Administrative Perspectives on the Role of Citizens in Planning Processes


  • Lea Fischer RWTH Aachen University


Citizen Participation, organization theory, agonistic planning theory




Administrative planners interact with local citizens in various ways when it comes to processes of urban development and transformation. Especially in public participation processes it is possible for them to enable and activate citizens to participate and co-create. But planners refer a lot to challenges of participation: It is hard to get citizens to participate and if they do participate, interaction is characterized by opposition and conflict. Apart from that, purpose and scope of citizen participation and the influence citizens (should) have on decision making processes are constantly negotiated among professionals. In the PhD project which this contribution is based on these narratives about the role of citizens in planning processes are studied, searching for patterns, lock-ins and roots. Social psychology and communication science put emphasis on the significance of images of the other in social interactions. Therefore, this contribution aims to get new perspectives on the relationship between administrative actors and citizens in the institutional context of spatial planning.  

From the perspective of the social psychology of organizations planners can be understood as individuals but embedded in the frameworks of a profession and moreover of an organization (here: the planning administration). The organizational sensemaking theory introduced by Weick (1995a, 1995b) gives important insights in how planners embedded in administrations consider their co-actors: Organizations construct their (social) environment influenced by their self-image and construct themselves distinct to the picture they paint of their environment. These images then again shape interactions (Weick, 1995b, pp. 18–24).

In the PhD research it is examined which roles planning administrations attribute to citizens and how they are discussed within the institutional framework. Based on empirical findings from two case studies, in the dissertation these images, their construction and their consequences are explored: Which images of the actor type citizen containing which role expectations occur among administrative planners? How do these processes of construction and negotiation run? Which logics and frameworks shape these constructions and ultimately individual actions?

In doing so, different framings are carved out by interpretative qualitative analysis. These framings refer to the characteristics and functions administrative planners attribute to citizens in general. Furthermore, there are framings of the situations of interaction between administrative actors and citizens – these situations are deeply shaped by social roles and their relations. By studying the reports of planners of their experiences with citizen participation, several areas of tension can be identified, that display different understandings and performances of the roles attributed to citizens in planning processes. The analysis of the construction of roles, the corresponding expectations how the other should behave and the problematization of experienced behavior can contribute to the understanding of lock-ins in planning conflicts. Therefore, this research project aims to add an empirical view to the debate about agonistic planning approaches, especially to the debate in how far agonistic approaches are compatible with institutional and cultural frameworks in the planning system (Durner, 2023; Paxton, 2019).


Durner, W. (2023). Juristische Perspektiven auf die Idee der agonistischen Planung. Raumforschung und Raumordnung.

Luhmann, N. (1976). Funktionen und Folgen formaler Organisation. Duncker & Humblot.

Paxton, M. (2019). Agonistic Democracy: Rethinking Political Institutions in Pluralist Times. Routledge.

Weick, K. E. (1995a). Der Prozeß des Organisierens. Suhrkamp.

Weick, K. E. (1995b). Sensemaking in Organizations. Sage Publications.