Deliberative Walks: citizen participation in local-level planning processes


Recently, a focus on democratic innovations emphasising an increasing and deepening citizen participation in political decision-making has been evident. Deliberative Walks offer a participatory–deliberative process in which the participants, by deliberating in small groups and joining facilitated walks, tackle a complex policy issue that has highly intertwined social and physical dimensions. Deliberative Walks builds on the principle that two participatory methods, citizens’ juries and development walks, are combined. Deliberative Walks are influenced by place-based learning. And like in outdoor pedagogy, learning by moving between the abstract and concrete, as well as transforming experience into knowledge through reflection and communication, is encouraged. We analyse an implemented education-oriented version, Studentlab Deliberative Walks, with nineteen university students. The results, based on questionnaires, interviews and essays, indicate that it is fruitful to experience an issue with all senses. The development walk was seen as more important than the citizens’ jury. Participating in Deliberative Walks promoted inclusion in the decision-making process, enhanced learning, boosted self-confidence and developed feelings of empowerment.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    See “Appendix 2” for a list of experts and themes.

  2. 2.

    Wall to wall with the university are large silos that were left untouched when the university campus was built. These silos are now falling into disrepair. The politicians’ opinions and public opinion are somewhat polarised on whether the silos should be protected and renovated or demolished (giving space for new buildings).


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We thank the two anonymous reviewers of the EPS for their valuable feedback on an earlier version of this article. We are also grateful to the participants at a workshop in the Local Government and Politics section at the ECPR General Conference in Wroclaw (2018), and to the participants at the International Conference of the Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association (2018). This research was supported by Högskolestiftelsen i Österbotten/project “Studentlab Deliberative Walks” and the Academy of Finland/Strategic Research Council project “Participation in Long-term Decision-making”, Number 312671.

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Correspondence to Marina Lindell.

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Appendix 1: Discussion rules

Deliberative Walks

  1. 1.

    All participants should be able to take part in the discussion on an equal basis.

  2. 2.

    There are no right or wrong opinions concerning the topic, nor does anyone in the discussion group or society have a final truth on the matter. Everyone is encouraged to boldly express their own opinion, but also to be prepared to change one’s minds if the arguments of others seem valid.

  3. 3.

    The participants should always try to justify your opinions.

  4. 4.

    The participants should act respectfully towards each other during the discussion. Everyone should listen to the opinions put forth by other discussants and have an open mind about the fact that there are differing opinions.

  5. 5.

    The participants should try to put themselves in the position of others and look at the topic equally from all different stakeholders’ viewpoints.

Appendix 2: Included experts and themes in Studentlab Deliberative Walks

Experts participating in the citizens’ jury day:

  1. (a)

    A PhD student introduced them to different models of deliberation.

  2. (b)

    Two architects presented architectural views on the sites as well as on built heritage and urban redevelopment in general.

  3. (c)

    A regionally appointed artist presented the role of (exterior and interior) art in urban surroundings.

Experts participating in the development walk day

  1. (a)

    The head intendent at Abo Akademi University presented the buildings of the university (the building is a former mill).

  2. (b)

    A project manager from the city of Vaasa, responsible for the city’s architectural-political programme, presented both the current plans for the sea promenade (which is in front of the university) and the city of Vaasa’s architectural-political programme.

  3. (c)

    An intendent from the museum of contemporary raised a question whether the university and the museum could work more closely together.

  4. (d)

    A former CEO of student housing in Vaasa and activist in a local inhabitant’s association, presented visions to turn the silos into student housing.

  5. (e)

    The participants also met the intendent/secretary general of Havtornen, (the student union building).

Examination of the course Studentlab Deliberative Walks

  1. 1.

    Active participation in the process

  2. 2.

    Lecture diary

  3. 3.

    Written essay, 6–7 pages

    • Theoretical part on deliberative theories and deliberative walk

    • Reflections on the course and its content, methods used (CJ, DW), what was learned

    • Impact on participants learning process

    • Has the personal views changed, evolved, during or after the DW? If yes, why did they change? Impact from what elements?

    • Read minimum 3 + 1 articles (reading additional articles will certainly improve your essay)

Appendix 3: Abo Akademi University Campus and surrounding areas

Development proposals from an interdisciplinary Student panel


We recommend that the silos are preserved. Removing them would remove a characteristic of Vasa. We think the exterior of the silos should be painted as an art work. The theme of the art work could be decided by a debate, and then an artist competition could be arranged. This will raise awareness of art and create visibility.

We recommend that the silos are to be used as a common space for all kind of stakeholders in order to bring people together: multicultural and over generations. We find it important to have rooms for different purposes and for different use. This could be realised by developing different purposes for the floors in the silo. Part of the silos could house an indoor playground with glass walls. (See for example: playground.en.html)

Abo Akademi University—Academill campus

We recommend a local course book library with a view. In addition a book-delivery service should be developed: books could be reserved from Tritonia and delivered here. The library would be a space for reading and studying and also house a cafeteria. It could be placed in the G-block at the 13th floor and take advantage of the spectacular view.

We recommend that recycling stations is installed in every building.

We recommend an interdisciplinary space where students from different subjects, and international and domestic students could meet, talk, do group work, read, eat and have coffee. If the old studio is not in use, we would propose that this space is made into a soft chilling space for students. A microwave oven would be important for students to use.

Sea shore

We recommend that the sea shore should be a free space for everyone to use. A restaurant and a harbour would destroy the view and we propose that the part between Kuntsi and Abo Akademi should not be changed. We also propose permanent public sunbeds by the sea.


We propose more cooperation and interaction between the university and Kuntsi (i.e. art classes at the university). Kuntsi needs to be more visible and appealing as an art space. Today it looks too much like a traditional museum. It could appear more creative and innovative from outside by installing for example art sculptures and video projections. The museum needs longer opening hours.

The area in general

We recommend better accessibility to the university and the surroundings. The university area and the surroundings are not easy to access for disabled people, and the area also closes down too early in the evening, making it a ghost town.

We recommend a safe and distinct crossing over the railway. Foreigners have no way of knowing how frequently the railway is used.

Participants in Studentlab Deliberative Walks, October 6–23, 2017 [signed by all participants]

Studentlab Deliberative Walks is an interdisciplinary course jointly arranged by Adult Education (Assistant professor Peter Ehrstrom) and Political Science (Dr.Pol.Sc. Marina Lindell), which combines approaches from democracy, active citizenship and learning. The method Deliberative Walks combines elements from Citizens’ Jury and Development Walks and the course focus on a Deliberative Walk experience in practice, including group activities, expert panels and deliberative discussions. The course combines theoretical classroom-based learning and place-based learning on site. Peter Ehrstrom (Abo Akademi) and Harri Raisio (University of Vaasa) have developed this method, which has gained international interest. The aim of the course is to introduce a new method for learning and citizen participation, and at the same time as a case develop proposals for development of the Abo Akademi University campus in Vaasa and its surroundings.

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Lindell, M., Ehrström, P. Deliberative Walks: citizen participation in local-level planning processes. Eur Polit Sci 19, 478–501 (2020).

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  • Active citizenship
  • Citizens’ jury
  • Citizen participation
  • Deliberation
  • Place-based learning