Playing with the glocal through

participatory e-planning

Sirkku Wallin & Liisa Horelli
Centre for Urban and Regional Studies
Aalto University, Finland


The application of ICTs has turned everyday life increasingly glocal with both positive and negative consequences. However, the local and the global are not polarities but interdependent categories representing multilayered space, which may be shaped, to a certain degree, through participatory e-planning. By participatory e-planning we mean the socio-cultural, ethical and political practice which takes place offline and online in the overlapping phases of the planning and decision-making cycle, by using digital and non-digital tools. But how does participatory e-planning that mainly serves the community also help stakeholders to play with the glocal? The aim of the article is to present a set of examples from the Finnish context and to discuss how community informatics may provide opportunities for stakeholders to deal with the glocal in the area of environmental improvement. On the basis of our comparative analyses and a case study in Finland, we claim that participatory e-planning enhances playing with the glocal, if certain technical, organizational and institutional capacities and a supportive infrastructure exist.

Key words: participatory e-planning, urban planning, community informatics, glocal, hybrid infrastructure of communication

Participatory e-planning and the glocal everyday life

Everyday life has become increasingly glocal with both positive and negative consequences. This means that global issues, such as climate change and economic recession, are reflected on localities. Local people may also have new opportunities to influence global affairs due to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). In fact, the so-called mobility tools[1], such as cars, cycles, public transport, the internet, mobile phones, etc., as well as the simultaneous reduction in travel and communication costs, have increased the geographies of social networks and the consequent activity space of people, i.e., the geography of locations known to a person (Larsen, Axhausen & Urry, 2006).

The availability of ICTs and especially community informatics (CI)[2] may allow users to understand the larger impacts of their everyday decisions. People will be able to appropriate not only the particularities of the local, but also connections between cities, and engage with broader global networks (Schuler & Day, 2004; Williams et al., 2009).

´Glocal` is the phenomenon and ´glocalisation` the interdependent process taking place between the shaping of the local and global, often enhanced by ICTs. The term was originally used by Japanese business people in the 1980s to refer to the global localisation of export goods. The term was first introduced in the Oxford Dictionary of New Words, compiled by Sara Tulloch (1991, cited in Khondker, 2004). Currently, the term is being used in a variety of fields, such as culture, politics, business and in environmental protection. According to Khondker (2004), understanding the glocal helps in dealing with the macro-micro-relationships which comprise the macro-localisation (expansion from the local towards the global) and micro-globalisation (incorporation of global ideas to the local level). Although the glocal is mainly an analytic concept, it can also be used in a strategic way. We are interested in the glocal from the perspective of enhancing the everyday life of communities through participatory e-planning.

Even the development of particular places is the outcome of both global and local forces (Pacione, 2005). Yet the local and the global are not polarities but categories representing multi-layered space which may be shaped, to a certain degree, through ICTs. Daily life is increasingly lived on several spatial layers, as working, shopping and even friendships take place in different locations and places. Urban planning is one of the major disciplines that seek to examine development in places and the forces that are shaping them.

However, the challenge and potential of ICTs in urban planning are also methodological. The digital terminology, e-planning included, is still fuzzy and under construction (Medaglia, 2007). For example, e-planning can refer to the:

  1. provision and delivery of planning services (building permits, demographic and statistical analysis, etc.),

  2. offline planning with e-tools as one technique,

  3. co-production and application of e-tools and platforms in community development,

  4. and planning of virtual objects and spaces with e-tools (for example in Second Life).

Participatory e-planning in this article mostly refers to the second and third types.

In a recent article in this Journal, Saad-Sulonen and Horelli (2010) described the characteristics of CI-assisted participatory e-planning as the tendency to embed urban planning in community development and governance, with consequences for diversified experiences of learning citizenship skills. It also tends to apply multiple channels to the gathering and diffusion of information and uses both traditional and ICT tools in complementary ways.

So what is the position of participatory e-planning within urban planning? And can participatory e-planning that mainly serves the community also help local stakeholders play with the global? If yes, under what conditions does this take place and with what consequences for urban planning and community informatics?

This article aims to present a set of examples from the Finnish context and discuss how participatory e-planning may provide opportunities for stakeholders to become glocal players. On the basis of our seven-year-long action research that included comparative analyses and a case study in Finland, we claim that participatory e-planning enhances playing with the glocal, if certain technical, organizational and institutional capacities and a supportive infrastructure exist. The scaling-up of civil society actors in different localities and countries may then take place with the help of community informatics.

The article begins by describing the transformation that has taken place in urban planning towards participatory processes, including the application of participatory e-planning and community informatics. It then proceeds to an analysis of the evolution during the past decade within participatory e-planning in the Finnish context. This will be followed by a case study on the glocal application of participatory e-planning. We will close by discussing the results of our analyses.

From urban planning to CI-assisted participatory e-planning

The history of urban planning since the late 19th century shows a systematic trend towards more participatory approaches with new concepts and tools.

From modernism to agonism in urban planning

At the turn of the last century, urban planning was the remedy to heal the ills of the industrialised cities in the Western world. The modernist paradigm, based on science and technical reason, dominated until the 1970s. However, the comprehensive-rationalistic planning theory that believed in the controllability of societal development and top-down procedures is still being partly applied in parallel with other approaches in many countries, Finland included (Bäcklund & Mäntysalo, 2010).

Although the “incrementalist” approach (Lindblom, 1959) had already brought new critical participants to the planning process in the 1960s, it was not until the communicative turn from the 1970s on (Healey, 1997) that the dominant paradigm in planning was transformed to include a great variety of stakeholders. It then drew largely on Habermas´ theory of communicative action (Habermas, 1984). Currently, theories of urban planning are mostly post-positivist and pragmatist, underlining the importance of participation, collaboration and deliberation (Silva, 2010). Lately, the critique raised by Chantal Mouffe (2000) against the neglect of power relations in the Habermasian consensus-seeking processes has inspired a new approach, called agonistic planning (Hillier & Healey, 2008). The latter acknowledges the limits of achieving consensus and accepts the differences that remain unresolved, making planning openly political. However, the post-positivist planning theories are mostly procedural, neglecting the content or substance of planning (Gunnarsson-Östling, 2011). The few exceptions are the New Urbanism with a clear urban vision and the prescriptive postmodern planning, such as the Just City-approach (Fainstein, 2010). In addition, the mainstream planning literature still lacks discourses on participatory e-planning.

Participatory planning in the enhancement of the glocal everyday life

Manuel Castells (2008; 2010) claims that globalization constitutes social systems with a capacity to work as a unit on a planetary scale in real time. The seminal capacities at this stage of evolution are technological, institutional and organisational. Participatory urban planning can be one approach to constituting systems with capacities on the local level. However, according to the Finnish experiences in which new participatory approaches to urban planning and community development have been introduced[3] (Horelli, 2006; Wallin & Horelli, 2010), certain conditions have to exist in order to enhance the necessary capacities.

First of all, the citizen groups should be able to see participatory planning and community development as a form of empowerment. Booher and Innes (2002) point out that only the network approach to planning provides an authentic situation for participation. Although networks are difficult to control, they can be geared to in the right direction by applying some core principles or strategies of implementation and embedding. Embedding refers to the collective capacity building, learning and coordination process of the stakeholders and key actors, supported by different techniques (see Siemens, 2006).

Secondly, a gender-, age- and culture-sensitive coordination should be an essential characteristic of participatory planning. It is not about enforcement, but about constant negotiation and interacting with different partners. This requires special attention to the balancing of power relations by supporting the potential partnerships and by mediating and managing conflicts (see Susskind et al., 1999; Innes & Booher, 2010). Also, the variety of temporalities (Bryson, 2007), as well as the necessities and contingencies of everyday life, need to be recognised, for example, by applying urban time policies[4].

Thirdly, the content and context of planning should be taken into consideration. Unlike the other process theories of planning, the Lena approach (see footnote 3) to participatory planning is intertwined with the content theory of planning, by relying on the concept of the supportive infrastructure of everyday life (Figure 1; Horelli, 2009; 2010). The latter is a concept that has been applied in participatory planning and community development with children, women and elderly people in many parts of Europe (Gilroy & Booth, 1999).

Figure 1. A heuristic model of the supportive structures that enhance the institutional, technological and organizational capacities to deal with glocal processes.

The model in Figure 1 comprises a schema of the necessary physical, functional and participatory structures that, after being appropriated by the stakeholders, might enhance the creation of networks of care and mediation, which in turn may bring forth a supportive cultural structure comprising local and even translocal social capital[5]. This helps to deal with the glocal processes around everyday life, for example among migrant women (see Jarvis, 2009).

It is possible to plan and even to implement the physical, functional and participatory structures of the model. However, the communal culture or social capital is something that emerges only if the residents and other stakeholders are willing to appropriate the structures, such as by using or co-creating them, and networking in a way that creates trust (Lin, 2001).

Participation assisted by ICTs and e-planning

Participatory planning turns into e-planning when participatory activities are expanded beyond face-to-face interaction to include ICT-mediated interaction that is independent of spatial and temporal constraints. According to Silva (2010), participatory e-planning is a new paradigm within the framework of a post-positivist planning theory. The collaborative approach requires new concepts, methods and tools that enhance the involvement of different stakeholders.

Participatory e-planning can be defined as “a socio-cultural, ethical and political practice which takes place offline and online in the overlapping phases of the planning and decision-making cycle, by using digital and non-digital tools” (Horelli & Wallin, 2010, p. 60). Therefore participatory e-planning can, in addition to face-to-face mediation tools (Susskind et al., 1999), take advantage of the wide palette of ubiquitous technology that can be accessed and distributed via many channels and e-devices, depending of course on the context. The tools include sensory networks, radio-frequency identification tags, interactive screens in public spaces, cellular phones and the Internet. It is not the technical devices, but their intentional choice and co-ordination that may transform the environment into real-time digital space (Mitchell et al., 2003; Townsend, 2009). So far, the examples come from special cases around the world, such as the Korean new towns, but as the tools become cheaper they can be used for the empowerment of communities. Then, the new focus and medium of e-planning, community development and co-governance might be the digital space.

Although a great deal of hype exists around ubiquitous technology, the real-time city is partly here (Foth, 2009). The mobility tools described in the introduction of this article are increasingly changing social behaviour. However, according to the translation model of Bruno Latour (1987), technology is not a stable and independent entity, but part of the organisation, implementation and use-process. Technology may then be approached as a network of human and non-human elements which are constituted and shaped in network relations. The interaction of humans with technology generates change, which is intertwined with the co-production process of technology and its context. This means that the transferring of different technologies from one place to another requires the rebuilding of the whole hybrid, namely the technology and its network (see also Arnold, 2007).

Figure 2. The schema of the hybrid infrastructure of communication (adapted from Saad-Sulonen, 2005).

As participatory e-planning is a generic term, CI-assisted participatory e-planning is its special case. The latter is regarded as a methodological approach which makes use of ubiquitous technology by applying it in the processes of urban planning, community development and local governance for the benefit of the community. It can take place via different channels and digital tools. The Internet and web-based communication applications, mobile phones, mappings, GPS-tools and their mash-ups, may eventually provide a hybrid infrastructure of communication, if the tools are appropriately co-ordinated (Figure 2; Wallin, Horelli & Saad-Sulonen, 2010). The latter may eventually become part of the supportive infrastructure of everyday life (Figure 1). These content-related concepts can be used in the visioning phase of the planning cycle.

In the following section we will describe how e-planning in Finland has gradually transformed into a more participatory mode as it has increasingly adopted digital tools in the context of CI.

Evolution of e-planning towards participatory and glocal approaches in the Finnish context

The field of e-planning has evolved rapidly in the past decade (Silva, 2010). A variety of mapping and GIS-based tools have provided a kit for urban planners since the late 1980s. The participatory paradigm in urban planning and the rise of interactive ICTs have pushed citizen participation forward, and challenged planners and developers to adopt new methods and equipment (Foth, 2009; Silva, 2010). However, it was not until the beginning of the 2010s that the methods of participatory e-planning with mash-ups of ICTs, especially from social media, became available (Foth et al., 2009; Saad-Sulonen, in press).

This chapter will first describe some applications of participatory e-planning and their gradual transformation towards a more interactive and empowering type in the Finnish context. Then we will analyse the consequences of the e-planning experiments for participation and decision-making. Finally, we will discuss the systematic development of institutional, organisational and technical capacities in the Helsinki Neighbourhood Association (Helka).

From local web sites and tools to the glocal practices of urban planning

The Finnish urban planning system resembles more the continental system of planning than the Anglo-American one. Municipal councils are the main authorities of formal urban planning, and the main developer of urban space is often the City administration. This superior position provides the local planning authority exceptional power to regulate the planning procedure, including the degree of citizen participation. It also decides the content of planning.

In Finland, the digital planning tools for visualization and spatial analysis have been widely used in planning since the beginning of the 1990s. However, the term “e-planning” (sähköinen suunnittelu in Finnish) has not been applied by authorities, nor by citizens. The situation has recently changed, as a great many examples exist that use various web-based planning tools that support citizen participation both inside and outside the formal planning processes. We will present a collection of cases in Table 1 that describe the purpose and implementation of participatory e-planning in the Finnish context. It comprises four different applications of e-planning. Three of them take place in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and one in Espoo, which is the neighbouring town of the capital.

The first case, Espoo Internet Forums (see Staffans, Rantanen & Nummi, 2010), has applied traditional mapping tools of e-planning in a participatory manner and enabled participants to gather information and to comment on the planning process of a specific plan. In 2004, when the development of the Espoo Internet Forums began, this approach was revolutionary. It not only provided information, but also a place for wider public participation in the context of the rigid planning system.

Table 1. Cases of participatory e-planning within urban planning and community development in Finland.

Cases of e-planning in Finland



The Role of ICTs or CI

Espoo Internet Forums (see Staffans, Rantanen & Nummi, 2010)

To transform planning into a transparent learning process by creating different types of interactive digital forums that mobilise participants.

Local web sites in Espoo comprising inventory, planning and development forums with interactive mapping and commenting tools.

A single channel tool embedded in traditional urban planning. The solution provides the planners and participants specific data concerning the planning case.


(see Kahila & Kyttä, 2010)

To develop a GIS-tool that can provide qualitative data of the physical and social environment that is geographically contextualised. The methodology was first developed for research purposes but later on also for participatory planning to be used by the planners.

The web-based mapping and commenting tool, based on GIS, has been applied in several neighbourhoods around Helsinki, Turku and Vaasa from the perspective of child mobility, adult housing preferences, safety issues, etc.

A single channel, GIS-based toolkit with several applications for people of different age and locations. Currently, the use of technology is being transformed into a more participatory approach.

Roihuvuori Neighbourhood Yard

(see Saad-Sulonen & Horelli, 2010)

To enable the visioning and planning of a neighbourhood yard in Helsinki, which mobilised and empowered participants of different ages and gender to shape and appropriate their locality.

The traditional participatory planning process was facilitated by an architect who organised several planning sessions with different age groups, extended with CI-activities with adolescents who used digital tools.

A multi-channel and -dimensional toolkit, embedded in CI-assisted participatory e-planning. The local web site comprised web and mobile tools, such as the Urban Mediator, podcasts, etc., that enhanced participation.


(See http://www.

To improve the participatory structures of neighbourhoods in three different countries, by applying CI-assisted participatory e-planning at the glocal level.

Application of a web-based communication platform that allows mobilising visioning of the neighbourhoods in Helsinki, Norrköping (Sweden) and Riga (Latvia).

CI-assisted participatory e-planning with a set of digital tools (Facebook, podcasts, mapping tools, simulations, etc.)

At the same time, the second case SoftGIS-methodology (Kahila & Kyttä, 2010), was being developed in order to gather and analyse locally-based user experiences of environmental quality. SoftGIS was a tool for researchers who could assist planners in their task of urban design and planning. The questionnaire-based data was geo-coded and integrated in the mapping analysis. The SoftGIS- methodology has been successful in producing different kinds of urban information. Even though it is place-based by nature, it has been adopted in many regions in Finland (Kahila & Kyttä, 2010). Recently, the SoftGIS has also been developed to study urban environments in Japan and Australia. The tool has gradually evolved towards a more participatory mode, as it seeks to provide feedback to the users of the results of the specific planning process. However, it still remains an expert device and not one that enhances participatory e-planning in its deepest sense.

Empowerment of the residents and the community plays an important role in the last two cases of Table 1. In the case of Roihuvuori Neighbourhood Yard (Saad-Sulonen & Horelli, 2010), the researchers and civil servants enabled adolescents to participate in the planning of a common yard around the Youth House together with other age-groups, in 2009-2010[6]. The application of ICTs meant that tools, such as the local website and the Urban Mediator, were used as platforms and means to co-create, share and distribute information. For example, during the planning and design stage, an array of participatory methods, both face-to-face and mediated by ICTs, enabled stakeholders to take part in both the design of the yard and in the adaptation of various tools to interact with the larger community (Figures 3a and 3b). The approach also enabled the participants, especially the adolescents who took part in media production activities, to think and act as masters of technology, instead of being passive users and mere consumers.

Figure 3. Empowering stakeholders in the case of Roihuvuori Neighbourhood Yard by using ICTs and face-to-face methods to co-create urban space (Photographs by Joanna Saad-Sulonen, 2010).

Even if the Roihuvuori case was a local application, the Urban Mediator as a tool is globally-based. Urban Mediator was constructed in a Pan-European development project. The tool itself is similar to social media applications, such as Bambuser and the now-defunct Floobs, and thus it enables glocal information sharing and planning. However, the main contribution of the Urban Mediator is that it is the first Web 2.0 and mobile phone device in the field of urban planning which has integrated community informatics (CI) in participatory e-planning in Finland.

CADDIES (Helka, 2009; Kanervo, 2010) stands for the glocal project Creating Attractive, Developedand Dynamic Societies together with Inhabitants. It aims to spur different resident groups to participate in the shaping of their environments on the neighbourhood level with generic, yet user-driven ICT applications in Helsinki (Finland), Norrköping (Sweden) and Riga (Latvia). A variety of community engagement methods and communication platforms (see the participatory infrastructure in Figure 1) have been developed and tested in practice within the CADDIES project. These have enabled a glocal visioning and strategising that enhance the co-production and sharing of knowledge, as well as the implementation of new ideas. For example, the Swedish inhabitants were encouraged to arrange events to support sustainable living. In Helsinki, local committees and other informal governance structures for local democracy were organized on the basis of the visioning. Efforts to build a civil society in Latvia, after the Soviet Regime, were initiated and supported. Thus, the CADDIES project helped neighbourhood activists from different countries to share their experiences and learn from them.

The communication structure that enabled the sharing consists of neighbourhood web sites with a variety of digital tools, mash-ups, and integrations of the most popular applications of social media, such as RSS feeds and Facebook. In addition, a new mobile tool, similar to FixMyStreet (, was created and is is under development. The cultural differences of the Nordic and Baltic countries are small, but still significant. However, the project has been able to share and distribute methods and new content through CI-assisted participatory e-planning that address both the local and global levels in a new way.

Impact of participatory e-planning on urban planning and community development

The number of applications described above is limited, but they indicate an evolution towards a more participatory mode of e-planning in which the glocal dimension has also been recognised. It is evident that ICTs provide new forms of participation according to the preference and skills of the users. Participation does not only take place in official workshops, but in everyday life situations that enable the transmission of personal ideas and proposals through computers and mobile phones.

The impacts of participatory e-planning on urban planning are various. One of the shared features in Table 1 is that there has been an increase in the number of:

  • new actors and also participants

  • technologies (multi-channel distribution)

  • purposes (multi-dimensionality)

  • contents of planning

  • stages of planning

  • fields or disciplines

ICTs and their use in urban issues have introduced new participants to the processes of urban planning. The traditional forms of participation, i.e., neighbourhood meetings and local rallies, have been complemented by digital arenas of social media applications that invite people who not only live in a place, but feel connected to it, or other active groups who wish to be involved in the planning case. The new participants have access to the case through a multitude of web sites. They can comment and share information in various locations and situations, supported by mobile phone applications and urban screens. Commuters and people who spend time on leisure activities, such as shopping or travelling, have an opportunity to take part in planning cases which used to be introduced only to local inhabitants and enterprises. It is also likely that the number of active senior participants will grow when they are able to share their information outside of the on-site meetings. In the cases of Espoo Internet Forum and Roihuvuori Neighbourhood Yard, the context-aware design and implementation of the participatory e-planning tools also succeeded in gathering adolescents and people who would have been too busy to participate otherwise (Wallin et al., 2010).

In addition to the new participants and technologies, new stages of participation have emerged in the planning cycle. All examples in Table 1 indicate that the participation could have started earlier than is the norm in traditional planning. In the case of SoftGIS, the information gathering served the research on the physical and social qualities of the environment, which was used for defining the planning objectives before the opening of the planning procedure.

The comparative analysis disclosed that the use of e-planning tools and arenas were the most advanced in the CADDIES project and in the Roihuvuori Neighbourhood Yard. The social media-based applications that were used brought a new dimension to urban planning. The communities were encouraged to develop their own visions and to process them through planning and other community development actions. Thus, urban planning was fed with a new context, purpose and content when interested people put their mark on it.

The co-building of the new tools and modes of functioning has been a multi-disciplinary task. Architects have joined forces with community developers, software developers, social media professionals and the factual users, i.e. participants from different communities of practice (CoPs). One of the main outcomes is that the former bureaucratic and closed process of urban planning has opened up. Formal participation processes have become a more open field for experimenting and playing. Therefore, we can draw the conclusion that e-planning and the use of ICTs enhance public participation and transform both urban planning and decision-making (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Participatory e-planning and the use of ICTs enhance public participation, and transform urban planning and decision-making.

We will take a closer look in the next section at the preconditions which have enabled the Helsinki Neighbourhoods Association (Helka) to develop and use e-planning tools in a way that has made it a glocal player.

How to become a glocal player?

The evolution of participatory e-planning and its impact on urban planning and community development have not happened by accident. The preconditions that have made the evolution possible are the technical, institutional and organizational capacities of the civil society actors. The development of these capacities has been the concern of research on both urban planning and glocal process (see Sassen, 2007; Castells, 2008).

In fact, the development of the capacities of the Helsinki Neighbourhoods Association (Helka) began a long time before CADDIES. Helka was founded in 1964. It is a non-governmental umbrella organization for 77 local voluntary associations in Helsinki. Its main interest has been the enhancement of the everyday life perspective in municipal decision-making and the promotion of sustainable development in planning and housing in the whole capital region of Finland. The executive director of Helka, Pirjo Tulikukka, explains that:

(T)he big issue for Helka is the vision of a local supportive community. The challenge is to co-develop locally sustainable structures that will encourage women and men to construct a better daily life. The nature of the vision is quite soft. It is rather an instrument for sustaining daily life than a goal that is based on hard values.

Anna Kanervo, the former project director of Helka claims that

Helka´s main strategy has been, for the past ten years, to systematically construct a flexible and dynamic communication structure.”

In the 1990s, Helka constructed the first local web sites, called the Home Street (, in three neighbourhoods of Helsinki. The idea was and still is that Helka provides the content management system of the web site and the local activists co-produce and deliver the content. Currently, there are 35 active local web sites in the Home Street. In many neighbourhoods, the web sites have become platforms that integrate other local sites and information services. All sites have a strong local identity of their own due to the dual strategy that separates the content production from the content management system (Kanervo, 2010).

In addition to technical capacities, the institutional and organizational capacities of Helka have increased rapidly in the past five years. As an independent actor and a major provider of the local communication structure, Helka has become a key player in participatory local governance and even a recognized partner within the city administration. It translates the local “languages” to the decision-makers and mediates messages both ways. Helka is partly funded by the City of Helsinki, partly by various projects, such as the Local City Trails project and the Safety project that reduces the fear of crime in neighbourhoods. Due to their ICT know-how, Helka has become a popular partner among technology firms and institutes which wish to develop innovations in the “Living Lab conditions”[7]. The implementation of the living lab experiments has meant constant iteration between the developers and users. Helka has not only steered the objectives of the ICT tools, but also formulated the technical requirements of web and mobile applications, which is unusual among non-ICT-related NGOs. The key to their technological advancement has been the partnerships between the City of Helsinki, the Helsinki University of Technology and some ICT companies, which have assisted Helka both financially and pragmatically.

The catalyst for the development of the three capacities has been the public-private-people-academia partnerships (Quadruple-Helix). With the resources of creative partnership-networks (Lindberg et al., 2011), Helka has been able to develop the Home Street sites and to introduce new Web 2.0 semantic tools and services, such as a local calendar and help desk service. In fact, the on-going development of the platforms and tools on the local web sites have not only increased the accessibility to services and events, but also invited people of all walks of life to become co-producers.

As an NGO, Helka is not part of the establishment as such, but an agile player in the expanding field of environmental and participatory citizen movement. Since the early days of neighbourhood activism, Helka has also become a key player in the regional development of the metropolitan area[8] in which a model of participatory local governance with contents of digital public services was created. The latter has now been introduced to the Baltic Region through CADDIES. The rigid urban planning processes have witnessed a new player, with new means and objectives to improve the environment, not only in Helsinki, but potentially throughout the Baltic Region.

Thus, we claim, on the basis of the analysis of literature and documents, interviews with key persons and our own experience with conducting action research in one of the Helsinki neighbourhoods for several years (Saad-Sulonen & Horelli, 2010; Horelli & Wallin, 2010; Wallin & Horelli, 2010) that some of the preconditions for becoming a glocal player lie in the systematic development of institutional, organisational and technical capacities.


We asked in the beginning of this article what the position of participatory e-planning is within urban planning. We also inquired whether participatory e-planning that mainly serves the community, helps stakeholders play with the glocal. And, if yes, on what preconditions does this take place and with what consequences for urban planning and community informatics?

CI-assisted participatory e-planning contributing to the content of urban planning

The nature of urban planning and community development is, in general, dependent on the level of democracy and type of administration of the societal and cultural context (Bäcklund & Mäntysalo, 2010). Irrespective of the varieties that exist, the evolution within urban planning towards more participatory approaches is currently conspicuous in the practices and legislation of Western industrialised countries. However, participatory e-planning has not yet been recognized within the planning literature, nor has it entered the mainstream of urban planning (Wallin et al., forthcoming).

Nevertheless, the Finnish examples that exist at the fringes of urban planning and community development allow one to see that a dramatic change has taken place within participatory e-planning towards more interactive and empowering approaches in which CI is being applied. The cases in Table 1 show that even the purpose of participation has changed, as it is no longer the contestation of the planners´ ideas, but an endeavour to co-create shared visions and solutions, even before the official planning procedure has begun. The NIMBY attitude (Not In My Back Yard), characteristic of the traditional participation in urban planning, has changed into a YIMBY (Yes, In My Back Yard). Thus, the talking heads have become working hands, as the participants have turned into developers of their own neighbourhood (see case Roihuvuori in Table 1).

The process theories, such as communicative planning, do not usually deal with the content (Gunnarsson-Östling, 2011). However, CI-assisted participatory e-planning has brought forth most important changes to the content of planning. The applied community and urban informatics do not only deal with location-based data, but with context-related and personalised information about environmental visions and other themes which bring a new dimension to the substance of urban planning and consequently to the community. Besides statistics, relevant issues for the community will improve as civil servants and decision-makers have up-to-date and online data.

Consequently, CI-assisted participatory e-planning seems to contribute to the “substance theory” of urban planning, as the process and tools bring forth radically different means and issues to the public discourse. Citizen participation will no longer be just a problem for the planning system, but rather a source of strategic and deliberative knowledge that provides a tool for the anticipation and management of urban functions.

Capacities and infrastructure as preconditions to play with the glocal

The comparative analyses and the case study on the involvement of Helka in the CADDIES project revealed that ´playing with the glocal` is a complex, multi-dimensional process that takes a long time to develop. Playing has meant here an effort to cope with issues related to environmental improvement, locally and beyond. The precondition for Helka to become a glocal player was the systematic development of skills as a civil society actor. The co-creation of its technical, organizational and institutional capacities allowed Helka to transcend the local to the regional, and eventually to transnational levels. Helka had both technical, social and cultural know-how to glocally apply a collective bottom-up perspective (Borja & Castells, 1997; Nielsen & Simonsen, 2003).

However, besides these capacities, Helka also had the opportunity to be involved in the co-creation of a set of tools that to a certain extent was similar to the hybrid infrastructure of communication (Figure 2). The latter comprises a variety of coordinated tools and platforms of real-time technology. For example, the interactive screen at the Herttoniemi metro station could inform the residents where the Zumba or French lessons were in the evening, or encourage women and men to take part in the informal co-governance of the neighbourhood through the meetings of the local working groups and forums.

These configurations were part of the informal local governance which strived to better the supportive infrastructure of everyday life (Figure 1). In practice, the latter turned out to be a typical assemblage (Dovey, 2011), i.e., a bundle of resource attributes and a network of people, places, activities, services and technology. These intersecting and interdependent people-place-network-relations constitute diverse realities that are seminal in the co-management of complex urban activities (Jarvis, 2009; Horelli & Wallin, forthcoming). This requires, according to Innes & Booher (2010, p. 200), the building of resilience and community capacity in the face of inevitable new challenges.

An expansion of the scope of Community Informatics

The glocal cross-border networking around participatory structures and environmental improvement by a variety of municipalities in different countries meant not only an expansion of the concept of e-planning, but also of community informatics. According to Gurstein (2007), community informatics refers to the application of ICTs for the benefit of shaping local communities. However, local communities have begun to influence global communities. They are becoming glocal players who promote the type of glocalisation that Khondker (2004) calls macro-glocalisation, meaning that it takes the practices of local citizens as the starting point.

Playing with the glocal through participatory e-planning is so far a metaphorical term, as our cases come from a tiny culture and the “glocal players” are representatives of only few countries. However, our examples can be regarded as weak signals that indicate the future course. Many questions remain unanswered. For example, what will be the relationship between the different types of supportive infrastructures and the willingness and ability of stakeholders to manage complex glocal networks and activities? How should the balancing of the local and the global be handled in the use of ICTs, so that the up-scaling of CI does not mean a decreasing attention to the local community?


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[1] The relational mobility tools are part of network capital, because they enhance the accessibility of ties in a social network, increasing the value of social resources and the support they provide (Rettie, 2008).

[2] Community informatics is the study and practice of community development which enables neighbourhoods with ICTs to achieve the community's socio-cultural, economic, political and environmental goals (Gurstein, 2007, p. 11). Community networks or networked communities are gradually emergent and bottom-up, meaning that they are co-developed by the participants themselves (Wellman, 2001).

[3] The Learning-based network approach to planning and community development (Lena) is a method and a set of tools to analyse, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate planning and community development. It was originally shaped within participatory projects with young people and women, and later on applied in the context of time policy and time planning (Figure 1; Horelli, 2006; 2010). Lena is based on post-structural planning theories (Booher & Innes, 2002; Hillier & Healey, 2008), as well as on the theory of complex coevolving systems (Mitleton-Kelly, 2003). The latter implies the parallel existence of tensions created by order and chaos, the emergence of phenomena and processes, the self-organisation of different stakeholders, and their co-creation of products and systems.

[4] Urban time policies mean public policies and planning interventions which affect the time schedules and spatio-temporal organisations that regulate human relationships at the local, regional and even national or European level (Mareggi, 2002). In practice, time policy is implemented through time planning which deals with the coordination of several interventions that take place on different levels and varying sectors of administration. The measures consist of diverse activities, such as working, care of children, use of services, mobility management, as well as the shaping of the dwelling and the neighbourhood.

[5] Social capital refers to the possibility to mobilise resources, embedded in social relations and networks, for the benefit of some purpose (Lin 2001).

[6] The yard was constructed according to the plans of the participants in the summer of 2011, after which the users continued to fine-tune the place.

[7] A Living Lab is a citizen-business-public partnership operating in real life environments which provide human-centric, user-driven innovation services (Mitchell et al., 2003).

[8] This took place well before CADDIES, in the Citizen Channel Project in which the four major cities of the capital region asked Helka to develop and test a cross-border model for regional participation in urban planning. Helka was able to create a model of participatory local governance that enhances co-operation over municipal borders, especially in the field of transportation and library services.

The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441