Write-up: seminar 5

Seminar 5 – Participatory modelling
Presentations slides here.
• Lai Fong Chiu provided some challenging reflections on modelling for policy. Questions included: Is modelling knowledge creation, or discovery? Who is it for, and for what? What levels of participation might we use, and what are the implications for research design? Ultimately, making modelling participatory may keep us in touch with the human content of problem situations, but deny us the promise of final answers.
- Can participation be ‘sold’ to policy makers and decision makers? If so, how? And who participates?
• Robin Hickman reflected on experiences within the VIBAT study which involved stakeholders and policy-makers at various stages of the policy process. Questions included: is increased voice an end in itself, or is it a changed outcome that really matters? Are the public resourced enough to take part in such processes? Participation often leads to disappointment as change is seen as being limited and slow. The default option is continued dominance by the auto-industrial complex and a disengaged, disempowered public.
- Given people (including researchers) have contradictory ideas, how can we design participation to encourage open, change-focused thinking?
• Frances Hodgson spoke about new forms of user involvement in transport planning and the limitations of expert-driven approaches. She reflected on research into walking as an embodied practice, which found a disjuncture between planners’ provision and policy, and the needs of walkers, for example sociality and responsibility to others (e.g. childcare). Walking accessibility is not considered to be gendered, despite women’s perceptions of no-go areas and exclusions. However, new technologies allow social networks to be involved in planning processes to a greater extent.
- How do we incorporate knowledge about exclusion in planning and modelling, while challenging rather than normalising it?
• Catherine Holloway focused on accessibility and its implications for planning. The UN Convention says that member states should ensure disabled people have equal access to transport and the physical environment. Cathy’s research looks at micro-accessibility for wheelchair users, on the footway. Within this research context, volunteers saw themselves in different ways: some as ‘guinea pigs’, others as giving knowledge, as collaborating or as representing other disabled people. New technologies enable wheelchair users to be involved in research through the use of ‘smartwheels’.
- How can we use these kinds of technologies to feed directly into planning and modelling?
• Alex Macmillan reflected on experience of participatory system dynamics (SD) modelling. Often participation in transport planning is limited to post hoc consultation, or neighbourhood level change. SD can bring together stakeholders from different areas to develop an agreed way of looking at the system holistically, and explore what might happen if feedback systems changed. A flexible process that can fund new questions is important, as is political commitment and stable governance.
- How can we as researchers try to ensure funding processes better support participation?
• Fiona Rajé spoke about two EPSRC projects, Visions 2030 and STEP-CHANGE. Visions involved stakeholders and the public in developing visions for sustainable transport futures, leading to detailed visualisations and narratives. STEP-CHANGE is using a five-year longitudinal qualitative study to explore changes in transport practices over time, feeding this in to new modelling paradigms. This is complemented by interviews with long-standing and retired politicians and planners about policy changes. The challenge is to effectively combine a range of different data sources.
- How do projects such as Visions 2030 and STEP-CHANGE fit with different definitions of ‘participation’?

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