PARTERRE: Electronic Participation Tools for Spatial Planning and Territorial Development (PARTERRE)

Published on: 12/10/2012

The PARTERRE project demonstrated and validated the business potential of two novel eParticipatory methods and tools for spatial and strategic planning in territorial development at the European level:

1. The Electronic Town Meeting - eTM, a deliberative democracy methodology and toolset combining the advantages of small group discussion and electronic voting in public assemblies; and,

2. The DEMOS-Plan solution for the management of formal and informal consultations of citizens and stakeholders in the context of spatial planning.

The approach taken in the project aimed at refining the above technical solutions in multicultural, multilingual pilot environments that involved real citizens and businesses in discussions on real planning and programming issues, in compliance with the territorial Living Lab approach.

Key features of the eTM are that:

  • The participants are briefed in detail, several days before the event, on the topics to be dealt with, which makes the discussion informed and politically correct;
  • During the day, they can see their opinions reflected in the summaries of contributions that are continuously displayed on a maxi screen – which makes the discussion inclusive and improves the climate of collaboration;
  • At the end of the day, the participants receive an “instant report” summarising what was discussed during the assembly and including the results of the voting sessions, which enhances their confidence in the utility of the whole exercise;
  • The observed satisfaction rate is always about 90 % in any survey, which contributes to restoring the reputation of the public agency that organised the event.

Key features of DEMOS-Plan are that:

  • All public authorities and agencies involved in the process take benefit from documented savings in the printing and shipping of maps and accompanying documents to the other parties being consulted;
  • The solution enables workflow management and can be easily integrated into the existing IT infrastructure of the agency;
  • Both formal (i.e. mandatory by law) and informal (optional, e.g. pre-emptive) consultations of citizens and stakeholders can be handled by the system;
  • Every participant can receive a formal response to their application or contribution by the public body in charge of the process.

The pilot implementation of the above methods and tools in 5 Countries and 6 Regions of Europe (the City of Hamburg, DE; Larnaca and Oroklini, CY; Sicily and Tuscany, IT; the Turku Archipelago, FI; and Ulster, UK) resulted in an innovative model of “Sustainable eParticipation”, which is able to find the best convergence of interests between direct democracy enthusiasts, elected officials in charge of controversial decisions according to the rule of representation, and civil servants willing to leverage the potential of ICT to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government actions.

The PARTERRE project was partially funded by the European Commission, under the CIP ICT Policy Support Programme 2009 (ICT PSP), Theme 3: ICT for Government and Governance.

As a follow-up to the PARTERRE project, the Tuscany Region is now contributing to the official launch of the Budapest Manifesto, which aims to build a European network for social and territorial innovation with the goal of promoting citizen-centric participatory processes at the service of Regional Smart Specialisation strategies.

The concrete contribution of the Tuscany Region will be to make sure that both the technologies and methodologies above can be accessed free of charge by those Cities and Regions who sign the Budapest Manifesto.

Policy Context

The following EC documents constitute the policy context and strategic framework for the objectives of the project:

Other relevant policy documents include:

Description of target users and groups

  • Administrative: all civil servants involved in participatory planning trial setup and coordination/execution;
  • Businesses, Citizens, Civil Society: all likely participants in eTM and/or DEMOS-Plan supported events and initiatives;
  • Intermediaries: Planners, Living Labs and other potential allies in the local deployment of eParticipation;
  • Policy Makers: the main target of the project and follow-up activities, those who are to be engaged first and foremost in the design and development of Sustainable eParticipation.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Eighteen local and regional pilots have been carried out during the project, adopting either of the two ICT solutions proposed above and in some cases, trialling the combination of the two.

The specific contents of the pilots, within the policy domains of Spatial Planning, SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment), Strategic Planning and Other, are presented in the following table (the figures indicate the number of participants):

Partner in charge

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Partner in charge

Thematic Content

Spatial Planning


Strategic Planning


Regione Toscana, IT


Two Electronic Town Meetings
(June & December 2011)
dealing with:

a) Sustainable and competitive tourism (90 participants)





b) Solid waste management, storage and differentiation (70 participants)





City of Hamburg, DE

Distributed management of a spatial plan amendment session involving 72 stakeholders from the Bergedorf district (August-September 2011). Use of DEMOS-Plan (integrated into the Hamburg IT and geodata infrastructure)





University of Ulster, UK


Eight Electronic Town Meetings
(August 2011-April 2012)
on the following topics:

a) Provision of a roadmap for the AHP health and social well-being policies in Northern Ireland (90 participants)





b) Development of a Regional response to the UK Cabinet Office’s consultation on Open Data (50 participants)





c) Exploration of how local businesses can be supported in their innovation activities using partnerships models with academic and government stakeholders including universities and development bodies (60 participants)






d) Engagement of stakeholders in North Belfast in a civic debate on how to address issues related to unemployment in local community (80 participants)






e) Maximising Social Value Through Public Sector Procurement, a discussion that involved a range of stakeholders from industry, academia, government, and the voluntary and charitable sector (50 participants)






f) Innovation in Sustainable Construction and Energy Management, a discussion that involved a number of stakeholders from industry, academia and government (75 participants)






g) Brain Computer Neural Interfaces (BCNI) to support people with neurological problems living at home, a debate that saw the participation of 45 staff and students from University of Ulster School of Health Sciences






h) Embedding Telehealth in Care & Service Provision, a discussion that saw the participation of 60 people from the University of Ulster and the South Eastern Regional Health and Social Care Trust.






ANETEL (Larnaca District Development Agency) & the Voroklini Community Council, CY


Two consecutive trials
(January & February 2012):

a) Stakeholders consultation on the Draft Rural Development Plan for the District of Larnaca (15 comments in DEMOS-Plan, 37 by email, 6 by post, and 39 questions)





b) Electronic Town Meeting on the open planning issues for the communitarian progress of the Voroklini Community (39 participants)






University of Palermo, IT

An Electronic Town Meeting (February 2012) on the creation of a shared vision of development for the heritage site known as “Maredolce Castle” and the whole second district of “Brancaccio” in the City of Palermo (80 participants)






Turku University of Applied Sciences, FI


Four Electronic Town Meetings
(January 2011-March 2012) on
the following topics:

a) Participation in a software development process at the Technical University of Applied Sciences (31 participants, mostly students and teachers)






b) Actions to improve efficiency in the people’s use of energy in the Hakastarö building (46 participants, including DEMOS-Plan users)






c) Village planning and development in the Turku Archipelago (citizens from the Korppoo and Utö communities, 46 participants)






d) Village planning and development in the town of Pargas (citizens from the Houtskär community, 42 participants)






Technology solution

The PARTERRE pilots have tested four combinations of eTM and DEMOS-Plan in real life settings (see Table).  


Partner/pilot location



eTM only








TUAS (Finland)

HAMBURG (Germany)




TRAIL (Ulster, UK)




VCC (Cyprus)






UNIPA (Sicily, IT)




Technology choice: Proprietary technology, Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

Both DEMOS-Plan and eTM are useful tools for European planning authorities and easy to embed into existing processes and IT infrastructures. They support the legal requirement and/or political need to consult citizens and stakeholders in an efficient and effective manner. PARTERRE is being offered as a comprehensive service, covering both methodological and technological aspects, the latter leveraging DEMOS-Plan and eTM both as standalone components and integrated into a single concept, process and/or infrastructure.

More specifically, the DEMOS-Plan solution enables government authorities to conduct formal and informal consultations with statutory consultees and the general public online, and fully automates the participatory planning process. In this way, significant costs savings are achieved for paper-based maps that are likely to need to be printed many times during the process, as well as on other paper documents sent by post to different stakeholders that can be easily lost in the process. The system also allows an integrated approach by which consultees can submit their opinions and receive periodic updates on the status of the overall consultation process as well as an official response to their own applications.

The eTM solution enhances the direct participation of citizens, stakeholders and civil society in decision-making processes regarding spatial planning and environmental assessment, both at the local and regional level where specific decisions are taken and applied and at the broader national and EU level, where the policy frameworks for Europe’s territorial development are defined.

A promising application of the PARTERRE approach has been identified in the process of definition of “shared” Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) that is now engaging all EU Regions and Member States in the context of the new 2014-2020 programming phase of the Structural Funds.

From a vertical governance perspective (i.e. from EU to Member State to Region), these strategies respond to the logic of ensuring a “conditional distribution of funds”, which is supposed to give priority to the emergence of real “niches” of sectorial excellence and sources of global competitive advantage within local economies.

From a horizontal governance perspective (i.e. from the Regional government to the stakeholders of a regional innovation system), the issue, totally left in the hands of elected representatives, is how to make these strategies economically viable and socially acceptable.

We have collected reliable evidence on how this goal can be achieved by the introduction of eParticipatory methods and tools, and our commitment to follow up on this route is testified by the adherence of Regione Toscana to the principles contained in the Budapest Manifesto.

Track record of sharing

The industrial partners of PARTERRE have developed a commercial offer for enterprises and NGOs wishing to promote Sustainable eParticipation locally in Europe – based on a win-win business cooperation strategy. The business goal is to provide a complete ‘turnkey’ service (both technologically and methodologically assessed) to all public authorities and government agencies holding legal competence on spatial and strategic planning in the respective national/regional systems.

This innovative business concept is now being widely promoted and shared with selected European players (such as eParticipation practitioners/networks, architects, planners and urban designers, Technical Universities, Living Labs, local citizen groups and communities, NGOs, public sector consultancy companies, and the like) based on the working principle that the bulk of revenues should stay where service is delivered.

Lessons learnt

Among the lessons learnt from the eParticipation Preparatory Action, a particularly relevant one refers to the long-term sustainability of the trials carried out: permanent adoption of electronic tools for civic participation by public sector organisations is more likely to occur when there is a convincing business model showing financial savings or at least organisational and political benefits in a clear way. A necessary precondition for this business model is to ‘square’ that (offline) participation has to be formally integrated in the legal or regulatory framework the targeted organisation belongs to. This is the case of environmental assessment (at the strategic level) and spatial planning (at the operational level), within the EU-wide framework the first of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) and more recently the Territorial Agenda. EU Directives and/or National legislations exist that establish participation as a mandatory requirement for a great number of policy processes and administrative procedures - mostly involving Regional and City Councils in Europe.

However, key barriers to the development of Participation and e-Participation in spatial planning in Europe remain and are currently fourfold:

a) Legislative change is needed to ensure systematic access of citizens and stakeholder groups to decision making environments (although some examples exist of EU level legislation going in this direction – see e.g. the SEA, Strategic Environmental Assessment directive (2001/42/EC) requiring certain development plans and programmes to undergo public scrutiny before they are adopted);

b) Capacity building is required for both citizens and public sector officials (beyond the mere technicalities - following the “Sustainable eParticipation” concept);

c) There is still limited, unreliable and poorly visible demonstration of real impact on public decision making and its outcomes;

d) Limited awareness / incomplete exploitation of the potential of ICT for participation in planning. 

There is significant room for European policy making here.

Many electronic services already available in this domain are not scaling up to the EU level (also) because of the different weight assigned to the “e” dimension in participation by the national urban planning systems.

Additional efforts should come from the Commission and Member States towards the creation of electronically enhanced governance models for spatial planning and territorial development related issues.

An opportunity in that direction would be to use the OMC (Open Method of Coordination) to enforce the transposition and extension in scope of the Aarhus Directive (2003/35/EC) provisions for electronic participation, also towards other fields of application similar to those covered by the SEA Directive.

Other possible steps include:

  • To leverage the Local Digital Agenda for the integration of available instruments and policies;
  • A joint (ESDP-like) EU/MS initiative at the strategic level focused on ICT & Spatial (and/or Strategic) Planning at the municipal level;
  • A similar initiative at the operational level (e.g. an IDABC-like programme supported by DG REGIO);
  • Promotion of large-scale flagship projects (CIP Pilot A-like) by DG CONNECT.
Scope: Local (city or municipality), Pan-European, Regional (sub-national)