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Methods

The term “methods” relates to the ways in which people engage in participatory activity. This could include leaflets, meetings, exhibitions, proposed policy documents, questionnaires, and letters. It also relates to the media that can be used to communicate this information from “traditional” accepted communication modes, such as the postal service and the telephone, to more complicated “digital” methods involving ICTs, such as e-mail, websites, and chatrooms. Such digital methods are closely related to GI technologies because of the increasing use of the Internet to share and analyze spatial information (through spatial data infrastructures), and these methods will continue to rely upon communication similar to the methods discussed in the cases.
Pacione suggests that participation “consists of many different approaches” and refers to the methods that can be employed (37 in all under 6 headings) [18]. He also suggests that a “technique” (method) must fulfill the “ideas” (notions and issues) of both experts and citizens (audience), and that a different strategy will be appropriate for each set of goals (outcomes). However, Shucksmith et al. recognize that “the same method may be used in a participatory or manipulative manner” [13]. Additionally, digital and traditional methods cannot be seen as separate, and certain methods may apply to certain audiences. For example, in Rushcliffe and Edinburgh traditional leaflets and press adverts were used to guide participants to online facilities, taking particular audiences from one method to another. Alty and Darke note that “any programme of public participation must include a range of techniques and approaches if it is to be more than tokenist” [19]. An activity that only involved digital methods would have only represented the views of the “digital haves.” It is not likely that a tool can be produced with participative ideology in mind, unless all actors have input into its design. Even then, users will use and abuse that technology for their own purposes or desired outcomes, consciously or otherwise, following ideas of the social construction of technology [20]. If an exercise involves mass participation, then a variety of methods will be needed to engage a variety of groups. This varied between cases. Where Rushcliffe’s residents used both local authority and community-led methods; Edinburgh’s “representative voices” required the use of several methods; and Lewisham’s hand-picked participants were used to test new Internet technologies for participation.
Two caveats need to be applied to discuss this further. Firstly, it is assumed that it is possible to examine methods and determine philosophical or theoretical positions, a “theory-identifier” view. Secondly, it is also assumed that it is possible to identify philosophical or theoretical underpinnings/notions of public participation through empirical research and relate these to certain appropriate methods of engagement, a “theory-driven” view. From this research, two examples support an idea of the theory-identifier view: the local authority website survey classification through Arnstein’s ladder and Lewisham’s classification of their participatory activities (based on a similar model by Burns et al. [21]). These examples show that it is possible to establish a framework that examines methods of participation, although with the criticisms noted above. By comparison, a theory-driven view demonstrates that it is possible to select particular methods that are based on some notion of citizen engagement. For example, officers’ guides recommend using particular methods for certain situations, related to particular notions of participation and specific or broad audiences.



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