Participatory Planning in Indian Cities

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Participatory Planning in Indian Cities Issues,Practices and Methods

Yatharth Design Project 4 7th Semester, 2018 Exhibition Design NID Ahmedabad

Faculty Jonak Das, Tanishka Kachru, Shemal Pandya


Abstract "The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. " David Harvey, Right to the City

The project is an exploration in how a city envisions and plans its future, and who does it. In the Indian context How much role the citizens have in its policies and planning. Can we enhance participation of the stakeholders ? It suggests a model of dissent which can be deployed to analyse or lead to participation of people and feedback system which can lead to first few ladders of participation.


This project is the output of “Design Project 4: Design for Social Cause” undertaken by Semester 7 students of Exhibition Design at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad in 2018. No part of this document titled “Participatory Planning in Indian Cities” by “Yatharth” has been carried out elsewhere and is an original work produced for this course. The work produced here is the interpretation of the author and is not published anywhere in form of books, monographs, articles or any other format. All resources which have informed the author are appropriately acknowledged at the respective place in the text.

Ahmedabad Date:...............................


Table of Contents

2 6 8 10

Abstract Project Introduction Patna Field Visit

12 14 16 18 20

22 24 25 26

Planning and Policies Participatory planning Case Study A Model For Participation The Framework in Patna

Tests in NID Experiment 1 Experiment 2 Experiment 3

28 Suggestive Solution 30 Conclusion 32 Reflections




Project Introduction “Cities are engines for sustainable development. It is where ideas, commerce, culture, science, and productivity thrives. Urban spaces offer opportunities for people to prosper economically and socially, but this is only possible in prosperous cities that can accommodate people in decent jobs and where land resources are not overwhelmed by growth. Unplanned urban sprawl, as cities spill beyond their formal boundaries, can be detrimental to national development planning and to the global goals for sustainable development.� -United Nations, SDG 11

SDG 11 The project was part of the final Design Project titled ‘Design for Social Cause’. The broader topic being Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The SDG 11 is part of the development goals set by the UN for 2030 The Goals are documented as 10 Targets for urban spaces, this project is concerned with Target 3 of the SDG 11:

“Enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.”

My Starting point The project started at a point where I was trying to understand where I stand in design with my global ambitions and small city roots. The research question being

What are the futures of Patna and are they sustainable?


Patna Intro to Patna Patna is the capital city of Bihar, with historical importance of being the center of Mauryan Empire. Currently Patna could be talked as an example of exploding 3rd tier cities in India.

The urban population of Patna is expected to reach around 48 Lakhs by 2030 around double from current 22.65lakh.

The city is characterised by its organic,unplanned growth with narrow roads, huge traffic issue, high air pollution, poor waste management and an exploding population. Upto 60% of the city population currently lives in unauthorised housing or slums.

Adding to the city population, there is a huge floating population which comes for business and work from surrounding districts. In upcoming days the city is bound to face and excessive load on its infrastructure.

Master Plan 2030 To tackle the issues of its urban expansion and growth the local government came up with the Master plan of 2030 for the city. There hasn't been a master plan in last 30 years of the city which lead to unregulated and haphazard development. A lot of this had to do with the outdated zoning policies and poor enforcement of the plan. In the meantime like other Indian cities, it has embraced the Informality of planning.

The plan comes with a vision of making patna a:

National level competitive city Regional Trade center in East Creation of compact city Transit oriented development Multi Nuclei development

The plans also projects 4x increase in Industrial and Service Workers, Depletion of Groundwater, Risk of floods and Increased issues with solid waste management. At the same time like many other Indian cities Patna is also part of the Smart City Mission. Smart city mission talks about very similar issue but mostly around service and infrastructure whereas master plan is a document around the land usage.

Issues 1.

The Master Plan was passed in the cabinet without any discussion in the assembly, not even inviting participation of the elected members.

2. The document only talks about infrastructure creation and to an extent economic issues but never talks about its social or environmental impact, the language is almost sanctified. 3. In my time of research I could not find any simplified explanation, discussion or critique around the plan, primarily because how dense the plan is. It is incomprehensible document meant by and for experts but has great impact on life of every citizen of the city. It is technical but should be political in nature.

All these issues bring in the questions around

Who is this plan for? Who is making it? Why are there no discussions around it? At this point the Aim of my project formed to

Initiate discussion in city about its futures and policies


Field Visit

I visited the city to check how much citizens understand and take part in formation of public policies and how they envision the future.Experts in participatory practices and civil societies were also consulted. The survey was done in 3 Stages 1. A form based survey in Train travelling to patna 2. A text+discussion based survey in an Apartment building 3. A street survey with street vendors and Taxi drivers.

From the 3 Stages the major insights were

1. People don't understand policies 2. Government doesn't communicate much about its policies. 3. There is no way to give feedback to government 4. Citizens dont know their role in the policy making and commonly attribute issues to failure in delivery system, not the conceptualization system.

The street survey started with me questioning

Where is smart city? It was an exercise in locating the smart city in public understanding. This question would often lead to skepticism and more often it would lead to the subjects laughing. More than often people would point to the deconstruction of building for street widening happening throughout the city as the smartness.

Below Comparative study of Street hawkers who are getting displaced due to expansion of roads and Uber Drivers who want expanded roads and better administration


Street Hawkers

Uber Drivers

Where is Smart City ?

There is NO Smart City.

In this traffic and pollution, Its somewhere around

What is Smart City ?

Destroying houses and Displacing people is Smart City

Expanding roads is Smart city

What should be Smart City ?

Employment opportunity, Happy livelihood.

Better Roads, Cleanliness, Infrastructure Environment and Governance

The rich. They will have What would be Smart ?

‘smarts’ wherever they want

The concluding insights were : 1. People don't understand what a Smart city is 2. People are very aware of what they need 3. The feedback and participation system doesn't work at all 4. The smart city mission is exclusive to the Urban rich. This brought back to fundamental the fundamental problem of citizens not being part of policy making process.

A Patna with better civil sense

Those with least power to shape future suffer its Worst Consequences


Planning and Policies One of the fundamental ways to allow people to shape future is to bring them in them in the policy making process itself. This is the basic premise of democracy, in theory and greatly in practice it allows representatives to form the governing body and take decisions in consultation with the people and agreement of other representatives. But at the same time it is a top down approach where the decision is made by a body separate from the subjects.

A typical policy making process generally goes in 3 stages: 1. Conceptualisation by representatives and experts 2. Delivery by executive body or third party identified by the government 3. Evaluation by experts and government bodies

The process often at no stage involves the citizens and more than often does not involve clear communication to the citizens about its intent and details.

Traditional policy process is an expert led, opaque, top-down process.

Planning in India Interestingly the concept of planning takes a very different shape in India, Very often planning fails here. Unlike the west where the concept of planning comes from, In India the state is an Informal entity, There is a constant tussle between what is legal, paralegal and illegal. Often long term plans like the Patna master city plan are built on an expectation that the process will be executed on schedule as per time but Instead the flexibility, ambiguity and informal planning is used as a way of future proofing.

An approach could be to use informality as the feature of planning instead of a fault.

It needs to breakaway from the 3 step linear process and embrace more circular process with more scope of flexibility and participation of both ‘formal’ and ‘informals’.


Participatory Planning An alternative to centralized, top down approach in which policy and planning works would be a decentralized practice where the citizens take part in what they want out of their spaces, what to improve, how to evaluate the ongoing work.

A participatory practice is a practice in which the state starts actings as the facilitator rather than the governing body, where experts and citizens consult each other and different stakeholders get equal opportunity at decision making and negotiations to shape the urban environment around them.

Not all Participatory practices are made equally. There are different levels of participation. For this project I would be referring to Arnstein ladder of participation.

Excerpt from

8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme e.g. neighbourhood corporation with no intermediaries between it and the source of funds.

7 Delegation. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the programme to them.

6 Partnership. Power is in fact redistributed through negotiation between citizens and power holders. Planning and decision-making responsibilities are shared e.g. through joint committees.

Levels of Participation The ladder of participation has 8 Levels:

1 Manipulation and 2 Therapy. Both are non participative. The aim is to cure or educate the participants. The proposed plan is best and the job of participation is to achieve public support through public relations. 3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback. 4 Consultation. Again a legitimate step attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquiries. But Arnstein still feels this is just a window dressing ritual. 5 Placation. For example, co-option of hand-picked ‘worthies’ onto committees. It allows citizens to advise or plan ad infinitum but retains for power holders the right to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice.


Case Study The panchayat system in Rural area in some cases exercises citizen power level of participation but a similar levels are not commonly observed in Urban India, currently, If there is any amount of participation in the first place most urban participation programs fall under nonparticipation and very few examples fall under tokenism at best.

Ahmedabad: Sabarmati Project Level: Therapy In Ahmedabad the Sabarmati river was beautified with a long stretch of riverfront without any consultation from the community living there. The project was highly publicised and was very well talked about. The one way communication lead to displacement if urban poor living at the river bank and gentrification of the neighborhood.

Pune, Participatory Budgeting Level: Consultation Pune has been experimenting with participatory budgeting since 2006. A portion of the municipal budget(1.7% in 2016) is allocated to projects suggested by the people, Every year PMC Invites suggestion on the budget through newspaper ads. Citizens can give suggestions , the suggestion are approved/ rejected and compiled and forwarded to accounts department to check its economic feasibility and implementation. The communication happens through Newspaper Ads,Story books, Orientation events and a “menu card� of suggestion or design options to choose from. Primarily organised by the municipal government. The process is regular,simple and has special funds for poorer neighbourhoods.

In slums, volunteers and self help groups organise consultation meeting and collect suggestions. Despite being one of the most successful examples in India It has some major issues like: 1.

Lack of transparency in approval process for suggestions 2. Low poor and women participation 3. No tools for monitoring and evaluation of approved projects 4. It's still an annual process whereas it should be an ongoing process


A Model for Participation In the current urban framework, Participation primarily occurs through three channels: 1. Election Regular but not frequent enough, does not provide participation opportunities between the cycles. 2. Feedback Session or Systems to address grievances or collect feedback and suggestions, like the pune budgeting system and AAP Mohalla Sabha in Delhi. The problem with current feedback system which exist primarily as digital surveys or Physical form is its accessibility and lack of clarity on how the suggestions are evaluated. 3. Dissent An insurgence involving civil groups forcing policy changes or formation, effective but not very frequent and sustainable.

A participatory policy process would not be linear but a cyclical system which allows for constant evaluation and course correction based on citizen feedback.

Participation through feedback The participation in feedback and reviewing a policy would happen in the following steps: 1. Communication The state communicates an idea,draft or finished policy document to the citizens through mass communication channel or local meetings. This falls under informing level of the ladder and ensure that citizens are aware of its existence at least.

4. Discussion The understanding leads to discussion and debates among civil groups, media and the state. 5. Feedback/Suggestion The negotiations and criticism reached through discussion are shared with the state, which goes through the feedback channel into the refinement of policy

2. Access: The policy documents are made accessible or available to the public on channels which are available to all citizens.Often the documents are difficult to locate and get hands on in the first place,

6. Dissent The civil groups and citizens take action or mobilisation against the state if the feedback channel is ineffective or non existent

3. Understanding The citizens understand and comprehend the scope of the policy or plan

A system working in the above mentioned framework would lead to a tokenistic level of participation and could pave ways to higher levels.


Actions & Stakeholders A participatory system would have three primary stakeholders 1. The State- Market 2. The Civil Society 3. Individual Citizens

The Framework in Patna If we analyse the framework in the context of Patna Master Plan: 1. No feedback channel exists 2. Lack of active civil societies makes, Dissent,Criticism and Discussion become difficult 3. Documents are difficult to understand, Very technical and jargon filled in nature 4. Documents are highly Inaccessible, only available through online circulars 5. No communication from Government on popular and accessible channels, often the existence of policy is unknown in first place.


Tests in NID To simulate a policy and citizen environment I decided to go for a place with short policy cycles, high proximity between decision makers and and its subjects and multiple stakeholder profiles. The NID mess was finally picked as an appropriate simulation as its a system with long election cycles ( you cannot leave during the semester you have subscribed for).

Limitations of the Experiment in the Mess 1. Policies are low complexity 2. First 3 stages of participation namely 1. Communication 2. Access and 3. Understanding happen there by the virtue of the policy being very simple. 3. It is a homogenous group with Similar Interests 4. Cities have multiple stakeholders with dissimilar, sometimes contradictory and even self contradictory interests. 5. The scale is small 6. Historically participatory practices often fail to scale up beyond pilot projects


NID Mess

Elected Government ( 5 Year cycle )

Mess Subscription ( 6 Months )

Citizens, Transit citizens, Tourists

Students and Faculties, Visiting faculties, Paying Students




Whole Day’s Menu

Planner : Govt in Consultation with Experts

Mess in consultation of SAC ( Student body )


People's response to food

Civil Society

Appointed student body

Central Government

College Administration

A series of experiments were conducted to see if ladders of participation can be climbed in the mess through interventions. The first set was around how a continuous feedback system impacts, when the results are available to both the policy maker and the subjects in the same space. Can it lead to discussion,accountability and more participation in the concept phase of the menu.

Pre-experiment The mess already has a system in place in form of a feedback book, it's rarely used and often overlooked. There is no accessible way for the students to go through all the feedback and also there is no incentive or force for the mess to actually implement anything from the feedback. In a way it's very similar to government complaint boxes and surveys. The results need to be made more transparent.


Experiment 1 A digital voting platform

Methodology A digital feedback form was created where people can rate food on the scale of 1-5 in the categories of Health,Taste and Fillingness and Provide a text based response. The results could be accessed in realtime through a platform which aggregated the average scores and maintained a suggestion cloud.

Result The responses were very insightful and showed the conflict between taste and health based perception of food quality Participation was low and declined overtime.

Conclusion The difficulty of accessing the feedback form through internet made it demotivation for people to try it out. The results not being visible in the space itself lead to another opaque system in practice. The responses did not lead to any discussions


Experiment 2 A tangible voting platform in space

Methodology I put up a chart paper with scale from 1-5 and area designated for writing feedback for health and taste of the mess food. Sticky notes were used to provide the feedback. Overtime the collection of sticky notes on the paper could be used to visually understand the overall feedback of the community and a closer look revealed individual feedback

Result The participation were much higher and It created a buzz in the mess. People were giving feedback about very similar matters in terms of health. Initial seed feedbacks were difficult but after that it grew organically. One of the major stumble was people stealing pen and sticky notes, which made the system difficult to maintain at times.

How was the the food ? ?

1. Take a Post It How​ Tasty​ food was ​How​ Healthy​ food was 2. Write A Suggestion

Conclusion A voting system in physical space with easy result accessibility was much more successful. The ease of understanding the feedback made it more incentivized.

3. Post It on the scale of 1-5

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |



Very Poor -------- Average --------- Very Good


Experiment 3 A Report on the feedback

Methodology The feedback from experiment 2 was converted into a visual report and put into mess. This report talked about the average ratings from last two days and the most common feedback. A question emerging from the report ( about amount of oil in food ) was put up for discussion.

Result The posters invited a dialogue in the mess and a lot of people thought it was done by the mess-coordinator only. It lead to discussion about the amount of oil in mess food with equal number of people calling it both sufficient and too much.

Conclusion A report or visualization can make feedback much easier to access and can lead to greater dialogue.

Conclusion The experiments with the feedback system suggested that an independent third party feedback system can lead to some amount of participation as long as it :

1. 2. 3. 4.

Is continuous in nature Is highly accessible in the space Is transparent with the collected data Is easy to understand and summarize the result


Suggestive Approach Scaling up an experiment for a city could be extremely challenging as previously deployed paper surveys and internet based solutions don't work that great. On this scale a system is needed which collects data digitally for easy management but is present in physical space to ensure its accessible to even people without the internet.



Ease of Understanding

One of the inspiration of such a system can come from vending machines and ATMs, these systems could be scaled up by placing more of them through the city. A feedback system which allows the citizens to visit an automated feedback collection system could be a fast way of collecting information on a regular basis. Citizens can visit at their own pace.

The openness of information would allow civil groups,market and the government to simplify it and make it accessible to the target audience. Perhaps a protest group can use the feedbacks to put numbers to its cause or the government can use the numbers to justify the decision. It may lead to different ways of interpreting the information but as long as there is a multitude, Its helping in participation.

This information should be handled by an organisation independent of the state and the market and should be accessible by anyone. It can become an information database like the census report but collected in real time.

Current System:

Suggestive System:


Conclusions Manifesto of Participatory Policy & Planning

All policies should be shared with everyone All policies should be accessible for anyone who wants to access All policies should be made easily understandable to most people All policies should be subjected to an open discussion All policies should have scope of incorporation of feedback and suggestion All policies implementation should be made evaluable

All policies should be flexible, transitive and public.

Challenges of just a feedback system 1. Incentives for the citizens 2. ATM and similar systems are still exclusionary to urban poor 3. Troubles around crime and vandalism 4. Difficult to address difficult questions without proper communication material 5. Not as effective as negotiation in a community meeting

Limitations Despite all of its advantage and promise participatory practices are subject to its inherent limitations. Issue of Participatory practices 1. They are difficult to scale up beyond pilots 2. The current participatory frameworks tend to empower urban rich more 3. Public may not be equipped with the knowledge or understanding of the implications 4. Often times it can be used as a blanket term without changing power distribution

These inherent limitations and challenges should not stop us from thriving a greater control over how we live, interact and work in urban spaces. The path to a truly participatory system maybe difficult or downright utopian but we could only nudge towards the goal with a collective effort and multitude of solutions. A Sustainable city is not just sustainable in its resources and environment but also in its Justice, Power structure and the rights of the citizens. As David Harvery puts it

“To claim the right to the city in the sense I mean it here is to claim some kind of shaping power over the processes of urbanization, over the ways in which our cities are made and remade and to do so in a fundamental and radical way.�



This project started from a place where I wanted to explore what my roots are but ended up at a place where it became something much larger than me. A project of this scope when taken by individual has its obvious limitation which may show up in the project as lack of extensive field research, insufficient user testing and experiments and gaps in design process. The project could have been taken as a part of larger organisation or a group to ensure the focus is maintained through the stretch of it. The project although plagued with its faults would possibly help me and others who are reading it pave a way around there own definition of participation.

By the end of this project I have identified my challenges and anxiety of working with real communities and how it can limit me in my future directions. Despite everything, I am glad that I got an opportunity to work on a project like this.

Thanks to Tanishka,Jonak and Shemal for allowing us to make mistakes in our final project.



Arnstein's Ladder of Citizen Participation, www.citizenshandbook. org/arnsteinsladder.html. Arnstein, Sherry R. A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Duncan Lithgow?, 2004. Chaudhary, Pranav. “Patna Population Likely to Be over 60 Lakh by 2031 - Times of India.” The Times of India, Business, 30 Aug. 2014, Fatima, Sheema. “Performing Governance in Urban Patna.” Exploring Urban Change in South Asia Sustainable Urbanization in India, Aug. 2017, pp. 95–108., doi:10.1007/978-981-10-4932-3_6. Harvey, David. “The Right to the City.” The Emancipatory City?: Paradoxes and Possibilities, pp. 236–239., doi:10.4135/9781446221365. n15. Menon, Sanskriti. “Participatory Budgeting in Pune: A Critical Review.” - Share Research, www.academia. edu/5217974/Participatory_Budgeting_in_Pune_A_critical_review. Roy, Ananya. “Why India Cannot Plan Its Cities: Informality, Insurgence and the Idiom of Urbanization.” Planning Theory, vol. 8, no. 1, 2009, pp. 76–87., doi:10.1177/1473095208099299. “SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.” United Nations, United Nations,

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