Public Participation on Open-air Swimming Pool Renovation in Gottmadingen, Germany
- Start Date
- End Date
- Total Number of Participants
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Express Opinions/Preferences Only
- Information & Learning Resources
- Expert Presentations
- Decision Methods
- General Agreement/Consensus
Public participation is increasingly demanded by the population. Nevertheless deliberative processes are rarely used for decision-making. This case study introduces the first public participation by the municipality of Gottmadingen that became a great success.
Problems and Purpose
The municipality of Gottmadingen is located in the district of Constance in Germany directly next to the border to Switzerland. More than 10,000 inhabitants live in the community. The open-air swimming pool is very popular among the population. Suddenly however, the municipal administration was forced to decide whether to close the swimming pool due to water losses or carry out a general renovation. The target of the public participation process was that the residents should be given the opportunity to design a proposal for the renovation. Moreover, the dissatisfied mood in the community owing to a possible closure should be reduced by this participation process and should lead to a higher acceptance of the final renovation.
Background History and Context
The popular open-air swimming pool in Gottmadingen had to be partially closed in 2011 due to numerous water pipe bursts. At the beginning of 2013, the municipal administration had to decide whether to close the swimming pool completely or carry out a general renovation. As a result, many citizens demonstrated against the possible closure and the municipal council decided to involve citizens for the decision-making process. Normally, in Gottmadingen necessary construction projects and larger investments are processed according to a predefined to-do list. A supporting association (“Förderverein”) was also founded, which supported the general renovation. The mayor already conducted frequent discussions with the population, but this was the first time that the municipal administration in Gottmadingen used an extensive participatory process. A steering committee has been convened with members from local associations and the municipal council to coordinate the process. Selected citizens were able to exchange views in several meetings. After that, a public opinion poll was conducted and in it 89 % voted for the renovation. In February 2014, the general renovation of the open-air swimming pool was accepted by the local administration and was successfully completed in July 2015.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The entire participation process was funded by the municipal administration of Gottmadingen. Furthermore, an external consulting firm (Translake GmbH) was commissioned to design and support the participation process. This external consulting firm was selected on the basis of positive experiences from a neighbouring municipality. The overall costs of this project amounted to € 20,000.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The participation process can be divided into three phases with different methods of participant selection. The methods are categorized through the classification of Fung (2006). His theory consists of a Democracy cube for describing various forms of participation which is structured through three important dimensions. The first dimension describes the participation selection method. The second dimension provides information about the communication and decision mode through the participation process. And the third dimension indicates the extent of influence or authority by the participants (Fung 2006: 71).
At the beginning of the participation process, the municipal administration organized several “village talks”. Here, the citizens were able to talk to the mayor about the future of the open-air swimming pool. Anyone who was interested in this topic could participate. The supporting association distributed flyers among the population and more than 600 citizens were present at the first village talk. This method of participation selection can be classified as open and self-selected.
In the next step, citizens could express suggestions about the participation process and the general renovation by e-mail, poste or telephone to the municipal administration. These possibilities were open to every citizen. The suggestions were collected and used for the citizens workshop at the third phase. This participation selection method can be also classified as open and self-selected.
The most important phase of the participation process started in June 2013. In workshops, citizens could make their own suggestions and select final proposals for the renovation which were handed over to the municipal council. The workshops were moderated by experts from the external consulting firm. A mixture of methods were used to select the participants. First citizens from the municipality were randomly invited to the workshops by the registration office (without any form of stratification). Approximately one-third of the participants were selected by this method. This should ideally allow that every opinion was represented. Also municipal residents from outside the core village were allowed to participate. Moreover, members from local stakeholders (e.g. supporting association open-air swimming) were invited. In addition, specific citizens were invited, who were opponents of the general renovation (e.g. residents who criticise the project in the media or through personal conversations at the village talks). Finally, every citizen in the municipality had the opportunity to sign up for the workshops. Approximately 50 citizens took part in the workshops. These methods of participation selection can be classified as randomly selected, lay stakeholders (“unpaid citizens who have a deep interest” (Fung 2006: 68) and open to all (self-selected and targeted recruitment).
Methods and Tools Used
First of all, citizens could inform themselves and discuss with the mayor during “village talks”. Then suggestions about the participation process and the renovation were collected to the municipality administration. Also two deliberative workshops with approximately 50 participants were offered to the community, so that they had the opportunity to influence the formulation process. For these workshops, a “swimming pool trip” was scheduled. Four different swimming pools were visited, because the participants and the municipal council should get a sense of what is technically possible. Furthermore, suggestions and ideas for an attractive design should be collected. A finance officer from the local administration presented the financial situation of the municipality at that time. As a result, the participants would get a sense of what is financially possible.
After the deliberative stage, the municipality administration organized a public opinion poll. In this poll, the citizens were questioned about the decision to renovate the swimming pool and their favourite designs. In contrast to a referendum, a public opinion poll had the advantages that more residents could participate (Every resident over 14 years of age) and the municipal council was not bound to the decision. Nevertheless, the option favoured by the majority of the residents were implemented.
The steering committee worked until the end of the building activities, because the residents were to be kept informed about the progress of the project.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
During the participation process, different methods and tools were used. The methods in this participation process were selected by the steering committee and the external consulting firm (Translake GmbH). The steering committee was composed of two representatives of each of the local council factions (Social Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party and the Free Voters), one representative from the DLRG (lifeguard association), one representative from the supporting association and two representatives from the municipal administration (press-info 2013). This steering committee also participated in the citizens workshops.
The public interaction and decision process in Gottmadingen can be divided in four phases: informational village talks, consultative written suggestions, deliberative workshops and a final public opinion poll were used for decisions and interaction.
During this first phase, citizens were informed about the current situation by the mayor. Individual citizens were able to ask questions and to have a dialogue with the mayor in village talks. Decisions about a renovation hadn’t been made at this stage. According to the communication and decision mode, the participants were able to express their preferences and proposals for the further procedure. Moreover, the authority and power by the participants can be described as individual education. The residents had no expectation of influencing decisions and participate to derive the personal benefits of edification (Fung 2006: 69)
The second phase of the participation process included written and telephonic suggestions about the design of the subsequent participation process and the renovation. This had also been set up for citizens, who were unable to attend in person during the workshops. This step of the participation process gave the citizens the possibility to express their preferences. In addition, the citizens advise and consult (authority and power) the steering committee, because their suggestions were used for the workshops. Fung (2006: 69) defines this mode as follows: “Officials preserve their authority and power but commit themselves to receiving input form participants”.
The concept of citizens workshop was used because of the collected experiences by members of the steering committee and the external consulting firm. In total, two citizens workshops took place and were moderated by the external consulting firm. The target of the first citizens workshops was that the citizens should develop realistic and appropriate suggestions for the renovation. For this, the participants were divided in seven groups, each with its own subject area. Therefore, everyone could express their ideas. As a first step, the citizens should clarify a common vision of the outdoor swimming pool and to find out what elements suits Gottmadingen. Also the participants should adopt different perspectives for their suggestions (e.g. students, pensioners, families) and create a pros and cons list. Moreover, a technical expert consulted the participants how the renovation costs can be reduced. The final suggestions were decided in consensus and were used by four planning offices to design initial concepts of the renovation (Translake GmbH 2013).
In the second workshop the participants were randomly distributed according to the different user groups. In the individual groups, they were asked to evaluate the four different designs of the planning offices according to the needs of their user group. After that, the participants decided on two favourite concepts.
According to the communication and decision mode, the participants deliberated and negotiated. They exchanged perspectives and figured out what they wanted as a group. The communication and decision mode can be classified as co-governing in which participants “join with officials to make plans and policies or to develop strategies for public action” (Fung 2006: 69). The suggestions developed by the participants were to a great extent used for the initial concepts and the municipal council only decided further detailed questions.
The last stage of the participation process can’t be classified according to the Democracy Cube by Fung and isn’t a dialog or a deliberative method. After two designs for the renovation were chosen by the participants in the workshop, the municipal council decided to conduct a public poll. Every resident over 14 years of age could decide about the renovation and their favourite design. 50,7% of the municipal residents voted and 89% voted for a renovation (Mucha 2014). A planning office was then selected by the residents and appointed by the municipal council.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
As described above, the target of this participation process was that the residents should have the opportunity to influence the decision-making process. This target was achieved, because the municipal council generally followed the proposals from the participants (co-governing). An interviewed participant (Citizen 2018) and also a member of the municipal council (Dreier 2018) confirm this impression. The final public opinion poll was then only a confirmation for the municipal council to decide for a general renovation of the swimming pool.
According to the interviewed experts, the most important effect is that the positive experiences from this participation process have led to numerous more projects in Gottmadingen with citizens participation. For example, the new school building was planned through the same methods of participation (Bittlingmaier 2016). AWorkshops were used for creating suggestions for the final design. Nevertheless, fewer people attended because a renovation of a popular swimming pool was more interesting for most residents. Moreover, the design of the children’s playgrounds in the municipality were accompanied by the same approach. One interviewee, member of the municipal council, emphasized that public participation is “state of the art” in Gottmadingen (Dreier 2018). Also neighbouring municipalities tried to adopt the methods of this project.
Moreover, the political acceptance by the citizens about the general renovation could be increased. At the beginning of this project, there was a huge disagreement and protests from the public. More than 600 residents demonstrated against a possible closure of the swimming pool. The mood was described as tense and strained. But after the completion of the general renovation, the municipal council and the supporting association did not notice anyone continuously critical about the renovation (Dreier 2018, Citizen 2018, Himmel 2018).
Irvin and Stansbury (2004) mention as a disadvantage of citizen participation the need for more time to complete a project. This effect could not be confirmed in Gottmadingen. The work of the administration and the planning offices became rather easier and the project has not been delayed. According to the moderator, an important reason of this speedy process was an efficient and effective administration (Himmel 2018).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
All interviewed experts and newspaper articles talked about a highly successful participation process. Every resident had the opportunity to influence the decisions through the different participation stages. The steering group tried to obtain every different opinion which was for the most part achieved by the different methods of participant selection. The mixture of random selection, lay stakeholders, targeted recruitment and open access provided a sufficient representation of the municipal community. Only children and young people were slightly underrepresented according to the moderator (Himmel 2018). The involved actors emphasized especially the quality of the discussion and work atmosphere at the citizens workshops. The participants were satisfied with the final outcome and also the supporting association positively highlighted the cooperation with the municipal administration. None of the experts could identify a problem during the participation process.
Some additional factors made the project a success and are not used in every participation process. The residents were integrated into the complete planning process and had at any time the opportunity to provide input. Moreover, the interviewed experts named the creation of a financial awareness of the citizens as an important reason for the successful participation process in Gottmadingen. Also that the general renovation was a local and concrete project in the municipality was named as an important basis for success (Himmel 2018, Dreier 2018).
For these reasons, the public participation for the renovation of the swimming pool was nominated in 2014/2015 for the contest about “Lighthouse Participation Processes” (Leuchttürme der Bürgerbeteiligung) by the Staatsanzeiger (2015). The Staatsanzeiger is a media company, which publishes weekly a newspaper about politics, administration and economy and awards annually to excellent participation processes in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Reasons for the use of civic participation procedures
The numerous protests at the beginning of the project have mentioned as important reasons for the use of public participation by all interviewed experts. Before the general renovation of the outdoor swimming pool, there was no extensive citizen participation. Especially the newly founded supporting association and the fraction of the Social Democratic Party in the municipal council demanded more public participation. But the other factions in the municipal council and the mayor followed this suggestion (Dreier 2018, Himmel 2018). Only the additional costs of the participation process were intensively discussed. The participation process was intended to reduce the negative mood among the population and to create a new swimming pool which should be designed according to the will of the citizens.
The case of Gottmadingen illustrates that even a first-time public participation process can be lead to a great success at the local level. Precise planning and preparation, transparent information for the citizens through the whole process and participation opportunities for every resident laid the groundwork for a final decision that is accepted by the whole municipal community. This is also supported by the high number of visitors since the general renovation (Bittlingmaier and Nitzsche 2017). The participation process for the renovation was the starting point for further deliberative participation projects so that any important decision in Gottmadingen is now made by deliberative methods. This can be decisions where many citizens from the municipality are affected or cost-intensive decisions. Nevertheless, a generalization for other cases is difficult to determine. The large protests and the conflictual atmosphere at the beginning could also have led to a failure of the participation process. However this case study provides important indications for a successful participation process that can be used by decision-makers.
Bittlingmaier, Albert (2016): “ Neue Gottmadinger Schule wird zum Großprojekt“, Südkurier, 19.02.2016, available at: https://www.suedkurier.de/region/kreis-konstanz/gottmadingen/Neue-Gottmadinger-Schule-wird-zum-Grossprojekt;art372442,8531834
Bittlingmaier, Albert and Nitzsche, Viktoria (2017): „Bäder melden großen Andrang“, Südkurier, 23.06.2017, available at https://www.suedkurier.de/region/kreis-konstanz/gottmadingen/Baeder-melden-grossen-Andrang;art372442,9302004
Fung, Archon (2006): “Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance”, Public Administration Review, Vol. 66, p. 66-75
Irvin, Renée A. and Stansbury, John (2004): ” Citizen Participation in Decision Making: Is It Worth the Effort?”, Public Administration Review, Vol. 64, No. 1; p.55-65
Mucha, Ute (2014): “ Klares Votum für das Höhenfreibad“, Singener Wochenblatt, available at: https://www.wochenblatt.net/heute/nachrichten/article/klares-votum-fuer-das-hoehenfreibad/
Press-Info; Municipal Gottmadingen (2013): “Bürgerbeteiligung Höhenfreibad Information zum Pressegespräch am 6. Mai 2013”, available at: https://www.gottmadingen.de/site/Gottmadingen/get/documents_E1795554101/gottmadingen/Dateien/HFB/L_HFB_Presseinfo_Bäderfahrt_25_04_2013.pdf
Staatsanzeiger (2015): „Mit vereinten Kräften das Höhenfreibad erhalten“, available at: https://www.staatsanzeiger.de/staatsanzeiger/buergerbeteiligung/buergerbeteiligung-20142015/reportagen/projekt-34-gottmadingen-kategorie-3/?sword_list%5B%5D=b%C3%BCrgermeister&no_cache=1
Translake GmbH (2013): “Dokumentation der Bürgerwerkstatt I Höhenfreibad Gottmadingen“, available at https://www.gottmadingen.de/site/Gottmadingen/get/documents_E1412097840/gottmadingen/Dateien/HFB/L_HFB_Buergerwerkstatt2013_06_29_Doku.pdf
Markus Dreier (2018), member of the municipal council and steering committee
Wolfgang Himmel (2018), CEO of Translake GmbH
Citizen from Gottmadingen (2018), participant through the whole process