How to evaluate digital tools in public participation?
Buiten, M.D. van
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The academic discourse on e-participation is in a heterogeneous, diffuse state of knowledge. There is a need for the development of the consistent, comprehensive, and systematic formation of knowledge. The diffuse state of knowledge manifests in practice, where planners lack strategies to improve participation and feel unsure about evaluating digital participatory tools. In planning support science, the discrepancy between theory and practice is termed the implementation gap. Various authors have expressed the need for more best practices and case studies to promote using digital support tools to practitioners. This study addresses these knowledge gaps by questioning: how to evaluate digital tools in participatory planning processes? To answer the question, the study presents a conceptual framework that links the five values transparency, equality, inclusiveness, quality, and suitability to 21 indicators drawn from the literature. The framework is demonstrated by presenting three cases in which three different digital tools evaluate according to the indicators and the values of the framework. It concerns the video conference, a participatory GIS tool, and a digital participatory platform. The study concludes that the framework is suitable to evaluate the use of digital tools in planning processes. Further research could reveal the suitability of the framework for the evaluation of non-digital participatory means or the success of participatory processes itself.