The use of digital tools to promote citizen participation,—i.e., either e-participation or digital participation,—is spreading around the world (Steinbach et al., 2019), and most larger cities promote citizen participation through the use of ICT and new media. Examples of this include social media, virtual networks, content creation, and sharing platforms (Bonsón et al., 2015; Gilman & Peixoto, 2019; Lidén & Larson, 2016; United Nations, 2020). The Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on physical gatherings may also have increased the demand for these tools. Innovations in digital participation promise to facilitate two-way communication between citizens and city governments, and to provide extended opportunities for citizens to take active part in the public decision-making processes (Effing et al., 2011; Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2012). The democratizing potential of digital technologies is therefore being heralded by academics, industry leaders, and policymakers (Taylor, 2014; Veak, 2012).

Cities use ICT and new media to different extents and in different ways (Giannoumis et al., 2019; Zheng, 2017). A UN report (2020, p. 250) makes a distinction between ‘e-consultation’, the engagement of citizens in contributions to and deliberation on public policies and services without involving them in actual decision-making processes, and ‘e-decision-making’, the involvement of citizens in actual policymaking and co-production of services. E-participation is adopted and implemented in different political-administrative and social contexts. Differences in ultimate form therefore are not surprising.

This book examines the ways in which e-participation innovations have been applied in differing social and cultural contexts. We look into how local governments respond to new opportunities to engage citizens in public discourse and decision-making, enabled by the diffusion of web technologies. We also look into the consequences of such digital innovations for citizen participation and influence. The overarching question we investigate is how different city and system characteristics affect the implementation of digital platforms and the extent and impact of citizen participation in urban development. We also investigate whether and how the digital participation contributes to democratic urban governance.

Urban planning and development are matters of importance for any city government. Recent trends in urban development, furthermore, accentuate the question of citizen participation and democracy (Falleth et al., 2010). Cities around the world are growing rapidly, and city governments are facing the challenge of combining this growth with social welfare and justice for its residents.

Urban development affects the everyday lives of citizens, and citizens therefore have an incentive to become engaged in these processes. Urban development processes often, however, encompass the conflicting interests of different groups. Representativeness and legitimacy therefore become particularly important. The improvement of poor neighbourhoods in central city districts is often followed by gentrification, which makes the area more attractive to the tourist industry and to middle-class residents. However, it also leads to higher rents and cost of living, which pushes away working-class people and immigrant residents (Porter & Shaw, 2009). Gentrification has a significant effect on residents’ living conditions. Urban development is a contested arena. This makes the study of the effect of ICT and new media upon the involvement and influence of different groups of residents in urban development processes highly relevant. It also provides a basis for studying how city governments adapt and implement digital innovations, to promote the involvement of citizens in their policymaking processes.

We, in this book, examine three cities with different system characteristics, Madrid, Melbourne, and Oslo. The chapters of this book representing a mix of comparisons of cities and single case studies that explore and examine how different mechanisms operate in different contexts.

E-participation and Citizen Engagement

Citizen participation refers, in this book, to voluntary contributions or involvement of citizens in public decision-making. E-participation refers to the use of digital tools. These tools come in a variety of forms including digital online forums and meetings, interactive web or mobile applications, and electronic polls. The democratizing potential of ICT is widely acknowledged (Fung et al., 2013, p. 37). Digital tools can foster interaction between citizens and enable citizen self-organizations. It can also reduce the costs for city government to crowdsource and consult citizens, can reduce barriers to participation, promote equality and inclusion, and can create direct connections between citizens and politicians and other policymakers. The expectation that digital innovations will mobilize new citizen groups and improve city-citizen dialogue (Effing et al., 2011; Fung et al., 2013; Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2012) has, however, yet to be achieved. Experience shows that digital participation is often subject to the weaknesses or challenges of conventional participation—i.e., such as the inclusion of politically marginalized groups, the fostering of two-way communication between citizens and policymakers, and allowing citizens to impact policy decisions (Ellison & Hardey, 2014; Kneuer, 2016; Lidén, 2016).

A persistent digital divide has separated groups who can access and use ICT from those who cannot. This phenomenon has been researched across a number of social characteristics including race, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, and age (Choi et al., 2020; Goggin, 2017; Jackson et al., 2008). Public agencies in the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom, and many others, have implemented a range of policy instruments aimed at closing these digital divides. Research has, however, shown that nearly every marginalized group continues to face unequal access and use of ICT and several groups facing a widening gap. The vision that the web and social media will promote the participation of marginalized groups on an equal basis with others has yet, in practice, to be realized.

Citizen participation and participatory governance is not new. Digital participatory tools are therefore adopted and implemented by cities that have a pre-existing institutionalized practice of citizen participation. Therefore, digital participation can represent a continuation of existing practices and the digitalization of existing participatory opportunities (Touchton et al., 2019). Digital participation can, however, be part of participatory reform and expansion. Previous studies indicate that several institutional factors impact local government uptake of e-participation practices including public administration style (Bonsón et al., 2015; Royo et al., 2014), and the cultural and structural characteristics of the political-administrative system (Carrizales, 2008; Ma, 2014; Zheng et al., 2014). Very little is, however, known about how such macro-level institutional factors conditions or impact micro-level decisions on the adoption and implementation of different e-participation practices (Steinbach et al., 2019, p. 81). Little is also known about how such contextual factors condition citizen decisions on whether and how to participate.

Digital channels are often implemented in situations where traditional channels such as public forums, town halls and neighbourhood council meetings already exist. Digital participation venues therefore often supplement existing venues, rather than replace them (Spada & Allegretti, 2020), often increasing the opportunity for citizens to contribute to public decision-making. The growing body of literature on democratic innovations and e-participation acknowledges this blend of participatory channels. Existing knowledge of the nature of this mix and its impact on citizen engagement and influence is, however, incomplete (Smith, 2019; Spada & Allegretti, 2020). For example, we do not know whether a digital channel meets the needs and preferences of previously inactive resident groups, or just becomes another channel for those already active, which may contribute to the development of a layer of ‘super participants’ (Spada & Allegretti, 2020, p. 46). Citizens may also prefer to participate through channels they control, rather than through channels initiated and controlled by local government or third parties (Loader et al., 2014).

We, in this book, investigate how the governments in developed representative democratic cities’ use of digital participation tools contribute to the overall democratic quality of the polity. We do not examine the effects of e-participation in non-democratic cities or young democracies. Neither do we investigate the broader democratic potential of citizens use of ICT and new media (Nam, 2012). Research has, furthermore, begun to show the impact of online violence, abuse, and propaganda, which includes hate speech, harassment, fake news, and security breaches (Poland, 2016). We acknowledge that online violence, abuse, and propaganda contribute to the exclusion of marginalized groups (Skjerve et al., 2016), and may affect e-participation. The examination of these issues in detail is, however, beyond the scope of this book. We instead use these broader trends to provide a point of departure for the examination of trust and exclusion in e-participation, a multidimensional experience that affects the decisions of users and government agencies in the adoption or use of new media.

Key Concepts and Relationships

This volume addresses the introduction of ICT and new media, and the effect it has upon citizens’ participation in urban development projects. The chapters in this volume, therefore, explore relationships between citizen participation, the adoption and implementation of digital innovations, and city and system characteristics (see Fig. 1.1 for an illustration of these relationships). We recognize the multidirectional relations between the elements in the model. This volume focuses, however, on the impact of these elements on citizen participation and not the other way around. Neither does the volume focus on the impact of citizen participation on city adoption and implementation of innovations, nor city and system characteristics. Instead, we explore and examine the ways in which different mechanisms relate to citizen participation within different city and system contexts and not how specific city and system characteristics influence or cause participation.

Fig. 1.1
figure 1

Illustrative model of the key concepts and relationships for citizen participation

Source Own elaboration

The Extent and Impact of Citizen Participation

Participatory and deliberative democracy theories claim that citizen participation can contribute to democratic governance (Smith, 2009). We, inspired by recent developments in democratic theory, apply a problem-based approach to democracy. This approach presupposes that citizen participation beyond elections can contribute to solve important problems of democratic governance (Fung, 2006, 2015; Warren, 2017). Most assessments centre around the three functions of inclusiveness, deliberation, and public control, albeit sometimes with other choices of wording (Fung, 2006, 2015; Smith, 2009; Warren, 2017).

We understand citizen participation to be a three-dimensional concept (see Fung, 2006, 2015; Newig et al., 2018, p. 273) consisting of (1) The breadth of the involvement of affected citizen groups—to what extent do different affected groups of citizens participate? (2) The type of information exchange and communication—to what extent is communication a one-way information exchange or two-way dialog? and(3)The impact or influence on urban development—to what extent does the information and articulation that citizens bring to participatory arenas and channels inform the content or the premises of decisions made by city authorities? Whether or not e-participation will advance inclusiveness, deliberation and popular control, depends on the role that digital tools have on each of these three dimensions.

Inclusiveness requires the involvement of those affected and potentially affected by a collective decision to ‘possess the powers of speaking, voting, representing, and dissenting’ (Warren, 2017, p. 44). An equal opportunity to participate is therefore fundamental. This volume addresses the introduction of ICT and new media, and the influence of this upon citizen participation in urban development processes in city districts marked by gentrification. Such urban development processes often struggle to involve disadvantaged groups such as young people, refugees, and other immigrants (Fung, 2006, 2015; McKay & Warren, 2018; Michels & de Graaf, 2010)—groups highly affected by gentrification. The effects of introducing digital participatory channels are, however, contested. Some studies indicate that ICT and new media promote political participation and dialog (Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2019). Others conclude that it deepens existing participatory divides (Ellis & Goggin, 2013). These participatory divides, also known as digital divides, separate those that have access to and use digital technology from those that do not, relegating the ‘not’ group to second class digital citizens.

Forms of deliberation such as advocacy, argument, persuasion, negotiation, and bargaining shape the collective agenda and the formation of a collective will (Warren, 2017, p. 44). Observers are, however, concerned that digitalization may foster individualized and ‘thin’ participation (Urbinati, 2014) or echo-chambers (Sunstine, 2007), instead of dialog and deliberation. They are also concerned that e-decision-making can be dominated by an ignorant majority of participants, unaffected by the issues at hand, and at the expense of a deeply concerned and well-informed (knowledgeable) minority (Spada & Allegretti, 2020, p. 45).

Public control concerns the extent to which participants in these spaces are allowed to influence decisions that are taken by the government, and the importance of these decisions for the citizens’ lives. Participation is, however, often limited to providing information to city government, which gives citizens few opportunities to influence urban development (Fung, 2006, 2015; Michels & de Graaf, 2010; Smith, 2019). Digital innovations can bring citizens closer to power and bypass gatekeepers such as political parties, bureaucracies, or traditional media (van Dijk & Hacker, 2018). Some cities have also introduced multi-functional digital platforms to promote the involvement of citizens in ‘e-decision-making’ (United Nations, 2020). Still, digital participation is mostly consultative, leaving the final decision to the city government.

ICT and new media can, however, create a juxtaposition between an arena for change and the potential to reproduce existing inequalities. We therefore examine the role of digital technologies in citizen participation as a multidimensional concept. New media and digital participatory channels often supplement and are combined with traditional media and participatory channels. We, however, have little knowledge on how these channels are combined by citizens and by city governments (Smith, 2019; Spada & Allegretti, 2020). Combining digital and conventional channels can, however in theory, impact citizens’ participation in urban development in different and opposing ways. It can expand the opportunity for active resident groups to dominate the debate on urban development and provide opportunities to those not previously involved. It can make traditional measures more efficient (digitalizing existing channels) or open up new arenas for city-citizen and citizen-citizen communication. Combining channels can also extend opportunities for consultation or for (co-)decision-making.

Cities Adoption and Implementation of Innovations

The adoption and implementation of innovations by city governments mediates citizen participation and can act as a key driver and mechanism for including or excluding citizen groups. We refer, in this volume, to innovations as new value-driven policies, procedures, technology products and services designed to promote citizen engagement in local governance. The aim of these innovations is to provide opportunities for city governments to connect with citizens. City adoption and implementation of participatory innovations are, however, affected by technological availability and resource constraints. City government choices are also influenced by its citizen participation goals and strategies. Public policy theories show that public goals and strategies are affected by the policy problem and political climate (Åström et al., 2013). Åström et al. conclude that lower levels of trust in public institutions, and the greater the depth of policy problems, the higher the chances for the adoption of what they call ‘an elite-challenging’ type of e-participation. Public policy theories also point to change agents (or policy entrepreneurs) who may play a decisive role in linking policy problems and (technological) solutions (Mahoney & Thelen, 2010). City governments adopt and implement citizen participation innovations using a range of strategies. The introduction of digitalized channels can in effect layer, replace, or supplement existing channels. For example, a city may choose to layer an online consultation platform on top of an existing non-digital channel for consultation. A city may also choose to replace physical paper petitioning with an online petition website and may supplement paper-based ‘suggestion boxes’ with online polls or social media channels that are designed to provide citizen input on government systems or services.

There are reasons to believe that the adoption and implementation of participatory innovations have an impact on whether and how citizens use participatory channels. The choices citizens make regarding which city and citizen-initiated channels to use does not follow a consistent or rational approach. We believe that citizens blend the use of participatory channels, and that their selections are highly contingent on a multitude of social, environmental, and behavioural factors. The decision to use one channel over another is therefore dynamic and responsive to the individual beliefs and perceptions held at a specific moment in time.

This multidimensional layering of participatory channels and opportunities changes over time. It also changes as citizens navigate and shift between traditional and digital forms of participation (Yao & Xu, 2021; Zheng, 2017). Mechanisms that contribute to this change include the acquisition of new digital skills, access to new technologies, implementation of new participation channels, and changes in community and government leadership (Choi & Song, 2020; Vicente & Novo, 2014).

ICT design influences how users interact with and experience digital products, systems, or services. The intended and unintended choices of project managers, developers, programmers, and others therefore influence the way in which users access and use e-participation platforms. The UN and national governments have attempted to implement a variety of policy instruments that focus on the universal design of ICT, to influence the design of digital platforms so that the broadest possible population can access and use them.

City and System Characteristics

Context will affect the extent and impact of citizen participation and the adoption and implementation of participatory innovations. This volume therefore investigates, among other things, the characteristics of the political-administrative systems that underlie the citizen–city relationship.

Previous studies have shown the importance of macro-level factors such as city size (Medaglia, 2007; Steinbach et al., 2020), financial resources (Ma, 2013, 2014; Medaglia, 2007), and the socioeconomic characteristics of the citizens (Ma, 2013; Medaglia, 2007). This research has helped explain which cities are forerunners and which laggards in the implementation of digital measures. Our knowledge of the effects of institutional context on city adoption and citizen use of digital participation is limited (Steinbach et al., 2019). The rigidity of public administration is often cited as being a general barrier to digital participatory initiatives. Public administrations often struggle with technological and organizational changes and advancements. Some findings do, however, indicate that the characteristics of the political and administrative system, such as administrative style or organizational culture, have an impact on cities’ adoption and implementation of digital innovations (Royo et al., 2014; Steinbach et al., 2019). The explanation for this is that some types of administrative cultures are more open to citizen participation than others and are therefore more open to digital participation.

Social capital and citizen trust in city government are examples of features that are fundamental to understanding citizens’ willingness and capacity to take part in participatory governance (Klijn & Koppenjan, 2016; Lowndes et al., 2006, p. 287; Reichborn-Kjennerud et al., 2021). Trust is often seen as being a precondition for citizen participation. Low trust can, however, also be a driver of city government adoption and implementation of participatory innovations. The purpose of city governance strategies being, in this case, the building of trust (Hertting & Klijn, 2018). Low trust in city government might also sustain or even reinforce a culture of citizen activism. We believe trust will have an impact on the extent of citizen involvement, and the participatory venues they prefer.

We investigate, in this volume, how a city’s broader cultural norms and institutions may influence how citizens respond, which digital and non-digital participatory channels they use, and for what purpose. Party ideology will arguably impact politicians’ views of whether to involve citizens and in what way. Medaglia (2007) and Panagiotopoulos et al. (2012) find that left-leaning municipalities adopt e-participation technologies more frequently than others. Value systems that reflect and sustain political values beyond party conflicts, however, provide the foundation for different models of urban governance. These value systems shape different urban policy choices and outcomes (Pierre, 1999). The concept of state-civil society regimes (Baiocchi, 2005) describes the creation of specific logics of civic engagement and acceptance of political practices for resolving conflicts between societal actors. Regime logic can therefore have a great impact on a city’s adoption and implementation of digital participatory innovations. This is regardless of whether the aim of the decision-makers is to adapt or break with the logic of the established state-civil society regime.

Research Design and Methodological Approach

This book investigates how different city and system characteristics affect the implementation of digital platforms and the extent and impact of citizen participation in urban development. We examine the dynamic fluidity of citizen participation through both digital and non-digital channels. Most of the chapters in this book focus on broader social and political e-participation mechanisms, rather than specific digital tools or exemplary cases of digital participation. This allows us to compare digital and non-digital, and city-initiated and citizen-initiated channels, and to study the added value of digital channels. We also focus on conditions for achieving this ‘added value’ by looking at the adoption of participatory innovations by the cities, and seeking to understand how this is linked to their political-administrative systems. We consider to what extent the adoption of digital channels by city administrations and citizens represents a form of layering, and in what ways participation channels are blended. Citizen participation is therefore seen from a city administrative point of view as providing opportunities to gain insights from citizens and from a community point of view as extra-governmental ways of promoting mobilization.

The three cities of Madrid, Melbourne, and Oslo are in countries with different types of multilevel democracy (Sellers et al., 2020). These differences are deeply rooted in the multilevel institutional infrastructures that ‘mediate the practice of democracy at the local scale’ (Ibid., p. 47). Our approach was not to follow Sellers et al. and assume that one type is superior or preferable to another, but instead to assume that different types of multilevel governance imply variations in city and system characteristics such as administrative structure and culture, trust in local government, civic activism, and state-civil society regime.

Madrid has a population of 3.3 million and is the capitol of Spain and the country’s largest city. The city is part of the local elitist type of multilevel governance, where organizations with political power are given a privileged position. Neighbourhood associations have been given a privileged position at the city and city-district level. They were, through their institutional position in territorial councils, informed, consulted, and permitted to suggest measures and negotiate with the city government on local issues. Spanish legislation recognizes municipalities’ ‘general clause of competences’, whereby any local government can tackle any social problem. The city council of Madrid therefore assumes broad competences in welfare services, urban development and land use planning, and public works and infrastructure. The city government is led by an elected council that in turn elects a mayor who, once elected, freely appoints the members of their government (named Junta de Gobierno) from among the councillors. This forms the executive collegiate body of political and administrative management of the city, which is accountable to the city council.

The city of Madrid is divided into 21 districts. These city districts are chaired by a councillor that is appointed by the mayor. District responsibilities are delegated by the city level government. The districts are spaces for discussing problems that affect the citizens of the district and proposing initiatives for approval by the city council. They can also implement programmes in the district. The percentage of district expenditure is, however, below 15% of the total city budget, which is indicative of a high level of centralization in the city council.

Melbourne, with a population 4.5 million, is the capital of the state of Victoria and Australia’s second largest city. The city is a part of a civic localist type of multilevel governance (Sellers et al., 2020). The relations between city government and civil society are individualized. Australia’s Westminster administrative tradition is characterized by values of neutrality and anonymity, authority and accountability resting with portfolio ministers and senior officials.

Melbourne, unlike Oslo and Madrid, does not have a metropolitan-scale government, the metropolitan area being governed by 31 local government authorities of varying size and capability. The City of Melbourne, population 180,000, consists of the central business district and some surrounding suburbs. The local government sector in Australia is relatively weak in fiscal power and service functions. For example, the Victorian state government is responsible for the provision of utilities, policing, transport, school education, housing and, of particular relevance to this book, large urban development projects. Municipal councils are governed by elected officials. The councils are, however, statutory creations of state governments, which have the ultimate power to dismiss them in the event of maladministration or corruption.

Oslo is the capital of Norway and, with its 700,000 inhabitants, the country’s largest city. Norway is characterized by Sellers et al. (2020) as a nationalized type of multilevel governance where organized civil society actors are incorporated in decision-making processes. These actors are given some opportunity to influence. The system, however, ‘limits the scope for citizen activism via other, more ad hoc, less hierarchical channels’ (ibid., p. 115). Municipalities have, furthermore, extensive responsibility for welfare services and urban development. The city of Oslo is, therefore, responsible for land use planning, infrastructure development and area development. The city is also responsible for welfare services such as primary and secondary schools, nursery schools, social welfare, and youth work.

The municipal authority in Oslo is divided between a city-level government and 15 subordinated city district governments. The city government is led by an elected council and executive authority is exercised by a city government composed in accordance with a majority principle and held accountable to the city council. The city level government is responsible for tasks such as land use planning, transport, roads and other infrastructure, the physical environment, and primary and secondary schools. The city districts are led by directly elected district councils, and the district administration is led by a full-time district chief officer. The responsibilities of the city districts are delegated by the city level government. These include nursery schools, health and social work, youth clubs, care for substance abusers and the integration of refugees and immigrants. The district governments of some districts, such as the central district of Gamle Oslo, also run area-based initiatives.

We study citizen participation in urban development in the central districts of these cities. These central districts are all experiencing the transformation of traditional working-class areas. The improvement of poor neighbourhoods is often followed by gentrification. This development process encompasses conflicting interests of different groups of residents, and between resident groups and business interests in areas such as tourism. Our main interest is citizen participation in policy processes that impact the urban development of these areas. We therefore compare the adoption of citizen participation in policy processes that address similar challenges or policy problems in these three cities.

Our aim is not to identify and compare the relative importance of different contextual factors or to propose causal explanations to our observations. We have instead compared these three cities to explore and reveal mechanisms that mediate the three-way connection between (1) culturally bound and contextual characteristics of the city, (2) the political administrative systems and (3) the behaviour and choices of city government and citizens. We then use these comparisons to illustrate and explore how different factors and mechanisms play out in different contexts. Such a causal conclusion, due to the contextual factors being dependent on each other and the impossibility of isolating the effect of each factor through only three cases, could not, however, be drawn (Lijphart, 1971).

The chapters in this volume use different data collection methods, such as survey data (questionnaires), interviews, studies of social media, and document studies. Some chapters mix different methods. Others use single methods. The methods are, however, presented and discussed in the chapters.

Summaries of Arguments and Findings

The chapters in this volume explore different aspects of the relationships between citizen participation, the adoption and implementation of digital innovations, and city and system characteristics. The mix of approaches and methods applied in these studies makes us able to present the details and richness of the cases. Taken together they provide an in-depth study of e-participation that is anchored in unpacking the role of technology and institutional settings as mechanisms associated with political participation and empowerment and, just as often, exclusion and marginalization.

Chapter2 investigates the impact city e-participation strategies have on the participation and influence of local activists in urban development, and how this relation is conditioned by characteristics of the institutional context, and, hence, relations between all three key concepts of this book. Hovik et al. analyse data from a survey of local activists in Madrid, Melbourne, and Oslo. The city strategies distinguish themselves along the power and functions the digital platforms afford participants and whether they are introduced to complement or replace pre-existing non-digital channels. The analysis reveals that local activists often combine different participatory channels, formal and informal and digital and analogue channels, regardless of the cities’ e-participation strategies. The authors argue that the institutional context, i.e., state–civil society relations and levels of trust in city government, is more important than e-participation strategies when seeking to understand the differences among the cities regarding the ways activists participate. The data furthermore shows that activists who combine many different participatory channels believe they have greater impact on urban development, than activists using one or few channels. The study therefore reveals that the introduction of multichannel systems of participation tend to create super-participants.

Chapter3 investigates the fear that digital technologies will displace traditional forms of non-digital citizen participation, such as deliberative councils or face-to-face meetings. In this chapter, Sveinung Legard explores the relationship between all three key concepts investigated by this book. By comparing Oslo and Madrid, he develops the hypothesis that the relationship between e-participation and traditional forms of citizen participation is an uneasy one, but that the level of conflict and displacement caused by the introduction of new technologies is dependent on how they are enacted. The establishment of the digital platform Decide Madrid deprived Madrid’s traditional neighbourhood associations of their role. In Oslo, however, the e-participation platforms complement existing forms of non-digital participation. The implication of the hypothesis is therefore that e-participation technologies can be accommodated and adapted to a range of different settings, depending on how they are enacted.

Chapter4 analyses how city and system characteristics impact public managers attitudes, beliefs, and assessments of citizen participation. José M. Ruano and Kristin Reichborn-Kjennerud analyse data from surveys and in-depth interviews with civil servants in Madrid, Melbourne, and Oslo. They look at citizen participation in general, irrespective of whether through digital or non-digital channels. This reveals a general positive perception of citizen participation among public managers in all three cities. However, the public managers’ views on what is possible to achieve through participatory processes are not as optimistic. The chapter reveals a variety of mechanisms that might contribute to suboptimal participatory outcomes including insufficient resources, weak cross-sectoral and multilevel coordination, and prioritization of powerful social groups over collective interests. The similarities in the beliefs and perceptions of the public managers in the three cities stand out, particularly in the light of the differences in the political-administrative systems of the three cities. Hence, this chapter points to system characteristics similar in all three cities’ bureaucracies as possible barriers to participation.

Chapter5 focuses on the design of participatory platforms as a mediator in citizen participation and urban development. G. Anthony Giannoumis and Nidhi Joneja takes a universal design perspective, which positions technology design as a means for ensuring participation in all aspects of society. A case study of some citizens experiences, and a heuristic analysis of the Si Din Mening platform in Oslo, provides a basis for discussion latent barriers and opportunities for participation that the design of digital platforms can pose. The results illustrate that citizen participation is a complex phenomenon with a variety of potential factors that influence whether, how, and to what extent ICT may provide an effective solution for political participation. This chapter emphasizes the need to consider broader social issues, such as to promote awareness of and engagement with platforms, enhance trust and preserve citizens’ right to privacy, and consider broader aspects of design, including the city administrative system, policies that aim to promote active participation, the organization of the local government, and the services that are intended to support participation.

Research on governments’ presence of social media suggests that it is rarely used to increase public participation. In Chapter6, however, Sveinung Legard investigates politicians’ and bureaucrats’ use of social media. It suggests a more nuanced image of city governments’ use of social media, not only focusing on attempts to control social media space, but sometimes also gaining helpful input in striving to fix things and searching for solutions to practical problems. These interactive aspects are emphasized without necessarily subscribing to the idea that they will democratize politics and government. The chapter elaborates the concepts of controlled interactivity and responsive interactivity, arguing that responsive interactivity has been overlooked in political communication and e-government studies.

In Chapter7, Bhavna Middha and Ian McShane analyse data from the Melbourne case study. They explore the association of gentrification, the increasing use of digital technologies in urban governance, and what they term e-gentrification, which is the convergent trajectories of digital technologies and the gentrification of formerly working-class urban locations. They contend that the implementation and use of the digital engagement platforms may be constituent of gentrification processes. This chapter therefore extends the book’s discussion of consultative digital platforms as sites of dialogue between citizens and governments, to situate these initiatives within the wider investment in digital urban infrastructure made by governments and commercial providers and brings critical attention to citizens’ digital rights to the city.

The concluding Chapter8 elaborates on how democracy is affected by different approaches to digitalization of citizen participation. Sveinung Legard and Sissel Hovik investigate how different e-participation models of Madrid, Melbourne, and Oslo perform on the dimensions of inclusiveness, deliberation, and public control. The digital direct democracy model in Madrid is compared with the digital crowdsourcing model in Melbourne and the e-bricolage model in Oslo. Their analyses show that in the best case, Madrid, digitalization enables the city to mobilize more citizen and involve citizen in the city’s decision-making processes. At the same time, it fails short in reducing political inequalities and in facilitating high-quality deliberations. Furthermore, in none of the models, does digitalization replace other forms of engagement, which the authors argue might be beneficial since it enables cities to sustain forms of participation that digital technology so far has not yet facilitated.

Taken together, this book unveils the significance of the fact that digital transformation happens to democratic institutions in concrete places. E-participation technologies are enacted by people who adopt e-participation in different situations and for different reasons. These people, the users of digital tools, including citizens, activists, bureaucrats, or politicians, are embedded in specific cultural and institutional structures. Their use of e-participation tools is, furthermore, conditioned by the institutional context and marked by path dependency. In this way the book contributes to the e-participation literature by studying how contextual characteristics at macro and meso levels affect the practice of digital technologies at micro level (Steinbach et al., 2019), and under what conditions digital technologies can further democracy at local level (Medaglia & Zheng, 2017).

This book, furthermore, accentuates the importance of digital channels being added to non-digital channels for citizen participation, which has recently been addressed in the literature on democratic innovations (Smith, 2019). There has not yet been any digital transformation of the participatory spaces. Instead, the fact that digital channels are being layered upon non-digital participation channels has complicated and multifaceted consequences for democracy. It does enable cities to reach out to more citizens and in different ways. It implies extended participatory opportunities for citizens and allows for different forms of engagement. Hence it can modify limitations of non-digital participation and at the same time limit the possible negative effects of thin and obligation-free digital participation. As such this layering can make participatory governance more robust. There is, however, a considerable risk for deepening the participatory divide as the more resourceful citizen groups are better equipped to use the new participatory opportunities digitalization represents. And digitalization might even impact the right to the city through e-gentrification, which is the convergent trajectories of digital ICTs and the gentrification of formerly working-class urban locations.