Sharing views on spatial plans: scales of geographical information and public participation in social media
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In Dutch spatial planning, there are legal requirements for governments to consult the public on designs for spatial developments. Also, the public is often invited to share their views in an earlier stage of the planning process, e.g. through a vote on alternatives. Although this concept of consultation is generally working well, a number of issues have been recognized. These are the limited involvement of the public in planning and policy making, the lack of commitment of governments to take the public’s views into account and the position of the consultation phase in the planning process, where the public isn’t able to cooperate in the design anymore. Increasing the involvement of the public and lifting their participation level can very well be done by using the internet. There are many possibilities regarding interactive communication and collaboration, which have been the subject of research and development in recent years. These are commonly known as Web 2.0 or social media. An important part of these possibilities involve mashups of digital maps and location-based information. Both in Dutch municipalities and research projects worldwide, experiments are done regarding the use of social media in participatory spatial planning. Before further developing this kind of participatory planning, it is worthwhile to investigate the current use of social media, and especially messages that are being published regarding spatial plans. Both the locations being mentioned and what is being said about them is important. Therefore, in this research the way in which geographical and other information regarding spatial plans is being shared through social media is analysed, and an assessment of the enhancement of public participation is made. To provide a conceptual framework, an overview of the most important social media is presented, and a focus is made on the role of geographical information. Also, Dutch spatial planning legislation is being described, and the role of geographical information in participatory planning through the description of participatory planning GIS. These two aspects converge in a potential new generation of PPGIS, in which social media are being integrated. Because of the important role of social media in such a PPGIS, social media metrics are adopted from marketing practice as a methodology to analyse and assess the information sharing. This methodology considers a set of key performance indicators in connection the message components location, location based information and information sharer. For participatory spatial planning these are: the number of mentions and the geographic scale of toponyms, the type of location based information that has been shared and the number and nature of information sharers. The research is done through two case studies concerning participatory planning projects that have been set up in two Dutch municipalities, where social media have been specifically deployed as communication channels. The place names or toponyms that are mentioned in the messages posted in social media have been retrieved, counted and categorized in such a way that the importance of each toponym and the geographical scale is known. The non-geographical portion of the messages is categorized and counted so the kind of contributions people make is known. And lastly the information sharers themselves are analyzed so the involvement of the public is known. Using the results of this analysis and the performance indicators, an assessment of the added value of the information shared through social media to public participation is done. The assessment shows the information is relevant for the spatial plan, it includes ideas and suggestions for spatial development and it shared by people who do not use other channels. The use of social media does enhance participation in the spatial planning process, or at least shows much potential. Although not many more people are getting involved in creating spatial plans, they are providing constructive contributions to the plan creation, moving them to or placing them on a higher level on the participation ladder. Validation of these results using information from the two municipalities mostly confirms this. Geographical information regarding spatial plans is shared through social media by a small, dedicated group of people on an event driven basis, using mostly traditional toponyms to refer to locations that are relevant to the spatial plan. These are characteristics that can be used when developing a participatory planning GIS that incorporates social media. Next steps in research and development comprise a different, more encompassing way to gather social media messages and/or a case study involving a different, smaller geographic scale. Also, the visualisation of toponyms and location based information on a map is a worthwhile step towards a social media PPGIS.