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Implementation of digital tools as support and community engagement mechanisms in planning decision-making processes

The quest for shifting the top-down approach dynamic into a comprehensive process between various stakeholders became a study subject in the 1980s and 1990s when academia introduced an ongoing debate on the communicative and collaborative planning theories to re-conceptualise the planning practice (Wilson et al., 2019). 

Within this context and influenced by the dawn of digitalisation, the prospects of using technology-mediated planning participation stood out as an opportunity to facilitate and encourage citizen involvement while retrieving helpful information for planners to enrich decision-making processes (Bugs et al., 2010).

This research recognises the potential of digital tools to integrate social knowledge with technical expertise through technology and sought to examine their practical value by proposing a methodological framework (Figure 1) implementing a generic digital toolkit for high-level participative planning decision-making. 

The proposed framework was assessed through its application in ongoing research on a real-life urban intervention case study involving the “Portete-Neighbourhood” in Guayaquil, Ecuador. This case study (Figure 2) corresponds to an academic exercise developed for a final project for the course unit of Urbanism II delivered at Universidad de Especialidades Espiritu Santo (UEES University) in partnership with Guayaquil’s Local Transit Authority.


Figure 1. Proposed digital toolkit and participative planning/policy decision-making framework (Source: Author’s own, 2023)


Figure 2. Portete Neighbourhood’s Intervention Polygon (Source: Author’s own based on Esri, Maxar, Earthstar Geographics, and the GIS User Community Map Service Layer, 2023)

This case was expected to provide a practical overview of a renewed conceptualisation of a low-level participatory planning decision-making by implementing digital tools through the process.

The results (Figure 3) showed that the data collected throughout the digital toolkit and methodological framework differed from the experts' initial premises regarding the community’s necessities. Thus, their use enlightened local issues and user perspectives that experts might have disregarded, providing a conscious diagnosis of an intervention area as a basis for any urban proposal.

In the last stage, the planners used StoryMaps to present their urban intervention proposals to the community. Comments included the positive reactions of the community towards being part in the decision-making process, their detailed explanation of the concerns towards the issues they were facing and their excitement about participation in a project to improve their neighbourhood alongside the local government. 

Additionally, they highlighted that the StoryMaps (Figure 4) allowed them to actively participate in the process, given that they understood technical content in a more visually simplified yet interactive 


Figure 4. Portete Neighbourhood’s StoryMaps (Source: Author’s own, 2023)

Figure 3. Portete Neighbourhood’s geospatial survey results (Source: Author’s own based on Esri, Maxar, Earthstar Geographics, and the GIS User Community Map Service Layer, 2023)

In reflection, this research suggests that digital tools have a significant potential for integrating stakeholders ranging from expert to non-expert backgrounds, such as communities within a common platform corresponding to any technology-based application capable of consolidating social cognition with technical knowledge. 

Furthermore, it was found that to achieve a high level of community engagement, it is necessary to select tools based on user-friendly, low-training requirements and, if possible, free accessibility. Second, set strategies to achieve the highest degree of citizen power, comprehending partnership, delegated authority, and citizen control. So, powers can reach a status quo to balance stakeholders’ representation.


Bouzguenda, I., Alalouch, C. and Fava, N. (2019) ‘Towards smart sustainable cities: A review of the role digital citizen participation could play in advancing social sustainability’, Sustainable Cities and Society, 50(101627). Available at: (Accessed: 15 May 2023).

Wilson, A., Tewdwr-Jones, M. and Comber, R. (2019) ‘Urban planning, public participation and digital technology: App development as a method of generating citizen involvement in local planning processes’, Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 46(2), pp. 286–302. Available at: 10 June 2023).

Outputs [P] [C] [O] [E]

outputs are in preparation

Project Partners

The project counted with the participation of Universidad de Especialidades Espiritu Santo (UEES) Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, and the Guayaquil’s Local Transit Authority. 

Research Team

The research is coordinated by Miss Alícia Alava Holguin and supervised by Dr Nuno Pinto (University of Manchester) in colaboration with researchers from the Universidad de Espíritu Santo.

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