
routine part of planning practice. Roberts (2004) outlines the
history of citizen participation in planning practice, which
started with federal government mandating citizen participation
through the Urban Renewal Act of 1954 to a softer language that
encouraged citizen participation as seen in various federal poli-
cies promulgated in the 1970s. According to Roberts, the federal
government’s emphasis on including citizens in decision mak-
ing resulted in a surge of civic engagement requirements in pro-
grams at state and local levels of government.
Not long after the impetus to increase citizen participation,
Arstein in A Ladder of Citizen Participation (1969) identified
eight categories of participation including manipulation, ther-
apy, informing, consultation, placation, partnership, delegated
power, and citizen control. She criticized the lower levels of the
ladder as being ‘‘empty rituals’’ of participation and praised the
higher rungs of the ladder as providing ‘‘the real power needed
to affect the outcome of the process’’ (p. 216). The latter con-
ception of public participation according to Roberts (2004) is
‘direct citizen participation,’’ which he defines as ‘‘the process
when members of a society (those not holding office or admin-
istrative positions in government) share power with public offi-
cials in making substantive decisions and in taking actions
related to the community’’ (P. 320). While this definition high-
lights the importance of power sharing, direct citizen participa-
tion also can result in the formation of social capital, which also
is deemed a key variable facilitating collective action in plan-
ning practice.
Since the term’s rise to contemporary usage, social capital
has been the subject of rediscovery and redefinition by econo-
mists, sociologists, and others (Putnam 2000). In 1986, Pierre
Bourdieu, a French philosopher and sociologist, describes
social capital as the network of relationship produced by
investments strategies ‘‘individual or collective, consciously
or unconsciously aimed at establishing or reproducing social
relationships that are directly usable in the short or long term
i.e., at transforming contingent relations, such as those of
neighborhood, the workplace or even kinship, into relation-
ships that are at once necessary and elective, implying durable
obligations subjectively felt (feelings of gratitude, respect,
friendship, etc.) or institutionally guaranteed (rights)’’ (pp.
249-50). James Coleman, an American sociologist, defines
social capital by its function: ‘‘It is not a single entity but a vari-
ety of entities with two characteristics in common: they all
consist of some aspect of social structures and they
facilitate certain actions of actors—whether persons or
corporate actors—within the structure’’ (Coleman 1988,
S98). A more recent definition put forth by Robert Putnam,
defines social capital as the ‘‘connections among individu-
als—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trust-
worthiness that arise from them’’ (Putnam 2000, 19) and
‘that enable participants to act more effectively to pursue
shared objectives’’ (Putnam 1995, 664-5).
Scholars of social capital tend to agree that social capital is
composed of three elements: relationships, trust, and norms.
Relationships are the foundations of our social networks and
are the interpersonal ties that link individuals to one another.
Indirect relationships may include common attributes such as
occupation, religion, education, memberships, friendship ties,
interests, attendance at events ... (Laumann and Pappi
1976; Heinz et al. 1993). On the other hand, direct relationships
are defined a pairwise or one-to-one relationships, which can
be measured by the presence or lack of a relationship or pattern
of communication such as one-to-one exchanges of informa-
tion. Similarly, trust can be indirect or direct. When referring
to indirect trust, also referred to as generalized trust, scholars
assess the level an individual ‘‘finds others trustworthy’’ or
‘trusts others.’’ An example of direct trust would be the level
an individual trusts a specific individual or organization. The
final component of social capital, social norms, is defined as
the social rules that enable groups to function and may include,
for example, accepted codes of conduct, obligation, coopera-
tion, and reciprocity (Bourdieu 1986; Coleman 1988; Putnam
2000).
Accounts of social capital in traditional participatory plan-
ning processes typically rely on interviews and case study
assessments that have revealed that constituents in face-to-
face dialogue have formed new relationships and increased
trust of other stakeholders (Susskind and Cruikshank 1987;
Healey 1997; Wondolleck and Yaffee 2000; Innes and Booher
2003). More recent studies have used quantitative measures to
assess the development of trust and relationships. Leach and
Sabatier (2005) in a meta-analysis of watershed partnerships
evaluated the formation of interpersonal trust and new relation-
ships. The findings suggest that neither trust nor relationships
were significant to implementation of watershed restoration
projects. Schneider et al. (2003) conducted a comparative
assessment of relationships formed in National Estuary Pro-
gram (NEP) partnerships and other watershed partnerships
using social network analysis and found that NEP partnerships
formed more robust social networks: spanned more levels of
government, included more experts and formed stronger inter-
personal ties. Another study by Mandarano (2009) using social
network analysis revealed that the structure of interpersonal
ties formed through collaboration influenced how resources
were exchanged amongst participants. Lubell’s (2007) assess-
ment of trust in the domain of agricultural policy revealed that
trust is influenced by institutional distance (trust was greater
with local than with federal agency representatives) as well
as policy interests. Finally, Lubell’s (2004) comparative assess-
ment of NEP and non-NEP partnerships revealed that partici-
pants in NEP partnerships developed norms that facilitated
conflict resolution and cooperation.
Social capital also is deemed an important outcome of col-
lective action as well as a precursor to its success. Researchers
have shown that social capital can facilitate information shar-
ing to arrive at mutual understanding leading to conflict resolu-
tion, more effective decision making, more efficient
coordination, and increased capacity to respond to future
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challenges (Innes et al. 1994; Innes and Booher 1999; Wondol-
leck and Yaffee 2000). Moreover, Rohe (2004) in an attempt to
establish an agreed upon definition of social capital to guide
understanding of collective action at the neighborhood scale
conceptualizes civic engagement and social capital as
self-reinforcing model: civic engagement begets new relation-
ships, new relationships lead to greater trust, and trust leads to
effective collective action and then to individual and social
benefits, which in turn can lead to continued civic engagement
and effective collective action.
The Influence of the Digital Age on
Communication
Today we are living in the information age, the digital age, a
period in which digital communications are the backbone of the
economy and society. The digital age emerged from advances
in communications and information technology in the 1970s
that facilitated the production and distribution of information
and thus, allowed for new forms of organization such as the
emergence of a global economy based on information technol-
ogy networks (Castells 1996). Such globalization has been
made possible by technological developments such as the stan-
dardization of different Web-based protocols, which has signif-
icantly improved the communication and collaboration
between communities throughout the world. According to
Friedman (2006), outcomes of digital technologies including
the new age of creativity (Windows in 1989), connectivity
(World Wide Web in 1995), and uploading online materials
by users are among the ‘‘ten forces that flattened the world.’
The impacts of the digital age have spread beyond the econ-
omy and are expressed as changes in the urban/regional land-
scape and social society. Cybercities are conceptually
different from traditional large cities, which have businesses
clustered so that one business could help others do business fol-
lowing ‘‘agglomeration of economies’’ (LeGates and Stout
2007). In the digital age, information can travel at great speed
to anywhere in the world through complex global networks
(Castells 1999; Mitchell 2001), which reduce the need for clus-
tering businesses to realize the benefits of working within a
comfortable physical proximity. On the other hand, even after
the talk about the ‘‘death of distance,’’ researchers have argued
that place still does matter in this digital age, ‘‘whether defined
in geographical or electronic terms’’ (Mosco 2004, 203).
The most prominent examples of these places, also known as
‘global cities’’ (Sassen, 1991) or ‘‘sticky spaces’’ (Markusen,
1999), include global financial capitals like Manhattan,
London, and Tokyo and high-tech industrial districts or
‘technopoles’’ (Mosco 2004) like Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley
(New York), Bangalore (India), along with many second tier
cities. Sassen argues, ... while the new telecommunications
technologies do indeed facilitate geographic dispersal of eco-
nomic activities without losing system integration, they have
also had the effect of strengthening the importance of central
coordination and control functions for firms and, even,
markets’’ (Sassen 2004, 196). Connectivity, especially the
power of the Internet, does not overshadow the importance of
place or geography; it rather creates new important nodes and
particular spaces in global networks (Mosco 2004; Zook 2004).
At the social level, a study done by Keith Hampton (2004) on a
Canadian smart community ‘‘Netville’’ documented that
information and communication technologies ‘‘support the
growth of social networks, social capital and community
well-being’’ (p. 261). According to this research, Internet use
by many ‘‘Netville’’ households did not substitute other forms
of social contact, including phone calls, neighbor recognition,
home visits, and collective action. In fact, those forms of social
contact were observed at a lesser rate in households that were
not wired. While these technologies have enabling qualities,
they also have played an important role in creating inequalities:
the digital divide and dual city. Whereas the digital divide
refers to the differences in those who have access to computers,
the Internet, and other digital technologies and thus, those who
can reap their benefits (Selwyn 2004), the dual city refers to a
restructuring of the economy into high paying jobs in the high-
tech industry and low-wage jobs in the nontechnical but sup-
porting service economy (Castells 1989; Mitchell 1999).
With respect to society, the use of information technology
has created a new social paradigm, the network society, in
which social relationships are based on information technology
networks (Castells 1996, 2000). Recent technological develop-
ments have created new forms of virtual social networks that
are only partially connected to a geographic location, as they
exist in cyberspace—the Internet. Access to IT equipment,
skills, and jobs has significantly increased the number of indi-
viduals using digital technologies on a daily basis. Digital tech-
nology is constantly evolving and influencing our online habits
(Avenue A 2007). As a result, we build cities in the cyberspace
with virtual residents, visitors, squares, cafes, neighborhoods,
and ports (Graham 2004, 244). The regular use of Internet and
other digital technologies is seen in the proliferation of per-
sonal Web sites, blogs, forums, wikis, social and professional
networks, and twitter accounts. This has enabled citizens to
become virtual participants in happenings around the world
with the help of real-time reporting and high-speed video dis-
tribution (Gorry 2009). Every citizen with a mobile phone or
computer with an Internet connection has the capability to
become a citizen journalist, create advocacy groups, organize
public gatherings, connect with people across the globe, and
accomplish tasks without fact-to-face interaction. In addition,
Tweeter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online social network
platforms provide unprecedented levels of networking. This has
demonstrated the phenomenon of Smart Mobs (Rheingold
2003) and the ability of people to rally for local, regional, and
global causes. As demonstrated in Pasek, More, and Romer’s
(2009) research of the relationship between social capital and
online use of social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook,
for fourteen- to twenty-two-year olds such virtual networks can
encourage greater civic engagement, which was measured as par-
ticipating in a club or other extracurricular activity.
The U.S. 2008 presidential campaign is one of the most cur-
rent and visible examples of an uptick in civic engagement
Mandarano et al. 125
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through Internet technologies. The use of online social net-
works by the Obama presidential campaign as a source of com-
munications was a major innovation transforming the way
campaigns exchanged information, recruited volunteers, and
raised money (Owen 2009, 24). However, during the recent
controversy over a national health care plan, the Obama admin-
istration has failed to rally supporters using the same digital
social network technologies (The Associated Press 2009). At
this point, it is not clear why the use of the same digital social
network applications did not rally supporters but the answer
may reflect limits in the use of electronic communications tech-
nology to encourage civic engagement, a disinterest in the
national health care issue, or, perhaps, similar decline in civic
engagement experienced during the Great Depression.
Digital Technologies in Planning Practice
While nearly any new technology can be potentially used to
increase citizen participation in planning, there are roughly ten
free Internet tools that can be used to support planning practice
(Steins 2009). See Table 1 for Web links to how these Web-
based tools currently are being used in planning practice.
While, policy makers are increasingly using Web-based
tools to increase and facilitate community participation,
e-government techniques may not be able to solve all the chal-
lenges of public participation, but they facilitate reaching out to
a broader group of citizens (Evans-Cowley and Conroy 2005).
Another technology that holds promise as a method for
increasing government agency communications with citizens
and citizen engagement is public participation geographic
information systems (PPGIS). PPGIS was originally defined
by the National Center for Geographic Information and Analy-
sis (NCGIA), with a goal of bringing the academic practices of
GIS and mapping to the local level in order to empower and
include marginalized populations, who typically have little
voice in the public arena. In general, the various definitions
of PPGIS have the same general theme of involving the public
in decision making using GIS, but their level of participation
and the methods used are not clearly defined. Participants com-
pleting a ten-minute Internet survey versus learning GIS soft-
ware and performing analyses are very different levels of
participation. PPGIS is successfully being used in many cities
worldwide as a form of e-government and public participation.
For example, the Portland Oregon Metro Web site provides var-
ious interactive resources for public use including interactive
maps that provide the users with the location of the nearest recy-
cling center or allow the user to plan a bike route. In addition,
through ‘‘build your high capacity system’’ function, users pro-
vided input through the online questionnaire to inform the city’s
new High Capacity Transit System Plan (Oregon Metro 2010).
Evaluating Digital Social Capital in
Planning Practice
Due to the scarcity of assessments of the influence of the digital
public participation methods on building social capital, we
preface this section with a review of the impact of Internet tech-
nologies on personal communications and social capital to pro-
vide a broader context for existing and future research. The
earliest and currently, one of the most powerful uses of the
Internet is the use of Web sites to provide information. Over-
time, usage of the Internet changed allowing users to not only
download information but also upload content. The term,
‘Web 2.0’’ has come to signify a range of Web development
techniques that facilitate information sharing and collaboration
on the Web (Christopher 2009). New technologies such as dis-
tribution lists, photo directories, and advanced search engine
capabilities can support online linkages with others and thus
build new forms of social capital (Resnick 2001). Such
advances have influenced many aspects of our society, from
creating business models to shaping peoples’ sense of
community.
Studies of social networking sites (SNS) indicate that this
digital communication platform has the greatest potential to
create social capital. SNS are commonly known as ‘‘web-
based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public
or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate
a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and
(3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made
by others within the system’’ (Boyd & Ellison 2007, 211).
Since its inception in 1997, there are now hundreds of SNSs
such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on, around the world. The
popularity of SNS is likely due to the fact that this technology
enables users to maintain a number of weak ties cheaply and
easily, as well as create and maintain larger, diffuse networks
of relationships from which they could potentially draw
resources (Donath and Boyd 2004; Resnick 2001; Wellman
et al. 2001). Surveys of undergraduates at a large university
(Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007; Steinfield et al. 2008)
suggest that (1) intense Facebook use is closely related to the
formation and maintenance of social capital, (2) social net-
working is associated with distinct measures of social capital,
including bridging and bonding; and (3) self-esteem may oper-
ate as a moderator of the relationship between social network
site use and social capital. In addition, Ellison, Steinfield, and
Lampe (2007) found that the intensity of Facebook use was a
significant predictor of bridging social capital, networks con-
sist of larger, less intimate relationships as opposed to tightly
knit small groups, and the relationship between Facebook use
and bridging social capital was greater for low–self-esteem stu-
dents than for high–self-esteem students. The latter contradicts
the ‘‘rich get richer’’ finding by Kraut et al. (2002), which
showed high-extraversion subjects gained more from their
Internet use than low-extraversion subjects.
Another aspect of research on Internet use that is relevant to
planning practice is the study of the correlation between the
type of Internet use and civic life. This line of inquiry seeks
to understand if the Internet is a new form of media that dis-
tracts individuals from community life similar to the reported
(Putnam 2000) adverse impact of the television on civic
engagement. Shah, Kwak, and Holdert (2001) conducted a
study, a secondary analysis of the 1999 Life Style Study that
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Table 1. Internet Technologies in Planning Practice
Technology Description Examples in Planning Practice
Web site The earliest and most powerful use of the Internet
Provides content information to a broad, undefined audience
Is likely to remain the most popular tool for informing and encouraging citizen
participation due to its sharing and collaborative capabilities, especially when
combined with other tools and Web 2.0 techniques
The City of Philadelphia: The Web site for the City of Philadelphia; displaying pertinent
government and civil information for city residents and businesses.
www.phila.gov
E-mail Foundational tool for communicating with technology
Widely used and cost-effective mechanism to regularly communicate with project
constituents
Web-based
Survey
Services that facilitate a traditional paper- or telephone-based survey in digital
format
Can be distributed electronically via e-mail or posted to a Web site
Offer a useful and affordable mechanism to collect participant feedback that might
be otherwise difficult to collect or obtain by traditional formats
Louisiana Speaks: A case study examining the use of Web technologies to engage
residents in the planning process
http://www.urbaninsight.com/articles/lascasestudy0409.html
Social network-
ing sites
For example, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn
Offers professionals and citizens a variety of ways to create new social networks and
strengthen existing networks among friends and colleagues
Planners are using these social networking technologies to efficiently inform,
educate, and engage community members
Jarvis Streetscape Improvement: A facebook page to collect comments and dissemi-
nate information about the streetscape improvement project.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid¼6949283325
KC Greater Downtown Area Plan: A facebook page to collect comments and
disseminate information about the city’s future and guide public decisions on
planning issues.http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid¼135957535012
Garden City Comprehensive Plan: A facebook page to collect comments and
disseminate information about the Garden City Comprehensive Plan.http://www.
facebook.com/group.php?gid¼68022919584
East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association: A facebook page that promotes the
aesthetic and long-term sustainability of the neighborhood.http://www.facebook.com/
group.php?gid¼7091579820
Wikis For example, Wikipedia
Linked pages providing factual info on a topic, person, or place that are editable by
any participant; edits are recorded and visible to all participants
Can be confusing to use at first, but the technology is quickly becoming more
user-friendly and pervasive
Concept of a wiki is still relatively new; as a result they are not frequently used by
the public for collaborative purposes
FutureMelbourne Wiki: A wiki site for the city plan of Melbourne in which the people
can edit.http://www.futuremelbourne.com.au
Urban Planning Wiki: A Wikipedia page about urban planning.http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Urban_planning
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Table 1 (continued)
Technology Description Examples in Planning Practice
Video sharing A powerful tool for community outreach
The tools to capture, edit, and display video have become relatively affordable and
easier to use within the past five years
Citizens and planners alike are using video to share a story and offer feedback
Insights into a Lively Downtown: A YouTube video about the downtown district of Ann
Arbor Michigan.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v¼VsrqBHEOT0k
Andres Duany Lecture Series: A YouTube video of Andres Duany’s lecture about
suburban sprawl patterns.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v¼rwd4Lq0Xvgc
Plan Abu Dhabi: A YouTube video about The Urban Planning Council of Abu Dhabi
grand Urban Planning Guide for Abu Dhabi.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v¼Yz-hguqZCKg
Mashups Term derived from the music industry technique of combining music from two
different sources to create a new sound
Planning context—most of the innovative mashups use mapping applications to help
expose the unique geographic characteristics of data
City of Burbank Planning Projects: http://www.ci.burbank.ca.us/index.aspx?page¼666
Grow Smart Maine Historic Properties: A Google mashup denoting the historic
properties of Maine that were renovated with the preservation tax credit.
http://www.growsmartmaine.org/maps/historic/index.asp
New York City Bike Maps: A map of NYC’s Bike Paths
http://www.nycbikemaps.com/maps/nyc-bike-map/
Crowdsourcing The act of working with a focus group or larger groups of constituents to obtain
feedback via online
Well suited for planning practices that seek to effectively collect community input
Crowdsourcing Web sites allow the community to vote on which are the best ideas
or to submit new ideas for consideration by the community
Citizen’s Briefing Book:
http://change.gov/newsroom/entry/wrapping_up_the_citizens_briefing_book/
Obama’s Urban Policy: A website soliciting feedback concerning what should be the
top priorities of the Office of Urban Policy.
http://obamaurbanpolicy.obamacto.org/pages/6216
Apps for Democracy:
http://www.appsfordemocracy.org/
Virtual meetings As project teams becoming increasingly diverse, in-person meetings are not always
practical or a good use of time. There are now a variety of free and low-cost options
for holding virtual meetings, from a ‘‘webinar’’ style to full video conferencing where
participants can collaborate on a whiteboard
The following sites offer tools for easy web conferencing and online meetings:
DimDim: http://www.dimdim.com
GoToMeeting: http://www.gotomeeting.com
WebEx: http://www.webex.com
Live Meeting: http://www.microsoft.com/livemeeting
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Table 1 (continued)
Technology Description Examples in Planning Practice
Texting/SMS The act of sending short text messages from a mobile phone using the Short Mes-
sage Service (SMS)
Mostly used to send person-to-person messages but can also be used to participate
in contest voting (e.g., American Idol), order products, or interact with automated
systems
Planning context: Could be used as a replacement for keypad polling (but is
expensive to setup)
VozMob Mobile Voices:
http://vozmob.net
Navigate Hollywood SMS Notifications: An interactive, way-finding website designed to
help all navigate their way to, through and out of the core of Hollywood. Provides
information related to parking access, street closures, public transportation, con-
struction traffic impacts and traffic conditions in Hollywood.
http://www.navigatehollywood.com/alerts
Blogs/Mico-blogs A type of Web site, usually maintained by an individual or group of people, with
articles, or ‘‘posts’’ about one or more topics
Posts are presented in reverse-chronological order; visitors are encouraged to offer
feedback in the form of comments
Blogs incorporate other technologies, such as photos, video, and mashups
Twitter is a ‘‘micro-blog.’’ It enables users to distribute short messages of up to
140 characters in length to ‘‘followers.’
West Des Moines City Manager Blog:
http://wdmcitymanager.blogspot.com/
Miller Park: A community blog for the Miller Park neighborhood of Seattle.
http://millerparkseattle.blogspot.com/
Cuyahoga County Planning Commission Weblog: A weblog that provides a regularly
updated series of posts, links and commentary about Cuyahoga County planning
news.
http://planning.co.cuyahoga.oh.us/blog/
Planetizen: A twitter account by the urban planning news website, Planetizen, which
tweets about current urban planning, design, and development news, views, jobs,
education, and more.
http://twitter.com/planetizen
RSS RSS ¼Really Simple Syndication
A Web feed that enables users to collect articles from many different Web sites and
display them in a central location.
For example, instead of visiting different Web sites/blogs each day to read about the
latest planning news, planners and others can now aggregate this content into their
Web browser by using RSS
National Charrette Institute: A RSS feed to relevant news articles http://
charretteinstitute.org/blog/feed/
Plan Philly: An RSS feed of staff articles and locally published articles relevant to
planning http://planphilly.com/news/rss.xml
New York Times: This RSS feeds offer another way to get NYTimes.com content.
http://www.nytimes.com/services/xml/rss/index.html
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surveyed more than 500,000 Americans, to assess the influence
of four types of Internet use on civic life, social trust, and life
contentment. Internet use was categorized as social recreation,
product consumption, information exchange, and financial
management. The study derived a composite indicator for civic
life using respondents’ frequency of activity in areas such as
volunteer work, community projects, club activity, and the like.
In addition, trust was measured as generalized trust of others.
The findings revealed that Internet use for information
exchange was positively correlated with civic life and social
trust. In contrast, Internet use for social recreation was nega-
tively related to their engagement in civic activities, trust in
other people, and life contentment. These findings hold prom-
ise for digital public participation, which for the most part is
being used to facilitate and increase the exchange of informa-
tion between planning organizations and stakeholders.
In the first few years of the twenty-first century, many
researchers suggested that information technology would make
government decisions and processes more transparent, accoun-
table, and responsive, and thus, e-government would increase
citizen communication with government agencies (Ho 2002;
Seifert and Peterson 2002; Chadwick and May 2003; Thomas
and Streib 2003; West 2004). Not surprisingly, studies show
that an increasing number of local governments started
improving their transparency by posting contact information,
legislation, agendas, and policies in their Web sites
(Mossberger and Tolbert 2005). In addition, the Municipal
eGovernment Assessment Project (MeGAP) assessed the digi-
tal public participation techniques as practiced by the largest
U.S. cities. The study found out that the most successful cities
had used a number of tools in their Web sites in order to
encourage public participation. These included scheduled e-
meetings, conversation forums, online survey/polls, streaming
audio of meetings and hearings, user customization, participa-
tion opportunity, listservs, and visualization technologies
(Kaylor 2005). Another study of the use of Web-based technol-
ogies in more than 500 planning agencies in the United States
(Simpson 2005) reveals that while 95 percent of the agencies
surveyed have an Internet presence, the agencies are using digi-
tal technologies to engage in e-services such as broadcasting
information, with less emphasis on citizen interaction.
Lastly, Lowdens, Pratchett, and Stoker (2001) conducted a
study of innovations in public participation in all local author-
ities in England. The survey revealed that while 24 percent
claimed to have interactive Web sites, another assessment of
local government Web sites found that ‘‘no authority in Britain
offers a truly transactional website and only 6 percent offer a
good level of interaction’’ (p. 208). This study raises the con-
cern over the reliability of self-reported accounts of the use
of digital public participation technologies and suggests the
need for empirical research to assess to the extent such prac-
tices are improving government transparency, accountability,
responsiveness, and interaction with their citizens.
Although there are prime examples of agencies using digital
technologies to enhance direct citizen engagement in city and
regional planning processes (see Table 2), the existing
documentation tends to be descriptive versus analytical and
thus, the social outcomes of these efforts have not yet been
evaluated. The fact that this is an emerging practice is probably
the root cause for this gap in research. While the literature is
scant when it comes to evaluations of digital civic engagement
in planning practice and social capital, it offers valuable insight
into this emerging field of Internet-based public participation.
An evaluation of two PPGIS case studies in the United
Kingdom (Carver et al. 2001) provides useful insight into the
issues that compound this form of digital civic engagement.
The researchers tested the use of PPGIS to engage stakeholders
to address environmental problems at two spatial scales using
one local and one regional case study in the United Kingdom.
The local planning process included a community event during
which participants placed markers on a site map, which was
then transformed into an interactive Web-based map. This
process engaged 126 stakeholders but mostly during the event
not online. The regional project involved engaging participants
in developing woodland regeneration scenarios for a national
park. Users were engaged in public forums during which they
accessed the Web-based map to weight their preferences and
then to generate planting suitability maps. The regional project
engaged over 200 participants. The findings derived largely
from observing how users interacted with the Web-based
system indicate that PPGIS was deemed useful and popular
by its users and that the users had a high degree of spatial
awareness. The authors also identify constraints that need to
be addressed to improve the feasibility of broader use of digital
civic engagement such as ‘‘access to the Internet, public under-
standing of spatial problems, and accountability within the
decision-making process’’ (p. 919). In regards to the latter, the
authors claim that ‘‘[a] high degree of trust and transparency
needs to be established and maintained within the public realm
to give web-based public participatory processes legitimacy
and accountability’’ (p. 919). The limitation of this study is that
it did not assess the use of this technology by remote users or
whether this form of civic engagement engaged more partici-
pants or a different demographic than traditional public partic-
ipation practices.
Another empirical study conducted by Harrison and Haklay
(2002) used focus group feedback to evaluate the use of PPGIS
in two planning workshops. Some of the key concerns partici-
pants raised were related to the transparency of the agencies
criteria for decision making and the users’ trust of the informa-
tion provided to them through the PPGIS platform. The authors
claim that PPGIS alone is not sufficient to overcome the
broader questions regarding the legitimacy of the planning pro-
cess and suggest that institutional norms and practices of gov-
ernance that tend to be highly political and flexible also need to
change in order to address these concerns. This study in partic-
ular raises a note of caution with respect to our expectations of
improving the trust component of social capital through the use
of digital civic engagement in planning practice. Again, this
study is limited to participant use of PPGIS during onsite work-
shops and thus does not evaluate the use of PPGIS when
accessed remotely.
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In response to these and other observed limitations of PPGIS
(Rinner and Bird 2009), Bugs et al. (2010) developed a proto-
type PPGIS application that not only enabled participants to
have high levels of communication with the system but also
to share comments and respond to others’ comments much like
SNS. This is made possible by storing user comments in a GIS
layer, which also facilitate analysis by the host agency. The
pilot testing by twenty-two participants in Canela, Brazil indi-
cated that most of the users demand these kinds of communica-
tion applications as a way to express their opinions on urban
planning, to communicate with other users, and most impor-
tantly to communicate ‘‘vertically—with decision makers—in
a more interactive and straightforward way’’ (p. 180). These
findings suggest that the next generation of PPGIS applications
incorporating communication methods based on SNS could
make a profound impact on improving agency capacity to
develop truly interactive Web sites and increasing the level
of digital civic engagement, which holds the promise of pro-
ducing similar social capital outcomes as observed in the use
of traditional SNS. Once again, the research did not include
remote access to PPGIS.
More recently, a comparative study of traditional public par-
ticipation (TPP) and Web-based public participation (WPP)
methods by Stern, Ori, and Svoray (2009) falls within the realm
of the type of study necessary to understand the impacts of
direct digital civic engagement on social capital. The study
evaluated involvement, trust, and empowerment of WPP and
TPP methods in a year-long comprehensive planning process
for neighborhood revitalization in Tel-Aviv, Israel. Involve-
ment measured both the characteristics of the people engaged
and their level of involvement. The data indicate that younger
people between their twenties and thirties were those that only
participated through WPP. The more educated in their thirties
and forties used WPP to complement TPP. Those with higher
levels of involvement participated through TPP and WPP. In
addition, TPP is found to be more effective than WPP when
it comes to empowerment and trust; however, when users used
both TPP and WPP, these outcomes were significantly greater.
Such findings led the researchers to conclude that ‘‘WPP is an
effective and affective complementary means for public partic-
ipation, but it cannot yet replace [TPP]’’ (p. 1083).
Discussion
Digital methods are starting to be embraced and lauded as
effective tools for citizen participation and other outreach
approaches. At this time, assessments of the impacts of digital
public participation on social capital are scarce; however, the
debates over the impacts of digital technologies in other forms
of communication on social capital raise important concerns for
consideration by planners. The two sides of the debate are framed
by critics claiming virtual relationships are replacing face-to-face
relationships and others arguing that these technologies enable
broader and more effective social networks (Wellman et al.
Table 2. Examples of Digital Civic Engagement in City and Regional Planning
Community Digital Citizen Participation
New Orleans, USA The Louisiana Recovery Authority established the Louisiana Speaks project to engage citizenry in the planning of New
Orleans after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Outreach included traditional methods and Internet-based strategies
including a Web site, e-mail, video, and on-line survey. The Web-based survey provided the highest level of
stakeholder interaction receiving more than 27,000 responses (Noah 2009). Louisiana Speaks won four awards for
methods used to empower citizen planners (Louisiana Recovery Authority 2007)
Melbourne, Australia The city used a public wiki to manage public feedback during the development of its ten-year plan, Future Melbourne.
More than 130 members of the public registered to edit the plan’s content. The online public engagement process
received tow prestigious planning awards (City of Melbourne 2008, 2009a, 2009b).
Toronto, Canada Web-based PPGIS was used in a community engaged in developing a sustainable neighborhood plan through
argumentation mapping (Rinner and Bird 2009). This study involved sixteen experienced computer users as registered
participants living in downtown Toronto. The participants demonstrated great degree of interest in sustainable
community development. They were more comfortable in using the discussion forum or reading maps than linking
comments directly to the neighborhood map
Norfolk, England A Web-based GIS application was piloted to get public participation in the siting of wind farms (Sima
˜U
`
˜Densham, and
Hakkay 2009). Users were shown places where the level of wind is appropriate for a wind farm site. They were then
taken through a number of different criterion and asked to rate their importance. Users essentially conducted a
suitability study based on their own priorities using information that was already collected
Canela, Brazil Residents were invited into the planning process via Web-based GIS when the city was planning for new social housing
sites (Bugs et al. 2010). This study ‘‘analyze(s) the impact of collaborative Web 2.0 tools applied to PPGIS applications
in urban planning actions’’ (p. 172). The study involved twenty-two participants and only nine of them had prior
experience in GIS. The authors conclude that collaboration of Web 2.0 and PPGIS is an interactive, straightforward,
and effective method to engage public and promote communication in any spatially related issues that involve
community members
British Columbia,
Canada
The Bulkley Valley Stewardship Coalition in partnership with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment used an
innovative tool called MapChat to involve the public in decisions about land use planning (Hall et al. 2010). Participants
were able to make comments on the map and were engaged in dialogue on the map by commenting on another user’s
post
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2001). The main criticism against the use of digital media to
build social capital is that it primarily remains in the realm
of cyberspace. This raises the concern of the usefulness of
digital techniques in building effective social capital
because, ‘‘the unique characteristics of face-to-face commu-
nications in building consensus, communicating complex
information, or creating new ideas means it cannot be
totally replaced by online communications’’ (Goodspeed
2008).
Other concerns related to the general use of the Internet and
digital technologies are relevant to the trust component of
social capital and the transparency of e-democracy. For exam-
ple, the quality of Internet-based media is questioned for its
quality, authenticity, bias, and transparency. Andrew Keen, in
The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing our
Culture (2007), warns that the tools that hold the promise of
‘democraticized’’ media are resulting in ‘‘less culture, less reli-
able news and a chaos of useless information’’ (2007, 16). He
introduces the concept of ‘‘digital Darwinism’’—with all the
incessant blogging, wiki-ing and social networking only those
that are the loudest and most opinionated survive. Another
raised is the issue of transparency. The Internet allows anonym-
ity that provides a veil to hide authorship and whether or not
online authors are being paid by sponsors to post unbiased
reviews (Arango 2009). These concerns are relevant to
the emerging use of digital technologies to enable civic engage-
ment. For example, in a public forum, there is a certain level of
transparency that is lost over the Internet. In addition, individ-
uals with strong digital networks can mobilize the voice of like-
minded spirits much more quickly than those who are new to
using social network sites and thus could potentially sway the
results of opinion polls or other modes of civic engagement
to collect public opinion. Finally, the study by Bugs et al.
(2010) concludes that although the next generation of PPGIS
with SNS user communication capabilities will facilitate
exchanges among users and with government agencies,
the issue of trust (e.g., trust of other users and trust of how the
information will be used) and reputation remain to be
addressed.
Conclusion
Although still in its infancy, planners are beginning to use digi-
tal technologies to facilitate direct civic engagement. Tradi-
tional methods of public engagement require extensive
commitments from individual citizens to understand, track, and
provide feedback throughout a planning process. The constitu-
ents would need to be physically present at public meetings and
to make an effort to remain up-to-date as the process unfolds.
Today, as planners increasingly use Internet-based technolo-
gies to distribute information about the planning process and
to make information available 24/7, it is much easier for a con-
stituent to follow and to engage in the process. Additionally, as
more cities enable the use of interactive technologies (wikis, e-
mail, Web feedback, etc.), constituents who previously were
unable to participate in time-intensive and geography-specific
activities, now can participate from remote locations and when
convenient. The next generation of PPGIS applications with
SNS communication capabilities envisioned by Bugs et al.
(2010) will increase the level of information exchange and
communication of opinions, interests, priorities, and the like
among users and with decision makers. The study by Shah,
Kwak, and Holdert (2001) indicating that Internet use specifi-
cally for information exchange correlates positively with
engagement in civic activities and social trust as well as the
study of SNS that correlates use of these sites with building
social capital hold promise that the use of digital technologies
to facilitate and increase public participation will lead to
increased public participation and social capital.
On the other hand, there are important issues to consider
when designing digital methods for direct civic engagement
in planning processes. These concerns include for example
whether Internet-based methods of communication reach a
broader audience, which is of particular concern for poorer
populations that may not have access to a computer or the
Internet. This reflects one of the key concerns raised by
Carver et al. (2001) in their assessment of PPGIS in the
United Kingdom. Yet, they claim that the continued prolif-
eration of the Internet as a communication medium and the
advent of the digital television, which precludes the need for
a computer, may eradicate this concern. In the interim, plan-
ners may need to double their efforts to engage typically dis-
enfranchised populations.
While evaluations of how digital technologies are being
used in planning practice as a forum for direct citizen engage-
ment and its impact on social capital is scant, it is important to
note that the use of digital public participation is rapidly grow-
ing. The comparative WPP–TPP research conducted by Stern,
Ori, and Svoray (2009) represents the type of study necessary
to understand the impacts of digital civic engagement on social
capital. This study is the first to assess whether there are differ-
ences in online participation and traditional civic engagement
practices with respect to rates of participation and representa-
tion, which is fundamental to understanding the role of digital
technologies in enhancing civic engagement and social capital.
In addition, research is needed to determine if digital public
participation processes differ from traditional public participa-
tion processes in terms of building the three key components of
social capital: relationships, trust, and social norms. Other lines
of inquiry include assessments of (1) where the public partici-
pation process fits with respect to the ladder of citizen partici-
pation (Arnstein 1996), (2) how online feedback is analyzed
and by whom, and (3) how effectively online input is incorpo-
rated into final plans. Finally, assessments are necessary to
understand the implications of digital public participation and
its effects on long-term social capital—is the social capital
fleeting, lasting, or transferrable to other venues after the call
for public participation ends.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect
to the authorship and/or publication of this article.
132 Journal of Planning Literature 25(2)
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Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or
authorship of this article.
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Bios
Lynn Mandarano is an assistant professor at the Department of
Community and Regional Planning and Research Fellow at the Center
of Sustainable Communities at Temple University. She teaches under-
graduate and graduate courses in Sustainable Community Design and
Development, Collaborative Planning, Studio, Analytical Methods
and Infrastructure Planning and Management.
Mahbubur Meenar has spent the last decade developing applications
of GIS and other technologies to urban and regional analysis. He is
the Assistant Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at
Temple University and adjunct faculty at the Department of Commu-
nity and Regional Planning.
Christopher Steins is the chief executive officer of Urban Insight, a
technology consulting firm focused on using technology to support
planning and citizen participation. He is also the co-founder and co-
editor of Planetizen (www.planetizen.com), and is a lecturer at the
University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and
Development.
Mandarano et al. 135
at TEMPLE UNIV on April 20, 2011jpl.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... Local government and planning agencies use a wide array of e-government tools to increase and facilitate citizen participation and address citizen needs directly. These include websites, emails, web-based surveys, social-networking sites, wikis, video-sharing, mashups, crowdsourcing, virtual meetings, texting/SMS, blogs/micro-blogs, and RSS 2 (Mandarano et al., 2011). Another technology-public participation Geographic Information System (PPGIS)-has been used for decades as a bottom-up participatory planning tool to increase citizen engagement (Mandarano et al., 2011;Mandarano & Meenar, 2015;Meenar, 2017). ...
... These include websites, emails, web-based surveys, social-networking sites, wikis, video-sharing, mashups, crowdsourcing, virtual meetings, texting/SMS, blogs/micro-blogs, and RSS 2 (Mandarano et al., 2011). Another technology-public participation Geographic Information System (PPGIS)-has been used for decades as a bottom-up participatory planning tool to increase citizen engagement (Mandarano et al., 2011;Mandarano & Meenar, 2015;Meenar, 2017). While these tools cannot solve all the challenges of citizen engagement, they significantly facilitate reaching out to citizens (Evans-Cowley & Conroy, 2005). ...
... Planners can use digital neighbourhood forums, for example, to engage residents who are often hard to reach in conventional face-to-face modes of engagement in planning processes (Afzalan & Evans-Cowley, 2015). Several studies concluded that the effectiveness of web-based participatory tools might depend on various factors such as organizational resources and community characteristics, as well as the technological literacy of the stakeholders (Afzalan et al., 2017;Belanche et al., 2016;Brabham, 2009;Evans-Cowley & Hollander, 2010;Mandarano et al., 2011). ...
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... Although a plethora of literature has examined public participation and urban design in general [15,[20][21][22][23][24], public engagement programs for urban open space development have yet to be fully discussed [25]. Some propose that in-person public engagement is a necessary step (for example, see Ostrom, 1998); however, the scale of national urban development projects such as Yongsan Park could become difficult hurdles for such an effort. ...
... Because public engagement practice in the urban policy discourse has become normalized, Arnstein's insistence on a hierarchical linear concept of public engagement in terms of power might now be insufficient. Furthermore, advances in technology and complicated, multi-party situations call for remote public engagement methods and the prioritization of communication [18,22,25]. ...
... Maintaining and evaluating the level of public awareness throughout a project is particularly important for large, long-term projects. After an extensive review of the digital technologies available to public-engagement planners, Mandarano et al. criticized the descriptive tendencies of existing documents, which lacked an adequate level of evaluation [22]. The consensus is that public engagement efforts need to be evaluated to improve both the transparency and legitimacy of the process [33,34]. ...
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... • Expand the networks of individuals and organizations and build up digital social capital (Mandarano et al., 2010); • Promote emerging civil society organizations through individual networking and catalyze their movements (Khondker, 2011;Kumar and Thapa, 2015); • Harness large-scale online networks for collective actions (Gordon and Manosevitch, 2011); • Break physical boundaries and create more open and multicenter networks, since any citizen could be the center/ node of a network (Zhao et al., 2018); • Different forms of power exercised through various types of networks (Castells, 2011); Citizen participation ...
... Network society are characterized by more openness of social structure and decentralization, minimizing the administrative hierarchy and thereby enhancing participatory democracy in urban planning (Albrechts & Mandelbaum, 2005). Social networking sites make it easy for citizens to expand the networks of individuals and organizations and build up digital social capital (Mandarano et al., 2010). They can break traditional social boundaries and create relatively open and multicenter networks, in which any individual could become the power center or node of a network (Zhao et al., 2018). ...
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... Thus, networking in digital space can increase trust (Putnam, 1995) leading to increased civil engagement (e.g. Mandarano et al., 2010) and digital inclusion (cf. Helsper, 2012;Park, 2017). ...
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