How to Organize Citizen Engagement in a Master Planning Process? Our Learnings from the Webinar

March 10, 2023
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We had a fantastic webinar on masterplanning! Our in-house engagement experts Maarit Kahila and Anna Broberg presented the various stages of a master planning process and how (and with which tools) planners can engage residents.

Heli-Maija Nevala from the City of Espoo shared the city’s experiences in planning the outreach strategy for community engagement in a recent master planning process. Venla Salomaa from the City of Espoo (now at Sitowise) uncovered the ways to analyze resulting data to ensure that residents’ opinions impact planning decisions.

If you missed the webinar, don’t worry — you can view the recording here

We had a lively discussion at the end, thanks for all your questions! Here are our main takeaways from the discussion, and we’re linking a bunch of useful resources.

a scheme of using maptionnaire for citizen engagement
A sneak-peek from the webinar: the use of Maptionnaire in master planning for citizen engagement.

Digital Citizen Engagement in Master Planning

Q: Digital citizen engagement brings in more participants — also from diverse backgrounds as compared to in-person meetings. Why is it so? 

Digital citizen engagement is not limited by a certain place and time: participation happens at the citizen’s terms, whenever and wherever they want to. We’re repeatedly seeing that women and minority groups are better represented in digital participation because they often don’t have spare time and/or don’t feel empowered to participate in in-person meetings. The online environment gives them a safe and comfortable space (here is a great example of inclusive participation from Kosovo).

Maptionnaire pages and surveys, for example, can be translated into as many languages as needed to cater to all linguistic needs of your community, while keeping up with a downhill in several languages is hardly possible.   

Digital citizen engagement helps to engage younger generations who are digital-native and are less prone to going to meetings.

But still, we recommend a blended approach, where you still organize in-person meetings or digital stations to help people fill in surveys to avoid the digital divide. For example, the City of Lahti organized these digital stations at local libraries. 

Engaging Specific Demographics & Stakeholders 

Q: Any tips on reaching out to specific demographics?

We have a lot! First, pay attention that the survey design does not eliminate those groups you want to engage. Use jargon-free and inclusive language, and try to make it more visual to make it clear for everyone.

Second, plan your outreach. Just posting a link to a survey on a city website is not enough. NGOs and local communities should be your allies — through them, you can also reach exactly the demographics you are interested in. It’s quite old-school, but printing a leaflet with a QR code to a survey and bringing it to where your desired audience hangs out is also useful.

As Heli-Maija shared, the City of Espoo worked closely with schools to ensure that the youth had a chance to share their opinions. The city has prepared curriculum materials and in-class activities that would integrate answering a survey — and this cooperation brought fantastic results. 

The dashboard and analysis tool in Maptinonaire will help you see how many responses you’re getting from specific demographics (e.g., 50+ females, respondents without higher education, or residents of a specific area). You can adjust the outreach strategy on the fly. 

a recap of engagement activities for Espoo's master plan
This is how Espoo organized some of its engagement activities at the early stage of the planning process.

Q: What about reaching out to low-educated residents? 

The level of education is one of the main determinants of whether a person will participate in engagement activities or not. So it’s important to account for that and plan outreach accordingly.

Creating pop-up activities and asking people to answer the survey and share opinions on the spot is an effective way to engage residents with low education.

Q: How do you facilitate and encourage participation among people with lower map literacy? 

Introduce one or two test rounds in your survey where you give respondents a chance to practice marking points, lines, and polygons on a map. You can easily gamify these tests!

Although the beauty of Maptionnaire is in its ability to gather various GIS data, you can limit your questions to only points, for example. This way, respondents need to master only one type of map-based answer (this has been done in this participatory mapping study on the Green Belt).

Setting up stations where people can get help answering map-based questions and get answers about the engagement process is very helpful in this regard. 

Include contacts of people to whom respondents can turn for support. 

Keep in mind that maps are not accessible by default (for example, they are not readable by screen readers). Include an option to answer the same question in writing (or even sending a voice image). You’ll then be able to add those answers to your dataset manually.

Q: Can Maptionnaire be used for stakeholder engagement?

You can use the same functionalities to gauge opinions or make decisions together with your stakeholders. It all depends on how you make the questionnaire available and how you frame the questions.

You often need to report to stakeholders about the results of citizen engagement — Maptionnaire is well-suited for that because you can easily create and share reports and heat maps based on collected data. This is what the City of Espoo has done: the planners have shared the results of early engagement about a master plan with local politicians and other stakeholders.

On a city-wide level, multiple departments can benefit from using Maptionnaire. The City of Vantaa uses Maptionnaire across its multiple departments (urban planning, parks & recs, culture & libraries, health care, and youth programs), and this engagement organization removes silos and improves collaboration across the departments.

Good Questions and Data Quality are Key in Community Engagement 

Q: Do you have tips for designing questionnaires that bring valuable and effective data? 

Check our comprehensive guide on survey design. It has very actionable tips, but our main takeaway is that you should start from the “end” — what data do you need for your project? In which format? Which question should you ask to get this data?

Here is a detailed guide about various community engagement survey questions

Q: How biased are the samples? 

Overall, our users are satisfied with the representativeness of the data. In a recent study from the UK, the respondent data was compared against the census data and appeared to be quite representative.

If needed, you can oversample or undersample responses from specific areas or demographics — this is often done by researchers (have a look at this nation-wide study from Denmark).

In general, it’s useful to track community engagement KPIs across your projects to, first of all, understand the quality and effectiveness of one activity and, secondly, compare activities and projects between each other.

ensuring that citizen opinions impact the plan
Venla Salomaa shared her tips for data analysis and survey design — to ensure impactful participation.

Maptionnaire for Citizen Engagement 

Q: It might be difficult to start using Maptionnaire on a pro level. What should I do?  

We know — the platform caters to various use-cases and can look quite complex, especially in the beginning. But we strive for making it as user-friendly as possible!

That’s why we’re starting a series of masterclasses. These are hands-on sessions about Maptionnaire. Please have a look and join if you find it beneficial! 

Q: Is Maptionnaire a commercial platform?

It would be impossible to maintain the constant development of Maptionnaire without any funds — that’s why the platform is commercial and not open-source. This way, we can also ensure that the platform meets security standards and that our customers get ongoing support. Here we discuss in more detail the difference between open-source and SaaS platforms.

Our subscriptions are affordable compared to other market offerings and your package will be tailored to include only the tools you actually need. Get in touch if you want to know more about subscription pricing!

Want to know more about citizen engagement in master planning?

Watch the webinar recording! And for any questions, drop us a line at
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