Data and public participation in national strategic planning

Eliahu Stern, Sheizaf Rafaeli, Arza Churchman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Research has shown a negative correlation between the spatial scale of physical planning and the scope of public participation in the planning process. The higher the spatial scale, the smaller the scope of participation. People are more interested, effective, and therefore involved, in their immediate surrounding than in wider related areas. However, long-term national strategic planning which involves many uncertainties requires a wide and representative public involvement. It requires an open and transparent decision-making process, with information open and accessible to all, a fair and equal possibility of taking part in the process and the accountability of the authorities. But, how can ongoing public participation and involvement be implemented for planning on a large, national scale? The traditional methods, based on town-meetings and surveys fall short for a variety of representativeness, efficiency and effectiveness reasons. In the project described herein we propose and implement a novel, Big Data-based approach. We measure and collect online, unobtrusive measures of public preferences, proclivities and predilections. The data we put together are the digital traces left “on the sands of time” so to speak by search behavior and overt expressions of the entire population. We claim that, in contrast to previous strategies of gauging public sentiment, the online world affords access to more reliable and valid information. Individuals reveal their preferences in their online behavior. Our big data are signals collected through “Cyber-Archeology” of the artifacts and footsteps recorded as behavior on the largest search sites, and expressions in online fora and social networks. We practice this approach in the case of the Israel 100 strategic plan by implementing a two-step process. The first step is the described big data mining of digital traces in order to find the main planning issues that interest and occupy the public. The second step calls for public deliberation around these and other planning issues. In this paper, we only report on the first of these two steps: An affordable, workable and valid opportunity to make use of Big Data for later proactive, pro-social purposes of involving the public in debating and molding its own future. Following a description of the essence, the structure and the methodology of the Israel 100 strategic plan, the use of ‘crowd wisdom’ in large scale planning will be presented. As public participation in nation-wide planning is a challenge, its importance to both general planning and the specific Israel 100 plan will then be discussed. Finally, both the concept and the empirical results of mining digital traces will be presented. The mining is based on three sources: the public expressions in the social networks and the media, searches in Google and searches in Wikipedia from December 2016 to December 2018. Spatially we relate to all the territory under the ‘Israeli law of planning and construction’. The results provide a proof of the methodological concept and research approach.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBig Data Applications in Geography and Planning
Subtitle of host publicationAn Essential Companion
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781789909791
ISBN (Print)9781789909784
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Mark Birkin, Graham Clarke, Jonathan Corcoran and Robert Stimson 2021.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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