Assessing Participatory Governance in the City: The Intersection of Toolkits, Local Knowledge and Multiple Participations in Athens and Ghent

Shenja van der Graaf, Carina Veeckman

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Over the last decades, governmental entities have steadily moved towards more openness and transparency. Besides the support of legislative mandates and public policy decisions, government websites are also giving access to databases, for which they can be held more accountable to the people that they serve. These trends have been enhanced by an array of information and communication technologies, ranging from PDAs to smartphones with location-aware mobile applications, making it much easier for citizens to access and consume government information. Still, in the majority of the cases, government entities just operate in a one-way world in which government data is simply pushed towards the public. However, we do see that some innovative government entities tap into the creative potential of the public and encourage citizens to create new tools that transform government data and information into practical tools for use by the general public (Gant & Turner-Lee, 2011). With the availability of affordable and accessible Web-based tools for content production and distribution, user or citizen participation is hailed as a creative and empowering infrastructure of pervasive knowledge-intensive and information-rich user-created content activities (cf. van der Graaf, 2009). Following this line of thought, it makes sense for public sector stakeholders to develop public service-related solutions in conjunction with the user base or citizens. This paper, therefore, seeks to yield insight into how public service delivery can be co-designed between the city and citizens, and from which both the city and everyday urban life can possibly benefit.

Through a case study, this paper investigates how users are engaged in the development of mobile applications on the city-hosted platform of two European cities, namely Ghent (Belgium) and Athens (Greece). By supporting the principles of citizen participation and opening up the city's datasets, both cities want to deliver better services and gain better insights in how to improve the city's transparency and communication towards their citizens and other governmental departments. In these two case studies, Ghent mainly focuses on the delivery of better services within the transportation domain to reduce traffic in the city center, while the mobile applications in Athens seek to enable citizens to overcome health challenges and adopt more active lifestyles. Through the city-hosted platform the necessary toolkits are provided to users and which enable them to build applications in html5, also incorporating geo-location technologies, and to be used on any handset. The preliminary findings showed that the more advanced users were not interested in using the toolkits for building their own mobile applications, whereas the less advanced users did not understand how to work with it. The key understanding here is that government entities should provide different toolkits based on the specific capacities and skills of the users, so that every citizen can be become involved and be heard, thereby highlighting 'e-governance as good governance'. Based on these findings, this paper will eventually yield a more robust understanding of the development and organization of city-user relationships that underlie the structural integration of citizen participation into mainstream public service development and the implications for an inclusive policy framework at the local level.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes
EventEuroCPR Conference 2014 - Brussels, Belgium
Duration: 24 Mar 201424 Mar 2014


ConferenceEuroCPR Conference 2014


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