Public Consultation for a residential building project (Fellbach, Germany)
- Specific Topics
- Housing Planning
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
- Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
- Spectrum of Public Participation
- Total Number of Participants
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All
- General Types of Tools/Techniques
- Facilitate decision-making
- Plan, map and/or visualise options and proposals
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Ask & Answer Questions
- Information & Learning Resources
- Written Briefing Materials
- Participant Presentations
- Decision Methods
- Idea Generation
- Type of Organizer/Manager
- Local Government
- Evidence of Impact
- Types of Change
- Changes in civic capacities
- Implementers of Change
- Elected Public Officials
- Appointed Public Servants
An example of a citizen participation project from the city of Fellbach, Germany for a residential building project, two meetings comprised this participatory process.
Problems and Purpose
Fellbach is a city in the southeast of Stuttgart in southern Germany with about 45000 inhabitants. The reason for this residential building project was to establish a diverse and affordable living space. Therefore, the city decided to use three areas, the old outdoor swimming pool, the old indoor swimming field and agricultural fields. The whole project is called “Wohnen im Fellbacher Süden- Wohnen Süd” which means “Living in the south of Fellbach -living south”.
There are likely various reasons for why the city of Fellbach decided to use participation in this case. The most common argument is the argument that even while democracy is spreading throughout the world there is a lack of legitimacy due to the missing representation of those non-participants. Therefore, increasingly often, countries use public participation to legitimize their financial bills or projects to improve democracy. In the case of Fellbach the Public Administration decided to use a participative process to get ideas from its citizens about what kind of residential building the citizens would like to have and that no citizen could claim that their idea was never heard. Furthermore they saw a specific need for such a process because one of the areas, the old outdoor swimming pool, that they discussed is a highly sensitive and personal area for many of Fellbach´s citizens. This is due to the fact that many inhabitants have a personal and historical bond with this area, as it was a place many grew up with. Another reason is that the inhabitants required a similar process when the development of rural and semi-rural areas were being considered in urbanization. However, in general, one could say that the main purpose of a participative process was to collect ideas and opinions from the inhabitants of Fellbach, thus consulting them. To put it in context, the participative process took place at the beginning of the building process. The only restriction imposed by the public administration was that it should only be residential buildings within these limited areas.
Background History and Context
The participative process was visible at the very beginning of the decision-making process in March 2017. This being that of, what kind of residential building should be built? So, the only things which were decided before the participative process were: which areas were to be used and that it should be a residential building. This was decided for the purpose of collating ideas from both the citizen and administrative point. This therefore meant that nothing actually happened and the administration ensured freedom and furthermore ensured that no citizen could come back afterwards and say that his or her idea never was heard. Once the meetings had occurred, which formed the participative process, the public administration made an offer to the city council on what they would recommend for these areas and the city council subsequently agreed with them.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
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Participant Recruitment and Selection
The public participation process involved two meetings and for each the same participant selection process was used. The citizens were invited via the town scoreboard, the official news informer of the city, as well as placards and flyers.
To classify the case after Fung (2006) the participant selection process was open. This was self-selected still and one could argue that this kind of selection was also targeted recruitment because the owners of properties in these areas received a special invitation, and the placards and flyers were mainly spread over the affected southern part of Fellbach.
Despite this there were still 100 people at the first meeting and 80 at the second,, which is considerable for a city of 45000 inhabitants. Many of these people were neighbors or from the south of Fellbach.
Methods and Tools Used
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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The participative process itself was split in two meetings, called “Bürgerwerkstätten”. One occurred in March 2017, with 100 participants and the other one with 80 participants in May 2017. The whole process was managed from an external office which created documentation about all that occurred. All results contributed to a structural concept which the public administration made. Furthermore, the city employed a method called “assessment matrix[*]”. It consisted out of the recommendations of the administration and the recommendations of the participants of the “Bürgerwerkstätten” Finally this, and other documents, served the city council as a portfolio of instruction to inform people’s voting and to therefore decide in which form they wish to move forward with this residential building project. The regional council decided on the basis of the documentation for the participative process, an assessment matrix and that they would like to follow the recommendations. After this decision was made the bureaucratic process began in finding an architecture company to begin the process. The participative process ended after the second meeting.
Each meeting was similarly constructed. At the first meeting an expert gave a brief introduction about residential building projects in general. After the participants formed smaller groups to discuss freely chosen one area in detail and the other two areas in general. In their group they elected one writer, one speaker and one leader. During the group work time there was no possibility for the participants to communicate with members of another group to see whether or not the groups had similar ideas. They then had a small lunch break and after the lunch break every groups speaker introduced their ideas to the others with the help of a whiteboard. At the end of the first meeting all participants received three red Post-It notes to place on the findings of the others in order to emphasize topics which were especially important to them. This possibility was done in order to see what was the most important point for the participants.[**] At the second meeting the participants had the possibility to build house models for each area to get a better idea about how they would fit within their environment.
However, in Fungs Democracy Cube (Fung, 2006) the case could be classified as Develop Preferences on the Communication and Decision Mode, because they had the discussion at the end of the process. Their group was required as well to give presentations at the end as opposed to at the beginning of the meetings.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
In the third dimension of Fungs (2006) Democracy Cube, the dimension of Authority and Power in this case could be classified as “Advice and Consult” because as the participant had no possibility to make a decision at any point. In fact, the participative process stood at the very beginning of the entire residential building process and the participants had more the role of consultants, being asked for some feedback on what was already decided in essence. They had no possibility to decide about an outcome as the entire residential building process was up to the public administration. To such an extent that the final decision-making power was held by city council however the consultancy process and the ideas and suggestions that were made in the “Bürgerwerkstätten” are clearly documented and were used as a template for further discussions in the city council. As the assessment matrix, which the city council agreed with as presented, the influence of the citizens could be rated high or at least a lot of the ideas from the “Bürgerwerkstatten” overlapped with those of the public administration. This means that the public administration adopted a lot of the ideas from the “Bürgerwerkstätten” voluntarily, since the ideas from the “Bürgerwerkstätten” were just recommendations and non-binding. The city council agreed with the structural concept at a session in October 2017 and now the architectural contest will start with the results of this being shown in an exhibition but the participative process ended with the end of the second meeting.
To sum this up, one could say that both the participants and the public administration are satisfied with the outcome and could imagine taking part in or organizing another participative process in the future. On the other hand participants have been asking for feedback and would like greater information about what happened with their ideas, and furthermore they would like to know if their effort was worth it. Lastly, the public administration was surprised by how many people were interested in this process.
Difficulties during and after the participative process:
During the whole process but especially afterwards problems did occur. The first one was because members of the city council  took part at the “Bürgerwerkstätten”. This clearly lead to a conflict of interest because as members of the city council they were involved as decision- maker but also privately affected as neighbors. The administration of the meetings was made for citizens voices only but this did not occur. Furthermore, the other participants felt undermined as the council members should have declared a dual interest and been present as observers only. The public therefore felt that these members of the public administration duped the administration and actually had their voice heard twice.
The other problem that occurred afterwards was a communication problem. As previously mentioned at the beginning, one intention for having public participation for this project was because one of the areas is a sensitive one, and due to this factor this area is having further problems. In the “Bürgerwerkstatten” it turned out that one of the most important thing for this area was the tree population as this provided natural shade in a public space. This is why the participants named the area “living in and around the park”. The public administration said at one point that they would be preserving five trees, they meant this as a worst-case scenario, however many of the public understood that this was the only possible number of trees to be kept. Some popular trees have to be cut down by tree surgeons, and the public administrator consulted specialists in this area. The public administration was unable to say how many would be preserved because they had no ready plans at that point. They had however organized a contest to figure out which architectural office would be allowed to plan and the contest winner would decide how many trees would be preserved and what areas would require re-planting.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Rowe and Frewer (2005) state there is a distinction between the three kinds of public engagement: public communication, public consultation and public participation. To follow their definition, the kind of engagement chosen in Fellbach was public consultation, because there was no actual dialogue between the administration and the citizens. There was information given to the citizens by the public administration and the citizens conveyed their ideas and suggestions to them via selected group representatives. Furthermore, the public administration chose so-called “Bürgerwerkstätten” as the public engagement tool. The participants of these “Bürgerwerkstätten” made recommendations and the regional council decided on this basis however it was still just consultation and not participation because there was no flow of information in both directions (from the administration to the participants and vice-versa). On their website, the public administration defined it as a possibility for all inhabitants of a city to be involved in a discussion process. The aim of this was to incorporate specific area knowledge, adjustments or ideas in the development process and furthermore to make sure that all ideas could be taken into account. This definition shows, that the administration asked for the advice of the citizens but not for an active information exchange.
In conclusion the participative process in this case was self-selected, the participants gave advice and consulted and the participants had the possibility to develop preferences. So to follow Rowe and Frewer (2005) the kind of public engagement was public consultation.
In order for the participative process to take place in Fellbach, at the very beginning of the project, with an open selection and a medium to high amount of real participation, the participants in general were happy with just giving ideas. The main problem occurred when there was missing or incorrect communication and some missing feedback. One can say, that a building project is always also a communication project. This case study shows this again very clearly. Of course, the public administration provided the outcome of the process and the decisions on their website. Unfortunately many citizens still do not understand what the plans really are and are missing out on feedback. They want to see that their effort was worth it. Along with the misunderstanding after the process concerning the trees, this clearly highlighted how important transparent communication is and how easily a communication problem can arise. This problem could be solved by for example involving the citizens at a later point again and or excluding members of the public administration when it is a process designed specifically for citizens thus avoiding conflicts of interest. The participants were happy with giving ideas and consulting with the administration on the one hand, but on the other hand they were seeking feedback and wanting to see that their effort and time was valued. Early, transparent, consistent and clear communication must take place for there to be better understanding that will then lead to there being fewer misunderstandings. As this case shows, it is not enough to involve the citizens at the beginning but they also must be given feedback and given the possibility to engage again at a later point in time. Even if the public administration provided updates on their websites this was not enough and excludes citizens without internet access.
The case was classified as self-selected and open for all citizens but no childcare was offered and the majority of advertisements for the “Bürgerwerstätten” were located in the south of Fellbach and one could argue that this excluded a significant number of people. The effects of this participation could be applied to other cases as very limited. Firstly, the form of participation has to be the same. Secondly, the participative process itself has to be at the same time of the whole project, which is at the beginning of the planning period so that the outcome of the participative process could be completely open and the participants are not limited in their creativity. This case proves that if you involve citizens in a building project to get a sense of their will, and to also get fresh ideas it is, in general, a good idea and it could prevent one from having later difficulties. It therefore could be said if one does not communicate or give feedback about the participative project, its outcome and what it was for, the citizens will likely be dissatisfied. Furthermore, it could lead to misunderstandings which could be avoided. It is beyond the scope of this case study to generalize the findings due to the fact that the number of interviews was limited to only three and for more general and legitimate findings it would require more interviews.
 Statistisches Bundesamt (2018). Alle politisch selbständigen Gemeinden mit ausgewählten Merkmalen am 31.12.2016, from https://www.destatis.de/DE/ZahlenFakten/LaenderRegionen/Regionales/Gemeindeverzeichnis/Administrativ/Archiv/GVAuszugJ/31122016_Auszug_GV.html.
 pesch partner architekten stadtplaner GmbH (Ed.) (2017). Fellbach "Wohnen Süd": Dokumentation Bürger/innen Werkstätten. Retrieved December 14, 2017, from https://www.fellbach.de/site/Fellbach-Internet/get/params_E-1975045717/15168263/Broschuere_Fellbach.pdf
 Stadt Fellbach (2017b). Wohnen im Fellbacher Süden - "Wohnen Süd". Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.fellbach.de/start/stadtentwicklung_+bauen+_+umwelt/wohnen+im+fellbacher+sueden.html
 Geissel, B. (2009). How to Improve the Quality of Democracy? Experiences with Participatory Innovations at the Local Level in Germany. German Politics & Society, 27(4 (93)), 51–71.
 Seibold, D. (2018, January 23). Interview with Employee of the public administration. Fellbach.
 Seibold, D. (2018, January 30). Interview with Mario Flammann. Stuttgart.
 Fung, A. (2006). Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance. Public Administration Review, 66(S1), 66–75.
 Seibold, D. (2018, January 22). Interview with Participant. Fellbach.
 Rowe, G., & Frewer, L. J. (2005). A Typology of Public Engagement Mechanisms. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 30(2), 251–290.
 Immerschitt, W. (2017). Kommunikationsmanagement von Bauprojekten: Meinungsbildung statt Stimmungsmache in Projektkultur und Public Relations. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.
 Stadt Fellbach (2017a). Anlage 2a) zur SV 110/2017 Fellbach "Wohnen Süd" Matrix- Abwägung und Handlungsempfehlungen. Retrieved March 25, 2018, from http://www.gemeinderat-online.fellbach.org/to0040.asp?__ksinr=707.
 Meuser, M., & Nagel, U. (1991). ExpertInneninterviews - vielfach erprobt, wenig bedacht : ein Beitrag zur qualitativen Methodendiskussion. In D. Garz & K. Kraimer (Eds.), Qualitativ-empirische Sozialforschung. Konzepte, Methoden, Analysen (pp. 441–471). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
[*] In the assessment matrix you can see the will of the citizen from the participative process, the recommendation of the public administration, the suggestions of a previous urban development project and expert opinions compared plus a previously named “traffic light system”. This identifies whether the will of the citizen and the recommendation of the public administration matches or not and to what extent 
[**] These emphases could be seen in the documentation as they are marked with stars 
The main source for this case study were openly conducted expert interviews. An expert who was interviewed was one participant who took part in both meetings, as well as one member of the public administration and one employee of the office which accompanied the entire process and created the documentation. They all are experts for this case because experts are a relative status, which people can be, dependent on the research interest. My interest was to figure out the reasons and effects of this case and investigate whether all parties involved in the participative process either as participants or observers were satisfied with the process. They are all experts in this case because they have special knowledge about it. Further sources are the documentation of the project as well as the information provided from the city of Fellbach via their website.