Communicative Interfaces for Planning - Social learning in participatory local networks in a Swedish context
Doctoral thesis, 2016
Swedish municipalities connect participation strategies to objectives concerning sustainable development, as we all need to be part of the solution when it comes to climate change and resource scarcity. The mandatory participatory meetings in municipal planning are criticized for being slow and inefficient and alternative, parallel methods of participation are called for.
After having followed two municipalities’ efforts in trying their hand at such alternative methods, conclusions have been drawn about participation in municipal planning in general. The first case study in the municipality of Uddevalla (2009-2011) dealt with specific participatory methods in practice, while the second case study in the municipality of Lerum (2011-2014) focused on organizational changes.
A vast empirical material has been collected in interviews, workshops and meetings, most of which have been audio-recorded.
A communicative gap between the inhabitants of the municipality and its organization was found, as the inhabitants saw communication with the municipality as one on-going dialogue. The complex organization of the municipality however, communicates from different offices, sectors, aims and objectives in many voices. Another discovery was that regardless of participatory method, the inhabitants participate in stories or narratives. Some of the context and coherence of the narratives is easily lost in interpretation.
The result is a new perspective on planning as part of a process of social learning and on participation as an on-going process in which planning projects can take their stance. The mosaic is used as a metaphorical visualization to describe this non-hierarchical perspective on participation and power.
The Co-Production Group of Gråbo in Lerum, has been studied as an example of such a participatory local network, where local stakeholders sit at the same table as municipal politicians and administrators, creating a common narrative about their local community. The studies have focused on the communicative interfaces within and between a delimited geographical area and the municipal organization, looked at from the perspective of a planner.
Local networks of stakeholders, delimited geographically, are therefore suitable arenas for this participatory dialogue to start. The study in Gråbo, Lerum, showed that even a network that is not fully representative nor always successful in its efforts, can make a difference and is better than having no network to collaborate with. Power is shared between municipality and local community, as decisions become dependant on the shared knowledge in a local network.