What’s mobile participation?

Mobile participation is about citizen’s participation in different aspects of urban governance using mobile technology, smartphones or tablets. Citizens can participate in decision making using mobile apps that they can download and install on their phones or tablets. This represents a real innovation in electronic participation.

The main idea of citizens’ participation is that every decision matters and one implemented decision can affect or change a citizen’s life and for that, the citizen should present and active in decision making. The introduction of information and communication technologies improved the set of tools used by urban planners in promoting citizen involvement in public policy.

Mobile participation starts with the SeeClickFix mobile app, which sustains collaboration between mayors and citizens. Through this application citizens can send requests to the partner city halls. Usually, these requests contain images and geographic information sent to the back-office system of city hall. In this way, mayors can distribute their resources to deal with public issues in time, being receptive to public requests. Mobile participation completes civic participation without replacing the existing approaches.

Mobile participation brings with it a huge transformation in the relationship between authorities and citizens. Due to the accessibility of our phones, we can contribute from everywhere. Also, now we can share not just our opinions, but real data, due to the many accessories attached to smartphones (sensors, cameras, and microphones).

The following examples show how various apps can help people participate in urban governance.

CycleTracks uses the iPhone and Android GPS support to track users’ bicycle trip routes; after processing the data, it automatically maps your route.

VTT Technical Research Center of Finland – created a mobile app that is used for visualization of building plans. It’s for the first time when a mobile AR it’s used to participate in decision making and land planning. This application helps people evaluate the effects of new construction plans on their living environments.

Zoner  – an application used in US that reads zoning resolutions in New York City and keeps citizens informed about construction plans for every area of the city.

WideNoise – collects evidence of sound pollution from the environment via mobile microphone and helps you understand the soundscape around you.

StreetBump – a mobile app that collects road condition data while you drive. It’s designed to help residents improve the quality of streets. The data provides governments with real-time information to fix problems and plan long term investments.

iSPEX – monitors the aerosols in Netherlands and the collected data is used by National Institute of Public Health and Environment. Data it’s collected by a special device attached to smartphones.

Mobile participation needs to be developed taking into consideration inclusion, so all the citizens should have a chance to participate. Urban planners have a set of means for civic involvement and use them depending on the situation and type of citizens input. For example, Textizen  is an SMS service implemented in Philadelphia in order to achieve the master plan for 2035. Through it, urban planners send additional questions to citizens, creating a dialogue that can contribute to solutions for the respective area.

Like many other digital services, mobile participation is part of a new vision for the future of cities, and for the smart cities that are using technology to improve the quality of life for their citizens as well as to promote competitiveness between cities.


Titi-650x401Titi Ertiö holds a Phd at University of Turku, Finland and deals with research and innovation through technology at local and regional level. She is a contributor and part of UrbanizeHub.


Photo: NewMediaStudies