Although renewable energy is usually viewed positively, seeing a huge wind turbine from your window might not be the first thing you want. It has often not only had an effect on the visual landscape but also an impact on people’s immediate living environment. That’s why it’s important to include residents in the process when planning renewable energy transition.
We interviewed Stefanie Müller from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) about a research project on participatory siting of renewable energies in Switzerland, and asked her how she has utilized Maptionnaire and PPGIS in engaging with the residents. Read Stefanie’s story below!
Early Public Participation in Energy Transition
Our research focus was a planned construction project for a wind park site in a flat-hilly area in Switzerland. This particular project was in the planning phase, and we wanted to hear what the people living in the area thought about the project, and also about the implemented planning procedure.
In Switzerland, citizens ultimately have a chance to vote about such big projects concerning their municipality. However, when turning the process around, i.e. giving people the chance to participate earlier, it changes the planning process. I believe people can feel that they are not being told what to do but instead they are enabled to engage and influence the process already when something is being planned instead of being forced to choose one single option out of two. This in turn may help to create a certain sense of belonging instead of alienation towards the renewable energy project.
With using online public participation tools like Maptionnaire, it’s possible for all residents – also for those who for instance cannot attend a public meeting – to express what they think. This is why participatory methods, such as a public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS), are also understood as keys to a just and inclusive decision-making process. In our research project, we used Maptionnaire, for instance, to map meaningful places of local residents in order to assess whether or not its integration into the local siting process of wind mills is conducive.
Finding PPGIS Tool for an Energy Project
At first, I considered if I could build a suitable tool by myself, but I quickly understood that I don’t have the time to start building one from scratch. That’s why I decided to look for a ready-made PPGIS-tool. I encountered Maptionnaire when attending a conference in 2016 in Basel, and I knew other people had used the tools successfully.
I found the tool was easy and simple to use. Had I started building a tool myself or building on top of some GIS-solution, it would have required a lot of pretesting and server space, which seemed too cumbersome. I was also not sure about where and how data could be stored and how secure that would be. With Maptionnaire I knew these were taken care of.
Pros and Cons of Online Public Participation Tools
Maptionnaire was easy to use – both for the person creating the questionnaire and the person answering it. Of course some people needed help when answering the survey but I got a lot less requests when using Maptionnaire than I initially thought.
I like the modern design of the tool and appreciate that the data is easy to handle. I also feel the data security is taken seriously at Maptionnaire. Whenever I had questions or concerns, my messages were always answered quickly.
Read more about the research project (in German): Partizipatives GIS als Planungsinstrument für Windenergieprojekte in der Schweiz