Stakeholder Participation

Comprehensive planning requires broad expertise. In B.Green, we brought together experts from various fields and sectors, as well as citizens. In B.Green, the project teams are integrated into the municipal structure in different ways and therefore have close connections to municipal departments (e.g. environment, transport), landscape architects from consulting companies and developers of innovative green infrastructure solutions (including digital). Earlier experience had shown that more involvement was needed from those with: ecological knowledge, expertise on all financial perspectives, and strong competences in underground infrastructure and building control services, as well as experts from the education, culture and well-being sectors.

Local stakeholder participation

Residents rely on their local environment for multiple needs for living, working, daily routines, recreation and relaxation. Built and green environments can be designed to enable these functions and make them more enjoyable. This supports resident well-being from many angles: ‘For sustainable development, it is key that the development of green infrastructure allows people to enjoy their immediate environment. For this, we require the views of the residents’ (Mira Jarkko, City of Helsinki Climate Expert).

While it is important to consult residents and local business operators, it can be highly resource intensive and challenging to engage stakeholders in planning processes. It can also result in stakeholder fatigue, which might decrease the quality of the outcome. Stakeholder fatigue should be avoided by coordinating efforts with other activities in the area. Stakeholder participation can be particularly challenging in newly built areas or areas under development. Involving residents of neighbouring areas or similar areas elsewhere might provide an alternative. Robust indicators to evaluate processes can highlight areas in need of improvement and inform best practices for stakeholder participation [38].

Pinja, a local youngster from Kalasatama is watering the plants of the temporary urban garden as a summer job. Credit: Ruska Kylänen
Example method

Participatory green area planning with diverse citizen groups

More examples

Engaging with ethnically diverse communities in social gardening

Co-creating allotment gardens with stakeholders

Co-creation from the start

The design and development of green infrastructure requires all-around cooperation. It is essential that all stakeholders or operators and their experts are involved from the very beginning.

No single sector can implement green infrastructure on its own; it requires the cooperation and collaboration of various different stakeholders and their expertise. However, the professional silos in which experts tend to work separate them from others and impede co-creation. Competing goals and rigid institutionalised ways of working also create functional challenges for cooperation and, more importantly, are an obstacle to the development of much-needed solutions.

Through the concept of ecosystem services, we can understand how comprehensively nature is linked to our well-being. At the same time, it challenges the conventional ways of doing things. It requires know-how and the expertise of multiple people to get plants to thrive and achieve the desired technology in green infrastructure solutions. (Elisa Lähde, manager of WSP’s Resilient Landscape Unit)

When designing new urban space, the growing room for various species needs to be taken into account in municipal engineering, waste management and traffic, among other aspects, to have all plans work together (Architect Janni Backberg at the City of Helsinki).

Leading a strategic project and working with different stakeholders to create a joint vision are often about communication between different departments and city organisations, as well as with external experts.

The facilitation of cooperation is well worth the effort and responsibility should be allocated accordingly. Collaborative problem-solving is an opportunity to combine existing information in new ways to create new kinds of governance arrangements and other innovations. Often, it is more about rearrangement of old information than requiring new.

Participation and social transformation

All participation is not the same. First and foremost, there are differences in how actors need to be involved, as well as how much influence they really have in the process. Informing and consultation are the most common levels of participation in urban planning. However, social innovations that support societal transformations to achieve resilience call for deeper strategic engagement. 

Participation should reflect the active, deliberate and honest involvement of a broad range of stakeholders in decision making and action. The question of who is given a voice has always been difficult as communities are seldom consensual homogenous entities. In reality, some actors have a disproportionate say in participatory processes, and elites and special-interest groups are often favoured. Furthermore, planning processes can be derailed by clashes that reflect micro-politics and vested interests. Involving a large number of stakeholders obviously has practical implications that again raise the problem of representativeness. On the other hand, attempting to engage with underrepresented and more marginalised groups in society takes time and resources, and can also require capacity development.

Thus, meaningful participation means overcoming these barriers and aiming for empowerment through capacity building, capability development, recognising different perspectives and knowledge, leadership training, and the sharing of decision making, among other things. In contrast to the apolitical aspects of participation, empowerment is political as it requires changes in the processes and structures related to the status quo: ‘Participation is needed to alter both the way that actors relate to each other and the distribution of power. Only then will it support equitable outcomes in adaptation, but also in development’ [31].

Recommendations for inclusive decision making

To address tensions and promote a genuinely inclusive decision-making process [41], we make three recommendations below on identifying the key stakeholders that need to be involved from the beginning. 

First, involve those who are important to and can influence the decision-making process, as well as those who will be affected by the decisions and actions. The people responsible for facilitating the process should be aware of any inequalities in social power to avoid the discourse being dominated by those with greater resources. There may be differences in power between departments in the municipality, between different expert areas or between different community groups. There will also be differences in power when all these groups are brought together. 

Second, go beyond the minimal consultative approach to meaningful engagement. Involve the relevant stakeholders in constructing, discussing and promoting alternative options. It will also be important to recognise the limits, ambitions, purpose and expected outcomes of participation [41, 42]. 

Third, invest in gaining political commitment and access to resources, including time. Approaches tailored to both problem and context require the commitment of time and enthusiasm, but also support from higher levels. Political will can also be influenced through media outreach and public awareness-raising.


Four tips on involving residents

Local Kalasatama residents are shown an 3D model of the tram stop at a resident engagement event. Photo: Ruska Kylänen

Seven tips on cross-departmental or cross-sectoral collaboration