This thesis consists of three parts.
Part 1 examines a key set of problems relating to the expertise of the planner and the nature
of planning as an activity. The purpose of part 1 is to explicate some of the important problems
and questions relating to public participation in planning.
Part 2 consists of an exposition of co-creation and consideration of how co-creation might be
applied to urban planning and design.
Part 3 presents experiments conducted with the “wikiplanning” participatory planning tool and
discusses the implications of the method and the meaning of its results.
PART 1: THE PROBLEMS OF PLANNING
1.1 The problem with representative democracy
1. The problems with current participation methods: consultation vs. participation
1. The problem of the political nature of planning
1. The problem of the muddled nature of planning
1. The problem of tacit knowledge
1. The problem of taste vs. expertise
1. The problem of relevance systems
PART 2: CO-CREATION IN URBAN PLANNING AND DESIGN AND
.1 What is co-creation?
. Co-creation in practice: U.S. presidential elections
. Co-creation in practice: Consensus-building in Wikipedia
. The significance of co-creation to urban planning
PART 3: PRESENTATION AND CRITIQUE OF THE WIKIPLANNING METHOD
.0 The wikiplanning method
.1 Case study 1: Alppila
. Case study : Roihuvuori
. Case study : Lasipalatsi
. Case study : WikiVermo
. Observations and evaluation of the WikiVermo project
. Future development
“In a society where tradition and custom
are losing their hold, the only route to the
establishing of authority is via democracy”
Anthony Giddens 1998
“The best argument against democracy is a
five minute conversation with the average voter”
Public participation in planning is a relatively new field. While in recent years it has been
subject of much academic writing and debate, it is curious that the range of participatory
methods that have actually been empirically tested remains quite small.
A positive development is the emergence of internet-based forums for interaction between
planning professionals and lay stakeholders, which enable residents to give feedback regarding
new planning proposals, or to evaluate the existing environment and share their own local
knowledge through on-line discussion forums or maps.
Necessary as such forums are, there is a difference between the gathering and exchange
of information and opinions on the one hand, and participation in the actual design process
on the other. On the surface of it, it is ridiculous to propose that an activity demanding great
professional skill should be even partially opened up to interference by amateurs. And yet due
to the profound rise in education levels of the last few decades and the access to tools and
information which the internet provides, a new form of production has emerged – co-creation
– that questions the traditional role of the professions.
Co-creation refers to an emerging form of production in which the users of a product or service
participate in its creation. Co-creation occurs when large numbers of people who have the
means to communicate and collaborate regardless of their physical location form ad-hoc
networks and begin to participate in common projects. The phenomena in question is linked
to many names, such as commons-based peer production, web .0, produsage; in this paper
it will referred to as co-creation.
Co-creation is not a speculative scenario nor a theoretical construct, rather it is a phenomenon
whose consequences in many fields are quite profound. For example, through co-creation
the most extensive - and most used - encyclopedia in history has been created. Co-creation
has enabled the election of the first black president in the USA, formed the most used server
operating system in the world and at the time of writing, is causing much concern to the
governments of Iran and China.
The purpose of this paper is to consider how co-creation might be applied to urban planning
and design; not because of its appeal as a novel and trendy phenomena, but because co-
creation may offer some partial solutions to some of the age-old problems of planning. Current
participatory planning methods are becoming fast outdated, as rising education levels and
steadily decreasing interest in representative democracy are leading to a situation where
residents’ skills, articulacy and desire to influence their environment greatly outstrip the means
of participation currently available to them. New, more profound means of participation will
become increasingly necessary if the architectural and planning professions are to retain their
legitimacy as overseers of the design of the built environment.
This thesis outlines a new participatory planning tool that attempts to apply some of the
principles of co-creation to urban planning and design. The method, “wikiplanning”, has been
empirically tested over 0 times in a wide variety of contexts, including real-life planning
projects. In wikiplanning, lay people participate directly in the act of design of planning proposals
– using miniature models - working alongside trained professionals. The resulting designs are
subsequently interpreted into drawings which can be used to inform the planning process.
According to conventional wisdom, it is absurd to suggest that untrained lay residents can
directly participate in the actual design of the built environment, for it takes years of training and
work experience to be able act as a qualified planner. In spite of facile conventional wisdom,
this paper aims to demonstrate that involving lay people in the urban design process can
lead to meaningful results and a higher quality of feedback than is normally achieved through
approaches where the public is allowed merely to comment on professionals’ designs. At best,
approaches such as wikiplanning can help to prevent non-constructive conflict and dead-end
opposition to planning projects.
This paper focuses on public participation in the design of urban spaces, i.e. the activity that
traditionally occurs at the drawing board of the architect. Consideration of public participation
in the wider planning process, including lay people’s opportunities for lobbying, the effects
of purchase power and lifestyle choices, have been excluded from this paper for reasons of
brevity and clarity. For the same reasons, this paper does not attempt to consider the roles
of actors other than planning professionals in the formation of the built environment, such as
developers, investors, politicians, lobby groups; significant as these are.
1.1 The problem with representative democracy
This thesis argues that a more democratic planning process can be potentially achieved
through co-creation. It is therefore necessary to at least briefly explain why democracy is
desirable in the field of urban planning and design.
Democratic government, both in theory and in practice, appears to offer the best quality of
life for members of society compared with other forms of government (Dahl 1998). It ensures
that the interests of any single group or individual gains are not given undue preference over
the interest of others, and it protects the interests of minorities. Democracy is intertwined
with a culture of negotiation, meaning democracies tend to use violence and suppression
as a last resort. While violence is thankfully rare in the field of planning, the issue of the
use of suppression is less clear-cut. The built environment has significant (albeit largely
indeterminable) effects on the quality of life of its users, and to allow one group’s interests to
disproportionately affect the design and regulation of our cities at the expense of other groups’
interests would be unethical.
In this thesis, particular attention is paid to a group of actors in the planning process that is
often spuriously cast in the role of the neutral referee, rather than an interest group in its own
right. The group in question is that of the planning and architectural profession, who exercise
significant power in the built environment yet whose own interests and bias are rarely brought
Winston Churchill told us that democracy is the worst possible form of government, with the
exception of all other forms of government tested so far. While we may agree with Churchill,
it would be an error to assume that western representative democracy is the be-all, end-all
solution to the question of governance. The term “democracy” has been used to describe
many diverse forms of government through time, which in many cases scarcely resemble
one another. Just as democracy has emerged and evolved into numerous different forms
in different times and places, democracy will - and should - continue to evolve and develop
in response to a changing social conditions. So where is democracy heading at the present
time? And where should it be heading?
A notable trend in the development of modern democracies has been the increase in
inclusiveness and a broadening of scope of protection. Short of lowering the minimun age
of voting, representative democracy cannot become much more inclusive - the demands of
Cromwellian parliamentarians, suffragettes and civil rights activists have been, in time, heeded.
Yet while representative democracy may have reached its peak in terms of inclusiveness, it
is is steady decline in terms of its popularity. Participation in elections has fallen steadily in
Europe since the 190s. Political parties struggle to find candidates to stand for election. If the
proportion of eligible voters that actually participate in elections is around 0%, the legitimacy
of representative democracy a system and the legitimacy of the governments elected through
it are questionable at the least. In Europe, there have been numerous state and EU-funded
programs designed to counter the apparent “political apathy” of voters and to entice them back
to the ballot boxes.
Acheived further or higher education qualification
No further or higher education
Education level of Finns aged 25 - 34 Election turnout in Finnish local
elections since 1976
However, even if election turnouts were to reach 100%, we might still argue that representative
democracy is an inherently poor mode of participation. Representative democracy increases
passivity: voting for a representative every four years is not an adequate way of expressing
one’s views on, for example, the details of a planning proposal that may affect one’s life
significantly. Representative democracy is inarticulate: politicians can guess as to the reasons
why they are elected in or out of power, but there is never certainty on the matter. Representative
democracy is slow to respond to societal changes: the reaction time of representative
democracy is the same as the period of government, typically four years. Representative
democracy is unintelligent and non-discursive as far as the voter is concerned; while debate
and argumentation occur within administrative bodies, the voter role is non-argumentative: he
or she has neither the opportunity nor obligation to justify his or views, or refine or withdraw
them in light of new arguments.
Planning law has, in many western countries, recognised the need for direct participation
(Kettunen 00). However, the means and scope of direct participation are not explicitly defined
by law. Does participation mean lobbying elected representatives or appointed professionals?
Does it mean gathering and publishing data relating to planning projects? Or does it imply
citizens’ direct power of decision over all aspects of planning? The demand for participatory
measures in planning is new; the range of tried participatory planning methods is narrow and
experiences gained from them often negative. This thesis attempts to identify a few of the key
problems of participatory planning, and argues that participation based on co-creation may
offer solutions - albeit partial and imperfect ones - to these problems.
- Representative democracy is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy and efficacy
- Democracy has evolved through history; the current dominant form of representative
democracy should be seen as an intermediate stage on the way to something better
- Planning law states a need for direct participation as an end; the means and scope are not
defined by law. New methods should be explored through empirical experimentation
1.2 The problems with current participation methods: consultation vs.
Public participation in planning is no easy matter. The current situation was well summed up
by a Helsinki planner, who, when asked about his views on participatory planning during a
panel discussion said: “Participatory planning? We’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work. The public
only ever gives criticism, never praise.”
The statement is interesting in two ways: firstly, the implication that participatory planning has
been exhaustively “tried” is a fallacy. Even at a global scale, participatory planning is still a new
phenomenon, and the number of participatory methods that have actually been tried is small.
While participation in planning has been the subject of much theoretical debate in academic
circles, there has been disproportionally little practical experimentation and development of
new approaches to involving the lay public in the planning process. The means for participation
in planning that are usually provided are based more on consultation (hearing) rather than
participation (listening). In Finland, planning procedures typically make the smallest possible
concession the participation requirement stipulated by law, by allowing stakeholders to submit
their opinions at public meetings, on-line comment forums and lodge formal appeals against
planning proposals through courts of law. Given that these existing procedures have been
subjected to much criticism from many sides, and given the public and private sectors’ desire
to avoid time consuming formal appeals, there is a clear need for experiments into new
approaches to participation in planning.
The planner quoted at the start of this chapter also points out that the public’s reaction to
planning proposals is usually negative; planning proposals are far more likely to be criticised
and opposed than praised and embraced by lay stakeholders. Public consultation meetings
are often tense affairs, where the planner has to deal with heated and blunt criticism from local
residents, who often blankly oppose all changes to their environment, sometimes dealing out
personal abuse and accusations to the planning authority’s staff for good measure. Planners,
quite understandably, are reluctant to open up their work to inspection by people who seem
to have little understanding of the matter in question and who seem inclined to resist - with
minimal politeness - any changes to their own living environment.
Residents’ resistance to planning proposals is not necessarily due to the selfishness or
ignorance of the lay public - although these play their part. Rather, resistance appears to
be structural. The physical environment is taken as self-evident by the inhabitant: it forms a
background and a context for everyday life. Any change to this context bears at the risk of
an impairment in the quality of life itself (Lapintie 00). The lay resident, if knowing nothing
else about the design and production of the built environment, understands that planning is a
slow, massive, complex and expert-dominated machine, against whose inertia the individual
acting alone has little hope of exerting influence. Resistance is the natural choice of action for
residents who know that there is little hope of negotiation with the massive and cumbersome
machine that is the planning process.
Experience of public planning consultations affirms this: comments presented by a member of
the public is typically met with downright rejection (on the grounds of “taking the wider view”
or the “public interest”), or even worse, the comment or question is met with the planner’s
killer phrase: “We will look into the matter”. With this reply, the resident’s concerns are sucked
into the opaque depths of planning bureaucracy, like a sailor thrown into a stormy night sea:
the resident’s issue may resurface several months later, but whether it will be alive or dead,
will remain a mystery until that time. Stakeholders’ comments gathered during the planning
process may “resurface” only in the final planning proposal, by which time the plan is often too
refined and conclusive to be subjected to any changes, except if the plan breaches laws. Once
a plan is in its later stages, it is easy to label any demands for alterations as “unreasonable”.
Not only is planning bureaucracy massive and non-responsive, it also works in mysterious
ways. Planners’ and architects’ expertise is based to a significant extent of tacit knowledge,
i.e. knowledge which cannot be easily verbally communicated or opened up to public scrutiny
(Eraut 000). As will be discussed later, planners and architects employ both tacit and explicit
knowledge in their work, and planning decisions based on even partly on tacit knowledge
will tend to evade rational communication, which further makes genuine participation difficult.
Rationality is perhaps the most important means to achieve influence available to the powerless
(Flyvbjerg 1998), and the prominence of tacit knowledge in planning means the powerless are
often stripped of their best weapon. Planners and laypeople do not have a common language
with which to negotiate and reach understanding about the planning task in hand. Nor is there
necessarily an understanding as to what the task in hand actually is, for different players have
different frames of relevance for defining the problem. The issues of relevance systems and
tacit knowledge will be examined in greater detail later.
Current modes of participation present the lay stakeholder with a choice: to resist the planning
proposal outright and thus marginalise oneself from the process; or to remain in the process
and thus accept the main features – and the agenda - of the planning proposal. A principle
tenet of democracy is control of the agenda by the participants. The definition and framing of
planning problems often determines their outcome; at its worst, participation can mean playing
a game whose result has already been decided; the participant can merely hope to influence
The structural resistance to planning proposals might be reduced or changed if lay stakeholders
are given a wider means of expressing their views and values than by mere opposition of
predefined plans. A genuinely participative planning approach would allow citizens to make
positive, constructive suggestions instead of only negative complaints; one approach to this
aim is involving the the layperson in the creative design process itself.
Another tenet of democracy is the idea that participants should be given the opportunity to
develop the insight necessary to make considered decisions that reflect his or her values.
(Dahl 1998). This can mean providing general education or specific information on the issue
being decided. Current forms of participation in planning do little to develop the insight of lay
stakeholders to facilitate more enlightened negotiation of planning issues.
How can lay people develop meaningful insight into planning issues in a short period of time?
How can they be helped to make constructive, normative contributions to the planning process?
The second part of this thesis presents a planning tool which attempts to offer solutions to
- Very few participatory planning methods have been actually tested
- Participation methods currently in use are based on consultation
rather than actual participation
- Current planning procedures typically engender resistance and appeal
- Developing laypeople’s insight into planning problems is key to engendering
enlightened negotiation and participation
- For participatory planning methods to be effective, they should allow the public make
positive, constructive suggestions as well as complaints
1.3 The problem of the political nature of planning
In what way should the planning process be democratised? Modern democracies delegate
significant amounts of power to experts, such as civil servants and professionals of various
fields, who have the necessary knowledge and skill to solve problems related to their field: the
experienced pilot flies us safely to our destination; the well-trained doctor helps to get better
when we get ill. Why not then entrust the task of designing buildings or laying out cities to
experts of that field, to architects and planners?
To compare the work of architects and planners to the work of doctors is to misunderstand the
nature of planning. In any specific society, there often exists a reasonably wide - albeit neither
perfect nor static - consensus as to what constitutes a healthy human body. The goal of medical
practice in that society is to help the patient to keep their physique as close as possible to the
commonly agreed ideal, taking into consideration the risks and costs of doing so. Unlike in the
field of medicine, which in the West strives to be a scientific activity, there is no pre-existing
consensus as to what the aim of planning is. The practice of science is a descriptive activity - it
tells us how the world is now and how it has been in the past, and it can make good predictions
as to how the world will probably work in the future. But science does not tell how the world
should be; this is a moral matter, not a factual one. As Hume’s Law reminds us, no statement
of value can be derived from a statement of fact. In other words, observation alone does
cannot tell us how to conduct our business - to make decisions on how to live, we must qualify
our choices with valuation systems. The production of a design proposal is a prescriptive
activity. Each new building or urban plan is a statement by its designers about how the world
should be, for each new building or urban plan will, for its part, determine how the world will
be in the future. Planning is a matter of values as much as it is of expertise; if we are to accept
democratic ideals, then planning tasks should be opened up to public scrutiny.
There are, historically speaking, numerous and often conflicting notions of what a “good society”
entails. Because of this, modern democracies have parliaments where groups representing
different ideologies strive to implement their notion of “good society” or “public interest”. At the
heart of political debate is not dispute over empirical facts, but contention over values and their
prioritization. To offer a stereotypical example, those on the political right believe that good
society is one which the initiative and interests of individuals are allowed to flourish, while for
those to the political left, a good society is one in which care and equality are emphasised.
Parliamentary debate revolves around the realisation of these differing values in specific
The notion of the “good environment” is just as political a matter as the notion of “good society”.
For in as far as we accept that the built environment influences the lives of its users (although
determining causes and effects is difficult), the two concepts are inseparably intertwined. In
questions of architecture and planning there exist ideological factions within the profession who
endorse competing environmental ideologies; the ongoing attempts of modernists and post-
modernists/historicists to discredit one another is perhaps the clearest instance of competing
factions. In some cases, the factions manifest as formal associations such as the Congress
for the New Urbanism and CIAM (Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne). Such bodies
resemble political parties, albeit lacking a formal “parliament” in which to debate.
The normative and political nature of planning means that, from a democratic point of view,
it would be wrong to delegate planning decisions in their entirety to undemocratically chosen
professionals. In state governments there is an attempt to delineate expertise form value
judgements. Civil servants are supposed to represent expertise, by preparing the background
material required for decision making and offering a narrowed-down set of options from
which to choose. The role of elected politicians is to make value judgements based on the
material presented to them. This division of roles is, however, highly theoretical, for in practice
decisions are the result of negotiation and power struggles between politicians and officials,
and in the framing and preparation of decisions officials exercise a significant amount of value
In political science, there is continual debate as to how power should be shared between
politicians and civil servants. If we are to assume that the requirement for democracy should
extend into the fields of architecture and planning, how should a balance be struck between
expertise on the one hand and popular self-rule on the other?
A notable attempt to address the problem of the legitimacy of planning was the comprehensive-
rationalism on the 190s, whose assumptions seem to persist in the attitudes of planners
today, despite the fact that in academic circles such ideas appear to be very dated (Puustinen
00). Comprehensive-rationalist planning was an attempt form a legitimate basis for land-use
regulation by applying scientific methods to planning (Taylor 1998). Adherents to this ideology
saw planning as a matter of finding solutions to problems. According to this view, the planning
process would start by the planner identifying all of the problems relevant to the planning
project in question. This would require the gathering of massive amounts of information, a feat
that would be unrealistic in light of the limited resources of most planning agencies. Assuming
this information has been collated, the planner would then proceed to generate a proposal
that represents an optimal (i.e. the best possible) integration of all relevant viewpoints, be
they technical and economical consideration or the private interests of stakeholders. The
comprehensive-rationalist planner’s task was to generate a plan that was optimised for the
“public interest”, usually defined on a utilitarian “greatest good for greatest number” basis.
This line of thought has been subsequently much criticised in theoretical circles (Nigel Taylor
1998), as it failed to properly take into account qualitative points of view such as residents’
subjective experiences and non-quantifiable concepts such as the “pleasantness” of a
landscape or the “scariness” of a route. Comprehensive-rationalism attempted to ignore into
non-existence the political nature of planning, an attempt that inevitably failed, just as many
would say the socially dysfunctional housing areas built in the name of rationality have failed.
Habermasian communicative planning
The 1990s saw the emergence of a counter reaction to comprehensive-rationalist planning in
the concept of collaborative planning (Richardson Connelly 00). Here, the Habermasian
idea of communicative action is applied to urban planning with the intention of creating a
planning process where consensus would be sought on planning issues through rational and
considerate argumentation and listening. Collaborative planning was based on the presumption
that stakeholders would enter discussions ready to forego their own private interests for the
sake of reaching a consensus that reflects the best interests of all stakeholders collectively.
This communicative approach places much emphasis on verbal communication as the means
of reaching consensus, despite the fact that words are by themselves an inadequate means
of negotiation about the qualities of physical space. Communicative planning has widely
criticised on account of its idealism; Habermas’ notion of stakeholders entering discussions
with an open and disinterested mind and genuine readiness to put group consensus before
his or her own interests is an ideal to which real-life situations can rarely come close. The
paradigm of communicative planning is nonetheless pertinent in that it aims to create forums
for negotiation where stakeholders’ subjective interests and qualitative matters are brought
into play as relevant and valid planning issues.
Habermasian planning theory emphasises consensus as an important aim in participatory
planning. This view has been criticised because of its potential to distort the ensuing
negotiations; in many cases contradictory interests simply cannot be mutually accommodated,
and seeking unanimous agreement may distort the deliberation process by ignoring or
foreclosing viewpoints which threaten the achievement of consensus. Yet conflicts need not
be seen as failures – by making conflicts visible, they become possible to address (although
not necessarily solve) and thus stakeholders can develop a balanced, realistic understanding
of the situation, which can enrich the ensuing decision-making process. Rather than trying to
solve conflicts, participatory planning process should instead seek to make conflicts visible
and understood by stakeholders and decision-making entities alike.
A good participatory planning process is one which leads to a shared understanding and
acceptance of the final results; stakeholders need not necessarily agree on the end result
and feel it to be just, but it is valuable that they understand both how it was arrived at and
how their own interests are represented in relation to the interests of others; in some cases,
the worst-served interests may be subsequently compensated in some way or another. If and
when it happens to emerge, consensus is a pleasant bonus, but it should not be strictly set as
The comprehensive-rationalist ideology is far from dead as far as planning practice is concerned,
for many planners still see planning as being a question of problems and solutions, where the
supposedly politically neutral planner has to optimise different considerations to achieve a plan
that best reflects the “public interest”. While planning is undeniably a question of synthesizing
numerous considerations into a coherent whole (Puustinen 00), it does not automatically
follow that problems, solutions and values exist are discreet entities; for in practice, planning
is a far more muddled issue than rationalists dare to recognise. If we are to acknowledge
the importance of lay people’s subjective experience of the environment, how can this be
brought into the planning process while simultaneously making use of the expertise of trained
professionals? To answer this question we must first examine in more detail the nature of the
activity of planning.
- Planning is a normative, not descriptive activity
- There are numerous and often conflicting views as to what constitutes the “good
- The value-bound aspects of planning should, if we accept democratic ideals, be
subjected to public scrutiny
- Aiming for consensus can undermine the quality of deliberation. Participatory planning
processes should aim to make conflicts visible and understood
1.4 The problem of the muddled nature of planning
Rationalist planning attempted a leap over Hume’s guillotine, which tells us that in order to
proceed from empirical observation to a design proposal, we must justify our prescriptive
statements (or designs) with valuation systems. One might suggest that the spuriously
depoliticised comprehensive-rationalism be amended by bringing laypeople’s values and
subjective wishes into the planning process, for example by examining the subjective values
of stakeholders alongside other information gathered at the outset of the planning process.
The generated design proposal could then be evaluated in terms of how well it realises the
The problem with such a view is that it assumes that values, problems and solutions can
be meaningfully distinguished from one another. it may be possible to verbalise some value
statements, it is often impossible to place conflicting values into a hierarchy. It is also not
possible to identify (or indeed verbalize) all value statements that may be relevant to the design
project in question, for we become aware of our values only when confronted with situations
which require a trade-off between different values. For example, in the theoretical situation of
having to decide how much funding to devote to cancer treatment in compared to the funding
of opera performances, our relative values regarding physical well-being and cultural well-
being would become visible. Making abstract proclamations of our values regarding physical
well-being and cultural well-being without a context would have little meaning.
Therefore the idea that one should select the design proposal that best optimises one’s values
(even if consensus were achieved on these) is false, for in practice the best we can do is is
select the proposal with the best combination of values. As Charles Lindblom tells us in his
“The Science of Muddling Through”, “We choose among values and among policies at one
and the same time” (Lindblom 199).
A concrete example of this would be the task of designing a new park. Residents may predefine
various values which they wish to be realised in the design for the new park, such as “closeness
to nature” and “good lighting to give a sense of safety”. These values carry little substance in
themselves, for the designer’s understanding of the physical consequences of these values
may differ from that of the other stakeholders in the design project. By generating a design
for the park, it becomes possible to evaluate whether or not the park is sufficiently “close to
nature” and whether the lighting is adequate to engender a sense of security. The requirement
for good lighting may be in conflict with the requirement for the “naturalness” of the park, and
it is only be reviewing multiple alternative designs that one can form an opinion of what a
suitable trade-off between the two might be. Unlike the simplified example of the park, real-life
design situations require trade-offs and integrations of far more than just two considerations.
According to Lindblom, it is not necessary to justify our choices, because values (and choices
regarding trade-offs between different values), are often beyond argumentative justification.
Lindblom asserts that the only necessary justification for a policy is that it enjoys consensus;
it is not necessary to demand that a policy (or design) is the optimal integration of predefined
values. After all, the only justification for pre-stated values is that they enjoy consensus,
according to Lindblom.
This “muddling through” view of policy making was later echoed and elaborated both by
Donald A. Schön in his “The Reflective Practitioner” (198) and in the concept of Rittel and
Webber’s (198) concept of the “wicked problem”. The wicked problem is a concept used in
used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because
of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.
Because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem
may reveal or create other problems.
Challenging the long-persisting rationalist idea that problems may be identified at the outset
of a planning project, the notion of the wicked problem entails that meaning that the problem
is not understood until a provisional solution has been formulated. This reiterates Lindblom’s
idea that values only become visible through being expressed in a context.
As Mäntysalo and Nyman (00) describe: “Designs are like searchlights in a dark, strange
territory. While they elucidate the unknown territory, they also direct our gaze towards a particular
direction. Without designing, we would see nothing, but even through designing we do not see
the whole landscape; we see the landscape as the design presents it. For this reason, one
should not be satisfied with one searchlight, but rather try to attain an understanding of the
world in the light of several searchlights.”
Sub-decisions in the design process can often only be justified in terms of previous design
decisions; a street is placed here because we have previously decided to place a square there;
and yet the square might just as well have been located elsewhere. Attempts towards rational
justification of a design will succeed only in making fragmentary “branches” of rationality,
where decisions can be justified in terms of other previous decisions. While self-consistent
and integral as far as the design is concerned, such branches of rationality will not necessarily
be connected to the trunk or roots of the problem.
When a design proposal is presented to lay residents for appraisal, the planner can easily fend
off criticism of individual details by claiming that the design as a whole demands the detail in
question to be just so, even if the planner agrees that the detail in question is a comprised
solution. The planners position is secure, for in light of the limited resources of any planning
office, it would be unreasonable to have to redesign the whole proposal in response to criticism
of an individual detail.
Both the notions of muddling through and wicked problems would appear to point to the need
to generate multiple proposals for each planning project. The democratic implication of this
would be to involve lay participants in the choosing of the option to be executed. However,
to involve lay stakeholders into the planning process as merely as judges is problematic for
two reasons: firstly, it ignores the democratic requirement for participants to develop insight
into the matter being decided; secondly, it allows for an imbalance of power between those
involved in the act of design and those acting as judges, for if excluded from the process of
design itself, lay people are excluded from influencing some of the most important decisions.
The implications of muddling through and wicked problems for planning are perhaps best
summed up by Nigel Taylor (1998): “The whole point of personal or social choice in many
situations is not to implement a given set of values in the light of perceived facts, but rather to
define, and sometimes deliberately reshape, values - and hence the identity - of the individual
community that is engaged in the process of choosing.”
The consequence for public participation in planning is that laypeople should be involved
in the actual act of design so as to have the opportunity to gain meaningful insight, develop
considered value-positions and to influence the micro-level sub-decisions of the planning
project. The more directly involved the stakeholders are in the design process, the greater
their insight into the problem at hand will be and therefore a greater quality of democratic
engagement will ensue. Yet involving lay stakeholders in the design process is difficult, due
to the way in which planners and designers work, with much of their expertise being based on
tacit knowledge. This are will be examined in the following section.
- The process of design is not simply a matter of executing predefined values and
desires, but creating a balance between different values and desires. This is in itself a
value-laden and political activity
- Values cannot be defined without a context; public participation in planning should
allow lay stakeholders to develop their own considered value-position through direct
involvement in the design process
- Planning “problems” are never solved, they are merely addressed
- Planning problems are only understood through proposing solutions
1.5 The problem of tacit knowledge
Involving lay stakeholders in the design process is difficult because, for among other reasons, in
producing the visual manifestation of the design, i.e. drawing as models, planning professionals
have at their disposal rhetorical tools that are not immediately accessible to laypeople.
As long as value decisions are made through the selection of non-verbal, i.e. visually
communicated proposals, there is an imbalance of power in the discourse between planners
and stakeholders, because the lay participants are largely compelled to communicate on the
terms of the planner. The area of expertise of architects and planners is not merely the design
of built environments, but also (and arguably, primarily) the communication of ideas of the built
environment through visual means, namely drawings and models. While Lindblom’s statement,
“We choose among values and among policies at one and the same time” (Lindblom 199,
9), is pertinent, we could perhaps more accurately say that: “we choose among values,
among policies, and and among graphic presentation techniques at one and the same time”.
We cannot reliably distinguish between the three.
It would therefore seem necessary to open up the representation of planning substance and
decisions - the making of drawings, maps, and charts - to public participation. This is no easy
task, as the skills required for the act of design are based on tacit knowledge. As discussed
previously, part of architects’ and planners expertise partly “scientific”, in as much as there are
aspects of their expertise that are explicit, and thus subjectable to verbal argumentation and
negotiation. But architects’ and planners expertise is to a significant extent “artistic”, in that
tacit knowledge or skill - that which is partly or wholly inexplicable to others - plays a major role
in the design of the built environment (here we will use the definition of tacit knowledge used
in the field of knowledge management, which should not be confused with the earlier - yet
different - definition offered by Polyani).
Tacit knowledge is often considered more valuable than explicit knowledge, as it represents
an ability to respond appropriately to real-life, contextual problems. Tacit knowledge is gained
through contextual experience: it is an understanding of how to solve problems involving
numerous variable factors that may appear, in real-life situations, in combinations never seen
before. While tacit knowledge is often linked to empirical experience, it is by no means infallible.
Tacit knowledge is tied up to intuition, personal convictions - notions of how things should be
done, which may well be both unfounded and detrimental to the task in hand. Individuals’ tacit
knowledge may be based on such deep-founded convictions that we never consider - or dare
- to subject them to a reality test. Tacit knowledge may manifest as tacit wisdom or as tacit
Explicit planning information, such as dimensional norms, environment health and safety
norms, or requirements stated by landowners or politicians are rarely so extensive as to
entirely determine the nature of the design in its entirety. By convention, those considerations
that are beyond verbal argumentation, such as matters of aesthetics and the “atmosphere” of
a place, are usually left to the designer to determine. Not only are some aspects of the built
environment left to the tacit skill of the designer, but the synthesis of all various considerations
- both tacit and explicit - into a coherent design proposal is in itself an act that defies verbal
justification. Generating a synthesis requires the designer to make numerous subjective
and non-explicable design decisions; for the trade-offs that must be made between multiple
non-quantifiable values are difficult to subject to rational argumentation. So while the design
problem incorporates explicit information, a design for an environment inevitably embodies
values that are the result of the designer’s tacit skill. Tacit knowledge is by definition not
explicable to outsiders; tacit knowledge is thus inherently non-democratic knowledge, as it is
difficult, if not impossible to subject it to public and open scrutiny.
An important aspect of planners’ and architects’ tacit skill is the ability to understand the spatial
qualities of a design represented in drawings. Few lay people are able to look at a urban plan
and form a mental image of walking through that environment. This aspect of the planner’s
skill is inaccessible to the layperson, but the problem can be partly addressed by providing
laypeople with adequate depictions of the future environment (perspective drawings, ground-
level walk-throughs etc.) rather than abstract representations (site plans, zoning maps) for the
basis of evaluation.
The fact that planners’ and architects knowledge is based largely on tacit knowledge is
problematic, for personal and subjective values are indistinguishably intertwined with widely
accepted and validated professional skill. In other words, in planning, matters of personal taste
are inseparable from matters of valid expertise. If planning expertise unavoidably incorporates
taste judgements, can matters of taste be brought into democratic regulation? Is it possible
to reach democratic consensus on matters of subjective preference? Or are some taste
judgements more valid than others?
- By controlling the means of representation of planning substance and decisions,
planners have significant influence over the values to be realised through the plan
- In planning professionals’ expertise, inexplicable tacit skill is inseperably intertwined
with explicit knowledge, thus making planning decisions difficult to subject to democratic
- Tacit knowledge incorporates both personal taste judgements and validifiable
- The planner’s tacit skill includes the ability to visualize environments based on abstract
representations. By providing depictions, as opposed to abstract representations of
planned environments, laypeople can better evaluate plans before they are built
1.6 The problem of taste vs. expertise
There are differing views on what constitutes a “good environment”. Perhaps a more widely
discussed issue is what constitutes “good art”. only has to visit an art gallery with any group
of people to see that people’s reactions to works of art differ. Should we assume that the
definition of the good environment is a purely subjective and personal matter - a question of
taste, that is beyond dispute? Or is there is a plausible case for a universalist definition of the
good environment? And if the evaluation of our environment is a matter of taste, are all tastes
Arto Haapala (009) offers three possible understandings of the term “taste”. The first is the
essentialist view, wherein taste is an internal ability or sensitivity to observe the aesthetic
qualities of aesthetically valuable objects. According to such a view, taste is a sense of beauty;
and beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, rather it is an inherent quality that resides within
certain objects. Haapala’s second understanding is of taste as a personal preference, which
is beyond dispute: De gustibus non est disputandum. I might like chocolate but dislike licorice,
but my taste judgements reflect my personal preferences, rather than the inherent qualities of
the objects of my judgement.
The third understanding given by Haapala is that taste is a form of expertise that can be
achieved through education in the history and theory of art and aesthetic phenomena. Taste is
the ability to notice various subtle features in the artwork and to thus discern what time period
and stylistic tendency, to highly specific a level, it belongs. Participation in critical discourse and
in reflection of the various responses to a given work of art over time, common and universal
evaluation criteria become established. When such criteria are established and stable, there is
less room for statements of personal taste, for a canon of “classic” works of art acts a common
benchmark for the evaluation of new works. In other words, there exists a social process by
which a common set of trans-subjective criteria - a supposedly universal taste - arises, through
which we can make evaluations that reach above and beyond personal taste.
Architecture and planning have their own canon of classics; there is little dispute as to who
were the five most important architects of the 0th century, and if we want to know what a
good building or good urban plan looks like, we need only to open an architectural history book
to see which works have been elevated to the category of classics. The existence of canons
of classics is the result of a process of selection that goes beyond the personal judgements
of individuals, but this selection process is, however, far from representative or democratic.
Relatively few of us have the resources to directly participate in debates of art or architecture
criticism, leaving cultural critics and practitioners much power to determine what cultural works
pass into the canon of classic works.
For a better understanding of the processes by which classics are selected for inclusion into
the canon of “good” cultural works, it is useful to examine Pierre Bourdieu’s studies into the
social function of taste.
Bourdieu and taste as a means for social arbitration
In his Distinction (Bourdieu 198), sociologist Pierre Bourdieu asserts that judgements of taste
are used as tools for the regulation and maintenance of social structures. Taste is used by
social groups to delineate themselves from other groups, and as a means by which people
can attempt to elevate themselves from one social group to another.
Bourdieu’s distinction theory is based on empirical research conducted in France during
the 190s. The theory tells us that displaying one’s taste acts as a tool for the exertion of
power; it is a means by which a group or individual can distinguish themselves from other
groups, often with the aim of asserting their relative superiority. One of the fundamental ways
of asserting superiority through taste - the mechanism of distinction - occurs by choosing
one’s aesthetic values so as to show one’s distance from economic necessity. This does not
necessarily occur in the literal economic terms described by Thorsten Veblen, but in terms of
the commodification of objects of taste. Bourdieu shows how members of the upper classes
(both in the economic and cultural senses) consume items that allow them to display the
actualisation of Kant’s “disinterested gaze”, wherein an object is viewed without imposing
on it expectations of functionality, moral virtue or meaning. In Bourdieu’s view, by employing
the detached gaze, the viewer is able to display to his peers his lack of concern for material
This pure, detached gaze (whose objects Kant called “free beauties”) contrasts with the mode
of viewing used by members of the lower classes, who, as Bourdieu’s interviews seem to
prove, always seek meaning and functionality from artworks, and qualify their evaluation of a
work of art with respect to a proposed purpose.
This definition of two contrasting modes of aesthetic experience are corroborated not only by
statements made by Bourdieu’s interviewees, but is also visible in the differences between “high”
and “low” art. “Low” art rejects all types of formal experimentation that distances the spectator
from being able to identify with the world being represented in the artwork. In contrast, “high”
art is defined by its refusal of facile involvement and vulgar enjoyment, and thus it relishes in
formal experimentation. While the working class takes interest in the things signified by a work
of art (e.g. a fruit bowl, a person) and seeks from the artwork a continuation of life through
representation, and thus an affirmation of his or her sense of reality, the cultural elite concerns
itself with the sign itself (e.g. the technique of the painter, the language used by the author)
and is not concerned with whether or not the artwork offers a believable representation of
real life. The relevance to architecture is clear, and is witnessed by questionnaires conducted
regarding lay people’s architectural taste: the lower classes want easy, enjoyable architecture,
where a house is recognizable as a house. The aesthetic elite does not seek such semiotic
functionality from architecture, but instead it seeks opportunity for sublimation; a good house
is one that evades or challenges conventional notions of what a house is.
Bourdieu takes pains to point out that Kant’s assertion of the sublime, non-conceptual aesthetic
experience as superior to a commodifying one is a moral argument, not a factual one. Kant
presents these two forms of aesthetic experience as a way to delineate social groups from
one another; the civilised from the barbarian. Kant tells us that the capacity for sublimation
(i.e. the ability to cease conceptualisation) is the “definition of the human man”, and that
“Taste that requires and added amount of charm and emotion for its delight.. not to speak
of of adopting this as the measure of its approval, has not yet emerged from barbarism”
(cited in Bourdieu 198). Kant’s aesthetics is a normative one. His Critique of Judgement is
written in the imperative, and offers no justification for the delineation of the “civilised” from the
“barbarian”. It would be spurious to accept Kant’s evaluation and classification of his fellow
humans uncritically; the pursuit of sublimeness in art or architecture should seen in its context
as being a attempt at social regulation.
Bourdieu would agree with Haapala third notion of taste in that there appears to exist a trans-
subjective taste, which is widely regarded as objective. While our aesthetic judgements may
be freely chosen in some aspects of life, we nonetheless tend to defer to and respect what we
see as “official” or legitimate taste, that has been defined and then consecrated - in the form
of “classics” or certain evaluation criteria - by a particular segment of society. The legitimacy
of the consecrated taste is however questionable; it is defined by a relatively small segment of
society, whose taste is formed through successive negation of the working classes’ taste.
In the absence of a convincing essentialist argument for a notion of good taste, and in the
absence of a moral functionalist argument for the existence of a taste that serves the population
better than others, any claim for an objectively good taste would have to base its authority on
democracy. Democratic accommodation of the tastes of all sectors of society is difficult, as the
very nature of taste is its opposition to and distinction from other group’s tastes; Bourdieu’s
view seems to lead to a pessimistic conclusion: that consensus will not and cannot be found
on matters of taste.
What are the consequences of Bourdieusian theory for architecture and planning? Firstly,
it tells us that architectural and planning expertise are bound to social processes which
inherently act to deny the mainstream populous of the realisation of their taste. This reminds
us of the importance of seeking to build consensus on questions of the “good environment”
through consultation that reaches beyond the boundaries of the architectural and planning
professions. While Bourdieu is pessimistic about the possibility of ever reaching consensus,
we may nonetheless consider how the built environment can be designed to simultaneously
serve a plurality of tastes (as proposed by Rowe and Koetter (198) in their Collage City),
and whether or not a utilitarian approach should be adopted with the hope of best serving the
tastes of the largest part of the relevant population.
- The essentialist approach to evaluating works of architecture and planning conflicts
with empirical evidence
- The strong social constructionist view is also difficult to maintain
- The valuation of architecture and planning is linked to both the objective physical
qualities of the work and social processes surrounding it
- The tacit skill of the professional designer is not only value-bound, but it also tends to
defy lay people’s values rather than affirm them
1.7 The problem of relevance systems
A problem with any planning process involving more than one person is that of incongruence
between different actors’ meaning systems or relevance systems. We earlier established that
planning is a value-bound and political activity; planning disputes are usually disputes over
values, not facts or information .
Not only do different actors have different values and different notions of what constitute
the “good environment”, but different people’s ways of understanding the environment and
planning problems are based on different frames of reference. Our values, interests, previous
experiences (including education) and social position form “lenses” which act as a framework
for understanding and evaluating our environment.
For example, the taxi driver may perceive the city as a network of traffic lanes, the architect
may see the city as a web of geometric spaces and spacial sequences; an old-age pensioner
may perceive the urban environment as a set of experiences and past memories of friends,
neighbours and park benches. These different frames of reference (or relevance systems) are
not necessarily different points of view on the same matter (the city), but rather different points
of view on different matters.
A concrete example is the study into the construction of a motorway bypass (Sewell 19),
in which the different agents involved with the project, ranging from various professionals to
activists and local inhabitants, were asked to list the professions whose expertise they saw
as relevant to the planning question in hand. The professional planners saw the planning task
as a matter for planners, geographers and economists. Simultaneously, the activists saw the
same matter as one to which the expertise of ecologists, biologists and landscape architects
was most relevant. The incongruence between different relevance systems may lead to an
actors’ comments and desires seeming absurd and irrelevant to other players (Lapintie 00).
While we have differing frames of relevance, they are not necessarily static, as Patsy Healey
tells us: “We may shift our ideas, learn from each other, adapt to each other, ‘act in the world’
together. Systems of meaning or frames of reference shift and evolve in response to such
encounters. But it can never be possible to construct a stable consensus around ‘how we see
things’, merely a temporary accommodation of different, and differently adapting, perceptions”
What kinds of relevance systems are at play in planning and architecture? Each individual has
his or her own very personal relevance system, but we might identify three main categories
(building on Jauhiainen 00 and Bäcklund 00): the concrete, physical space of the
environment; the social world of the environment; and thirdly mental space, consisting of the
mental conceptions and memories of the environment.
Concrete physical space is perhaps the domain of the planner and architect, whose plans,
maps and depictions deal with the placing of physical matter into space. The social sphere is to
a small extent taken into account in the planning process, insofar as the planner may consider
how the physical environment affects the behaviour of its users. The mental dimension of the
environment is hardly included in the planning process - if anything it is spurned by adherents
to rationalist ideology, to whom this mental and symbolic sphere is absurd and irrational.
Planners and architects rely on abstract representations of the environment to communicate
their work. While the simplification offered by maps, charts and drawings makes the design
process possible, the same simplification affects the framing of planning matters. As Jauhiainen
(00) tells us, “Through abstraction, the everyday, lived urban environment is squeezed into
urban maps, coordinates in geographical information systems, and strategic development
visions. It is often a question of the planner’s unfulfilled illusion of the mapping out of an
Incongruence between relevance systems is not necessarily a source of disagreement, and
accommodating different frames of reference is not necessarily a matter of compromise - for
as different player’s interests pertain to different things, it may be that interests do not clash as
they do not even meet on the same “battleground”. Indeed, conflicts are perhaps more likely
when two parties have a similar frame of reference but different values on the subject. By
making differences in values and relevance systems visible, appropriate “compensation” can
be administered for those interests that the planning proposal does not sufficiently serve.
How can the gap between the various life-worlds and the system world by bridged? According
to Aija Staffans (00) “citizen-experts” act as interpreters between the lived, experienced
environment and the the political-administrative environment of the planning agencies. Yet the
scarcity and limited resources of such super-citizens does not make them a sustainable option.
Can a system of planning be created that engages the life-world experiences of residents
as well as with the abstractions of the system world? How can the lived experiences of lay
stakeholders form the basis of the design process?
- Different stakeholders have different values and different relevance systems; these
are not different viewpoints on the same matter, but different viewpoints on different
- For planning to be able to account for numerous interests, it should be able to work
on several relevance systems. Abstract representation of the environment is not a way
to achieve neutrality of relevance.
- Participatory planning methods should allow for communication on the terms of as
many relevance systems as possible
2.1 What is co-creation?
Co-creation refers to a mode of production where the users of a service or product participate
in the creation of the content of that service or product. It has numerous synonyms, such as co-
production, commons-based peer production, produsage, prosumerism etc. The phenomena
of co-creation was initially associated primarily with open-source software production, most
notably the Linux operating system. Linux gained fame as a serious competitor to the Windows
and Mac operating systems, even though it was created by an ad-hoc network of private
individuals, none of whom were paid (directly) for their work in creating the software. In the
early 000s, the principles of open-source development were taken up in the creation of what
came to be known as web .0: websites whose content was at least partially provided by its
users. Such applications include on-line services and products including social networking
sites, citizen-journalist news sites, and most renownedly, the open encyclopedia, Wikpedia.
Web .0 and co-creation have become a fashionable phenomenon, with its evangelists (such
as Yochai Benkler (00), Charles Leadbeater (008) and Clay Shirky (008)) proclaiming that
web .0 will give rise to profoundly new social structures and processes. Improving access to
information and creating new, more responsive forms of participation will lead, its exponents
say, to the radical democratisation of not only knowledge formation and use but also potentially
of decision making and administration.
Co-creation should be seen in its wider context of certain societal changes. Since the 190’s,
levels of education in developed countries has risen significantly. In Finland in 19, half
of the population had a further education qualification (university or vocational high school
degree). In 00, the corresponding number was 8%. This is reflected in a doubling in the
average number of years of formal schooling in European countries since the 190s. The
ever-better skilled population has access to ever better production and creation tools. The
publication of a magazine years ago entailed laborious typewriting, cutting and pasting of
images and texts; the question of distribution was a problem in its own right. Today, the means
and skills necessary to create a website or write a blog entry are accessible to the majority
of citizens of developed countries, not the minority. This means that professional-standard
productions of various kinds can be easily created by non-professionals (what Leadbeater
calls the professional-amateur, or pro-am revolution) in their spare time.
Co-creation can be seen as a response to these trends; an ever-better educated population is
becoming ever-less interested with the means of participation open to them. Yet falling election
turnouts should not be automatically interpreted as indicating that citizens are becoming more
passive. The rise of web .0 seems to indicate a rise in willingness to engage in communal and
at least partly altruistic projects. For co-creation projects offer something that – as developed
economies become ever-more service-centred - is increasingly rarely found in the world of
work. As our jobs become increasingly removed from primary production by many layers of
administration and bureaucracy, we long for activities that allow us to express ourselves, do
something that we feel to be useful and meaningful, and to see the results of our work.
2.2 Co-creation in practice: U.S. presidential elections
The 008 U.S.A. presidential elections provide an interesting case of successful engagement
with a wide public, using a form of co-creation. Obama’s opponents, McCain and Clinton, looked
for two things from the electorate: money and votes. Money was sought from a relatively small
number of wealthy supporters through the candidates hosting fund-raising dinners and events
for people that already supported the candidate in question. The money raised was then used
for campaigning, organised by a central campaign office, in order to win more votes.
Obama’s campaign employed a different approach. Obama’s campaign sought something
more than money and votes; the campaign offered opportunities for active involvement. The
Obama campaign made use of social media to organise local support groups to organise
campaigning activities and raise campaign funds. While McCain and Clinton received large
sums of money from few donors, Obama’s campaign received small sums of money from a
large number of donors. Of the $0 million raised, 9% consisted of donations under $100.
The Obama campaign had 1 official website, 1 official social websites, and over 00 facebook
groups; these sites formed the forums through which 1. million active supporters independently
organised their own decentralised, local campaigning activities. Obama’s campaign offered
voters the opportunity to become active in the campaign, rather than contenting oneself with
While the U.S. presidential elections are a different issue to urban planning, the question they
raise is an interesting one: can planning be outsourced to some degree to the lay public, so
that their contribution forms a valuable asset, not an obstacle?
2.3 Co-creation in practice: Consensus-building in Wikipedia
Wikipedia is an open, on-line encyclopedia. Wikipedia allows anybody to write new articles,
edit existing ones, and cancel (revert) changes made by other people to articles. Wikis rely on
“soft protection” to ensure the quality of their content; it is easy to commit vandalism on a wiki
site, but it is also very easy to correct damage. The openness of wikis has raised suspicion
as to the reliability of its content, yet several tests have shown that Wikipedia is virtually as
trustworthy as a conventional encyclopedia (Bruns 008).
The true value of Wikipedia should not be evaluated in terms of the reliability of its articles,
but more in that in the way it changes patterns of use and distribution of knowledge (Vadén
00, Hintikka 00). Wikipedia has over 1 million articles (. million in English), compared
with the half million published in english in the Encyclopedia Britannica. While Encyclopedia
Britannica is easily found in libraries around the world, the ease of access of Wikipedia makes
it for many the starting point in any investigation. Wikipedia has, however, been criticised on
account of its systematic bias in favour of popular culture and recent events, which for better
or worse, is a reminder of how co-creation projects can closely reflect their contemporary
While the intention of Wikipedia’s founders was and is to create a high quality encyclopedia
available to anybody in the world (albeit limited to those with an internet connection), the process
by which Wikipedia is formed is in itself a new and intriguing way of amalgamating different
views without the use of third-party referees. The process of formation and development of
Wikipedia articles is encapsulated in the flow diagram below:
The consensus-building process of wikipedia;
emphasis is on comprimise, and the emerging
consensus is not static
After an article is started, it can be edited by any Wikipedia user. If no-one contests the last edit,
this version of the article becomes the new consensus. If the edit is contested, the contesters
can edit either edit the article further, revert it to an earlier form, or discuss the matter on the
discussion page and try to reach a solution through argumentation. The process by which
consensus is reached on Wikipedia articles is interesting in that verbal argumentation is the
secondary, not primary mode by which a common view is reached.
The primary mode of negotiation in Wikipedia is the act of writing, editing and re-editing, which,
when performed with a reasonable degree of frequency, emerges in a consensus - in kind -
between those involved in the editing process. At it best, Wikipedia represents a non-partisan,
non-confrontational way of reaching consensus. While in party politics and architectural
competitions rely are based on selecting the best policy from numerous competing ones,
Wikipedia is based on the integration of different views. If one disagrees with the content of
a Wikipedia article and wishes to edit it into a better form, the act of editing an existing article
requires one to understand the consensus achieved up to that point; one must integrate one’s
own ideas with the ideas of others. For this reason, the wiki process would seem to ancourage
a politics of empathy rather than one of opposition. At its worst, Wikipedia is a battleground
for conflicting views, and in the cases if controversial themes (such as George W. Bush) the
article is locked by Wikipedia staff and barred from further editing.
2.4 The significance of co-creation to urban planning
It will become untenable in coming years for planning authorities to continue with current
processes of public consultation. As the public becomes ever more keen to influence their
environment, and as they become ever better equipped to do so thanks to the strong rise in
education levels, current forms of public consultation in planning will be seen to be inadequate.
While the lay public will increasingly demand better argumentation and justification for planning
projects, the capacity of planners to offer acceptable argumentation will not rise, because of
the inherent difficulty in explicating planning problems. While on the one hand the public will
require better argumentation, and on the other hand architects and planners will have difficulty
in convincing the public that decisions made on the basis of tacit knowledge are valid.
The issue is troublesome, but is conflict inevitable? Conflict is hard to avoid if planners choose
to adhere to current practices and attitudes despite the fact that the social context of planning
is changing. Can planners make use of lay stakeholders’ abilities, so that residents can make
a positive contribution to planning? Can co-creation be adopted in some form to planning to
result in a higher quality of participation, where enthusiasm and constructive engagement are
the dominant features of participation, as opposed to opposition?
If the potential benefit of applying co-creation to the design of the built environment is the
meaningful participation of lay stakeholders and the emergence of a built environment that
reflects their values and wishes as well as possible, what kind of contributions should lay
people be allowed to make?
In his Wealth of Networks (00), Yochai Benkler introduces the concept of the ”micro-
contribution” to describe the small contributions made by numerous agents in co-creation
projects. Benkler suggests that in successful co-creation projects, tasks are ”granulised” into
discreet and clearly defined tasks which can be taken up by any interested actor or group of
actors; granulisation keeps the tasks and the project as a whole manageable. For example,
Wikipedia articles are in themselves discreet ”grains”, which can be created by a single actor
or through iterative edits by multiple actors. Other examples of granulated tasks include
segments of software code or security patches; youtube videos; buildings or geographical
areas in Second Life or other on-line virtual worlds.
The implication of Benkler’s granulisation is that the co-creation project should be have
predetermined structure or format within whose constraints participants add content without
necessarily interfering with content created by other participants. In the case of wikipedia,
an article represents a granule which may be created through the micro-contribution of a
single person or through micro-contributions and negotiation between numerous individuals.
An important benefit of the limiting the impact of individual players is that it prevents the views
and values of any one player from disproportionally influencing the end result, in favour of
allowing the end result to emerge from roughly equal input from many different players.
If lay people are to be brought into the process of the design of the built environment, should
tasks be granulised as Benkler suggests? One way to granulise the task of urban design
might be to divide the area to be planned into small parcels of land, assembled around a pre-
determined street network. Different actors would then be allowed to design or influence the
design of one of these parcels. A precedent case for co-creation in the built environment are
the virtual environments constructed in Second Life or other virtual worlds, as well as many
real-life single-family house areas, where the builders of each individual plot is allowed some
degree of freedom to determine the qualities of the house to be built.
While the geographical/physical granulisation of the task of urban design has been tested and
its potential understood, it is problematic in that it denies micro-contributors the opportunity to
influence the designation of granules itself, i.e. the way that the design task is broken down
into parcels. In other words, the builder of their own house may choose the colour of their walls,
but cannot influence the layout of the street network. In this respect, geographical-physical
granulisation is plebiscitic, in that major decisions are made before the public involvement
commences. In the case of Wikipedia this is not a problem, as it is natural that encyclopedia
articles exist as discreet atomised entries, and Wikipedia contributors and editors can negotiate
about the merging and splitting of articles – in other words, granules can be continuously re-
delineated. But in order to allow a large number of lay people to influence an urban design,
they should be given the opportunity to make design gestures that affect the design at all
physical levels (e.g. street network, building density of the area in general) rather than being
restricted to influencing the qualities of just a small area within the whole (e.g. building density
and height of one plot or sub-area). As discussed later in this paper, the wikiplanning method
granulises the design process temporally, i.e. by limiting the time that any one individual can
spend on a design task.
The relevance of Wikipedia to urban design is limited in the respect that Wikipedia aims to
collate pre-existing, descriptive knowledge into one place. Urban design is a matter of making
normative proposals for development; while the reliability and accuracy of Wikipedia has been
a matter of interest to its users (and opponents), reliability and accuracy are not relevant
concepts as far as urban design is concerned, and the question of the ”quality” of urban
designs is a highly ambiguous area which has been touched upon in the first part of this
An important feature of co-creation projects is their largely non-hierarchical administration,
meaning that decisions are often made through peer-to-peer negotiation between micro-
contributors - for example Wikipedia contributors discussing entries between themselves -
avoiding the need for a central coordinator who oversees the project, a role which would carry
certain risks as far as democracy is concerned.
Key aspects of co-creation that may benefit urban planning and design:
- Direct stakeholder-to-stakeholder negotiation can reduce need for centralised
- Co-creation can facilitate the amalgamation of different viewpoints and building of
shared understandings, without necessarily requiring verbal communication
- Limitation of each individual’s input into ”micro-contributions” helps avoid
disproportionate influence by any one stakeholder
CRITIQUE OF THE
3.0 The wikiplanning method
This section is contains a simultaneous exposition and critique of a planning tool, ”wikiplanning”,
that I have been developing since 00 in an attempt to address the issues and problems
outlined in the first section of this thesis. Wikiplanning is a live workshop method, in which up
to 0 lay participants are involved directly in the formulation of planning proposals through
model-building. The method has been empirically tested over 0 times in a range of contexts.
The wikiplanning method seeks solutions to the aforementioned problems by looking to co-
Wikipedia, and the process by which is is built and maintained, offers an interesting model
for urban design and planning. Applied to the design of environments, Wikipedia’s mode of
production offers a way of integrating numerous different viewpoints and interests without
necessarily having to recourse to verbal argumentation, which forecloses non-conceptual,
non-explicable matters from the consensus-building process.
Wikiplanning in action: the method has been tried over 30 times in a range of contexts
Wikiplanning is an attempt to apply the concepts and principles of co-creation to urban
planning to result in a planning tool to lead to designs that represent the “public interest”
without having to rely on refereeing by one of the interest groups – i.e. planning professionals
- whose neutrality in planning issues is questionable.
The wikiplanning method has been developed as an off-line, live process, although the eventual
intention is to consider how a similar process might be conducted on-line to allow for a larger
number of participants. At the time of writing, the method has been over 0 times in various
contexts and in numerous permutations. Participants have included residents’ associations,
professional planners, local politicians and election candidates, festival-goers, NGOs, as well
as school, undergraduate and doctoral students.
Through experimenting with different approaches, a “finalised” method has been arrived
at which is outlined below, although the method presented will continue to evolve in future
development. The development of the method has raised at least as many questions as it has
answered, and more experimentation is necessary. Most wikiplanning sessions conducted
were not conducted in the context of a “real” planning project, and more testing is needed in
real-life contexts, as the high emotional intensity of real planning situations where much is at
stake forms a useful acid test for the method.
A plan for part of Helsinki’s Hernesaari was created by a group of 12 laypeople in less than two
hours, with minimal help form professionals. Above: site plan. Below: central square.
The method is simple; several “design stations”, typically numbering three to six, are placed
around a room. Depending on the design tasks in hand, the design stations may consist of a
site plan or partial site model to which changes are made by moving or adding components.
The participants are divided into small groups of up to five persons, such that there are as
many groups as there are design stations. The participants are then allowed approximately
10 minutes to make alterations to a model at one of the design stations by manipulating
or adding wooden blocks, lego bricks, and a range of other materials. After that time has
elapsed, each group in turn presents their work and explains the alterations they have made.
Then, each groups moves on to the next design station, where they make further changes to
the model, using the previous group’s finishing state as their starting point. This process of
editing previous groups’ edits is repeated until every group has worked at each of the design
stations. Discussion is kept to a minimum until the latter stages of the workshop, as too much
discussion can lead to conversation (and disputes) about small details at the expense of
consideration of the wider picture.
The process results in models, or design proposals, to which each group has made at least
a small contribution. In theory, each individual will have had the opportunity to express a) his
or her values and desires regarding the design task in question, and b) his or her values and
desires regarding the integration of the values and desires of all participants into the design
proposals. We will later consider to what extent this actually occurs.
After the workshop the models are photographed, and the photograph is then “drawn up” by an
architect to result in a visual interpretation of the model in which the architect applies - to one
extent or another – his or her own professional insight and personal preferences. The drawings
can be used as the basis of further discussion between the lay participants and planning
This plan, also for Helsinki’s Hernesaari was designed by a mixed group of professionals from fields
related to urban planning and land use regulation.
Improvements to an imaginary high-rise suburb: to what extent is the cred-
ibility of a desgin due to the way it is presented?
professionals; seeing their design represented using established professionals’ techniques
and mannerisms, lay participants can develop an understanding of the consequences of their
proposal, and thus learn more about their own preferences and dispositions and how to express
them. Correspondingly, the architect can use the drawings to try develop an understanding
and empathy for what the lay participants are driving at. The drawn-up representations should
be seen as tools for communication, not as conclusive results in themselves.
3.1 Case study 1: Alppila
In the spring of 00, I was approached by the residents’ association of the Alppila urban district
of Helsinki. The active members of the association (numbering approximately six individuals)
were dissatisfied with the safety and general pleasantness of Alppila’s main square, known
to locals as, among other things, Kuuskulma (”Six Corners”). The traffic arrangement in the
square have been widely criticised as unsafe and confusing by car-users, as the separation
of trams lines from car lanes is not always clear. Also, pedestrians and inhabitants have
bemoaned the speed with which cars drive through the square and the perceived run-down
visual appearance of the square, at whose centre is a cluster of recycling bins. The residents’
association wanted to propose improvements to the square in cooperation with as wide a
group of local inhabitants as possible, with the hope of gathering enough local support to be
able to pressure the city authorities into implementing the changes.
In agreement with the residents’ association, I started the consultation process by delivering
00 questionnaires to households surrounding the central square. In addition to conventional
questions, the questionnaire form included a map of the square in its current form, and
inhabitants were encouraged to draw their own proposals for the development of the square
During the course of 8 weeks, 0 questionnaires were returned, of which over 0 had either
writing or drawing on the map indicating the inhabitants’ ideas. Contradicting conventional
wisdom, the proposals drawn by the local residents exhibited not only an ability to read and
understand the plan drawing of the square, but also to draw serious and viable proposals
for alterations. Several of the drawn proposals suggested the closing of a stretch of road to
through traffic and re-directing it to a widened tram lane. This would enable the formation of
a large pedestrian square directly adjoining four local businesses which draw many people to
Local residents’ drawn and writ-
ten responses: many suggested
closing part of Porvoonkatu street
to cars, something the traffic
planner held feasible
the square: a popular local bar-café, a kiosk, a grocers and a restaurant. The closing of this
section of road would require the relocating of about 100m of tram tracks and would result in
four fewer car parking spaces in the area – all of which could be relocated by changing the
parking arrangements of a nearby street to allow diagonal parking.
As questionnaires were returned (to a box in the entrance to a local shop), I drew proposals
for the development of Kuuskulma square. The proposals were published on a blog, and
inhabitants were invited to comment on the proposals. During the eight weeks of the project,
six proposals were drawn and published on the blog, where comments were received on the
proposals. Many comments resisted changes to the square, citing the possibility of increased
noise pollution from the square’s restaurant and bar if their terraces are extended during
warmer months. Also, many comments indicated a fear of the number of car parking spaces
being diminished. Notable in the blog was the aggressive tone adopted by people writing
anonymous comments, who in venomous terms criticised ”green hippies” for threatening the
rights of car users. One commenter even alleged that the whole project was initiated by the
local bar who was seeking to expand their terrace into the square.
In addition to the questionnaires, an open wikiplanning workshop was held at a local festival
during the time of the project, and a closed wikiplanning session was held for members of
Helsinki’s planning committee and members of the public. The latter event was held in the bar
adjoining the square, so that the place being designed was directly visible to the participants
of the workshop. After briefing, the three local politicians (all members of Helsinki’s planning
board) were given 10 minutes to make alterations to a model of the square as it currently
exists. After this time, a group selected from the audience (of about 0 people) was allowed
10 minutes to make their own proposals and to alter the proposal generated by the politicians.
Finally, the politicians had a further 10 minutes of modelling time. Although briefed as a model-
making event and not a discussion, with the aim of giving the politicians to display and hone
their group-working abilities, their interaction was nonetheless characterised by long speeches
The final design, in which the north-eastern part of the square was to be closed to though-
traffic and the central area of the square would contain a number of raised planting beds, was
presented to the relevant authorities While the authorities felt the proposed traffic arrangements
Designs for the square were generated iteratively as feedback was received via the blog, paper ques-
tionnaires and meetings
to be reasonable and desirable, the cost of re-surfacing the square and moving part of the
tram tracks is beyond the financial means available for the following five years.
3.2 Case study 2: Roihuvuori
A wikiplanning workshop was organised as part of a larger set of consultation activities intended
to involve local residents in the design of a park to be constructed on a piece of land in the
centre of the Roihuvuori suburb of Helsinki.
A veteran of public participation in architecture, architect Heikki Kukkonen, was commissioned
by the city authorities to organise a process of public involvement in the design of the park.
Heikki Kukkonen organised a series of walks, discussions and workshops for inhabitants of
various ages. In addition to these, I was asked to organise a wikiplanning workshop for the
design of the park. In the workshop, in which participated slightly less than 0 local residents
of various ages, there were four design stations. At two of the stations their were 1:100 models
of the park in its current state. The other two design stations involved a story-telling exercise
using images and text. At design stations three and four, a long strip of paper was placed on
the table, with a time-line of a day in the year 01, starting at :00am and ending hours
later. The task at station three was to use the provided images (cut from magazines) as well
as text to tell a story of a good day in the park in the year 01. The task at the fourth station
was to use images and text to create a story of a bad day in the park in the year 01. The
collage exercise seemed to be a succesful way of provoking thought about the kind of use of
the future park, as opposed to specific activities, which were the focus of the two models.
The task of designing the park involved, to a large extent, consideration of the types of
activities and facilities that the future park should offer, rather than the placing on new large-
scale physical objects on the site. Ideas proposed seemed to reflect the interests those
participating in the workshop, with teenagers proposing such facilities as e.g. climbing frames
and skate ramps, and older adults proposing ponds and benches.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this workshop was the introduction of lego figures
which were used to represent demographic groups or viewpoints that were not necessarily
represented by the workshop’s participants themselves. Each lego figure (at scale 1:0) held
a sign with their name, age, occupation/status and a short statement of their wishes regarding
the development of the park. The figures were placed on a table in the middle of the space at
the beginning of the workshop, and participants were asked to place the figures in the models
to show which part or aspect of the future park the figure in question may most appreciate. The
object of this exercise was two-fold – firstly, to help participants consider viewpoints and needs
other than their own, and secondly, to make visible whose wishes the participants wanted to
cater for and whose wishes were not deemed relevant or appropriate. The somewhat harrowing
result was that the figures representing alcoholics (who in real life are currently the primary
users of the park) were left on the central table, while a participant offered the explanation that
”alcoholics would be welcome in the future park if they were to behave well, but they never
do”. While the lego figure does not solve any problems, it made participants choices starkly
visible. It is possible that such use of fictional figures may make participants embarrassed by
the one-sidedness of their own viewpoints and thus make concessions to others, but this was
not so in the case in question.
The proposals that emerged by the end of the workshop were notable for the feasibility of the
transit routes within the park. The network of routes proposed by the lay participants were
practicable to the extent that they were carried through to the proposal drawn by architect
Heikki Kukkonen as a synthesis of all of the public consultation conducted relating to the
park. As local residents know which places they typically move between, it is easy for them to
propose routes that reflect their requirements well. When the required routes of a larger range
of people are combined and synthesised (as happens in wikiplanning workshops) the result
is a network of routes that is highly practical. In this sense, one could claim that some kind of
collective intelligence occurs in wikiplanning regarding route design.
Lego figures were used to represent groups whose interests were not represented by the participants
present at the workshop
3.3 Case study 3: Lasipalatsi
I received a commission from Lasipalatsin Mediakeskus Oy to organise a way to gather ideas
for the development of the square that lies between the Helsinki’s Lasipalatsi building and
the former coach station. On the ”Night of the Arts” in Helsinki in august 009, two 1:0 scale
models of the Lasipalatsi square were placed in the square and the general public was invited
to model their ideas using plasticine, lego, wooden blocks, cardboard and other modelling
materials. One of the two models was used to gather positive ideas for the future of the
square, while the other was used to gather negative ideas, i.e. the public’s vision of the the
least desirable development of the square The models were open to the public from pm. to
Lasipalatsi’s square is currently administered by the properties department of the City
of Helsinki. The current urban plan allows for over 000 m of subterranean space to be
constructed below the square. Lasipalatsi Mediakeskus Oy wanted to find ideas for both the
long term development and use of the square as well as temporary and short term uses
until possible building work on the subterranean spaces begins. Current rent agreements
allow the two bar terraces in the square to remain in place until 01. Aside from structures
relating to the possible underground spaces to be possibly built, it is unlikely that significant
and permanent spatial changes will be made to the square, and for this reason the scope of
Upper strip: a good day in the park in the year 2015
Lower strip: a bad day in the park in the year 2015
Above: one of the two models after the workshop.
Right: The final design, drawn by architect Heikki Kuk-
konen, in which the results of the whole consultation
process were taken into account