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PhD Defence Rosa Aguilar Bolivar | Co-designing planning support tools for stakeholder engagement in collaborative spatial planning processes

Co-designing planning support tools for stakeholder engagement in collaborative spatial planning processes

The PhD defence of Rosa Aguilar Bolivar will take place (partly) online and can be followed by a live stream.
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Rosa Aguilar Bolivar is a PhD student in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-Information Management. Supervisor is prof.dr. K. Pfeffer and co-supervisor is dr. J. Flacke from the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation.

Stakeholders’ participation in addressing spatial planning problems remains a significant concern among scholars and planning practitioners. The communicative approach of planning support systems (PSS) aims to facilitate stakeholders’ engagement through interactive digital geospatial tools. Nonetheless, despite the growing offer of PSS, its uptake in practice is still low. The use of maptables for facilitating stakeholder engagement in planning processes is a contemporary approach that has shown benefits to the planning community regarding communication, interaction and collaboration. However, PS tools for these instruments are scarce. This research aimed at conceptualising, designing, and implementing an interactive, open-source planning support tool that fosters stakeholders’ engagement in collaborative spatial planning processes where maptables, digital horizontal large touch screens, are the central support instrument. For this purpose, we formulated three objectives: 1) to conceptualise, with its intended users, a PS tool for stakeholders’ engagement in collaborative planning processes, 2) to design and develop a PS tool for stakeholder engagement in collaborative planning processes in collaboration with its intended users, and 3) to implement a PS tool and evaluate its usability and usefulness during spatial planning processes in two case studies. Mixed methods from both social and computer sciences were applied. The conceptualisation is based on requirements gathered from state-ofthe-art (SOTA) literature reviews, semi-structured user interviews, and user stories. The design and development of the PS tool with users combined HCD and Agile software development methods contextualised to collaborative planning, e.g., focus group, user stories, prototypes, and review meetings. Implementing the PS tool and its usability and usefulness evaluation utilised planning workshops, self-reported post-workshop questionnaires and open discussion.

Intended users of the tool played a central role in its conceptualisation because they validated previously elicited, from-literature, user requirements and provided new ones. The resulting generic conceptualisation comprises components for mapping, analysis and space-time support. The mapping component accommodates data exploration and input, whereas the analytical Synthesis component presents standard and problem-based functions of a PS tool. The first was referred to as often used in planning workshops assisted by maptables, and the second offers flexibility for tailored made functions according to the planning problem at stake. The space-time component deals with capabilities intended to support communication and interaction in two main settings, co-located and synchronous and remote and asynchronous. Building blocks of the conceptualisation serve as a comprehensive basis for developing a planning tool that provides interactivity and analytical support to be utilised in spatial planning processes with stakeholders.

In the first case study, the conceptualized tool was developed and tested in a participatory budgeting process called Musrenbang in Indonesia. To do so, we produced working prototypes that were iteratively reviewed with users until reaching the required functionality to be tested in such a real-world setting, i.e., with users from villages in Sumatra-Indonesia. This case study focused on providing an easy-to-use tool that provides enough functionality to capture the local knowledge to produce village and development proposal maps. Users utilized the developed tool without assistance during the planning workshop and after a brief introduction. The user-reported usability evaluation showed that the iterative development process led to a usable tool, i.e., users rated its effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction positively.

The tool was further advanced in the second case study that addressed participatory noise action planning processes. The research on this case study started during the first year of the covid-19 pandemic, and there were strict social distance restrictions to curb that pandemic. For this reason, we combined remote and face-to-face co-design methods. We also strengthened the user role in the design process by providing low-fidelity prototypes at the early stages of the design process. In addition to usability, the perceived usefulness was also evaluated in a noise action planning workshop conducted face-to-face and assisted with a maptable. The self-reported evaluation indicated that the developed tool was found usable and remarkably useful. Users provided feedback on how to advance the tool further and expressed their intention to adopt it in practice.

To conclude, this research addressed with a systematic approach the conceptualization, design, development and implementation of a planning support tool to foster stakeholder engagement in collaborative planning processes supported with maptables. By doing so, we made contributions to the scientific, software engineering and planning practitioners communities. First, we produced a conceptualisation of a PS tool with its intended users and obtained evidence related to the link between co-designing with users and usability and usefulness of PS tools. Second, we extended the HCD workflow to include Agile methods and specific collaborative planning processes as context of use. The usability evaluation of such workflow was contextualised for PS tools. Third, we co-designed and developed a usable and useful open-source tool explicitly intended for maptables and incorporating analytical capabilities. The architecture of this tool is well-documented and available in a published scientific paper. Fourth, a set of community village maps were produced for two villages in Sumatra (Indonesia) and a workshop structure for NAP was provided. We also reflected in this dissertation about the relevance of the topics discussed, the limitations of the research and future work directions.