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Public participation in local decision making: evaluating the potential of virtual decision making environments

Principal Researcher

Dr Steve Carver
School of Geography
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
+44 (0)113 233 3318


Mr Andy Evans
University of Leeds

Mr Richard Kingston
University of Leeds

Dr Ian Turton
University of Leeds

Research Period
1 October 1997 to
30 September 1999
Aims and Objectives

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this research is critically to examine the role of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the World Wide Web (WWW) in enhancing current decision making processes and infrastructures. In particular, the research focuses on what role GIS and the WWW can play in improving public participation in local environmental decision making. Example on-line decision support systems are being developed using real decision problems in collaboration with local planning authorities. These will be tested with the general public to evaluate the potential of Internet-based decision environments and determine the role of spatial scale, locality and social context in developing new models of participatory decision making.

The specific objectives of the research are to:

  • build on current work in developing the ideas and theory of participatory decision making and cyberdemocracy with specific reference to the potential role of GIS-based virtual decision-making environments (VDMEs) on the WWW
  • develop example prototype GIS-based VDMEs on the WWW using real environmental decision problems covering different spatial scales, locational settings and social/institutional contexts
  • conduct extensive on-line experiments using prototype systems to analyse user responses, evaluate the potential of these systems in democratising the decision making process and assist in the development of new theory in participatory decision making
  • carry out questionnaire and follow-up interview surveys of relevant stake-holders to solicit opinions and collect data on the public's role in decision making and on the usefulness of VDMEs
  • draw conclusions as to the future role of GIS-based VDMEs on the WWW in improving public involvement in environmental decision making and ultimately the accountability of decisions made.


This research has potentially far reaching implications for decision making in democratic society and other institutions. Opportunities for direct public involvement and participation in environmental decision making at all geographical scales is currently limited. Given the appropriate political will and sufficient public interest, the ideas, methods and theory being developed in this project could contribute to radical improvements in decision making practice and policy formulation over the next 5 to 10 years.

The project is working closely with Kirklees Metropolitan Council Environment Unit, Colne Valley Trust and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority in developing prototype systems to address real decision problems. These are essential both in providing a substantive focus for the R&D work and in securing public interest.

Visit the project web site


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Contents current at 15th October 1998