Augmented deliberation: Merging physical and virtual interaction to engage communities in urban planning

Eric Gordon & Edith Manosevitch

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Gordon, E. & Manosevitch, E. (1). Augmented deliberation: Merging physical and virtual interaction to engage communities in urban planning. New Media & Society, 13(1), 75–95.

Augmented Reality , Boston , Community , Deliberation , Game , Location , Second Life , Urban Planning , Urbanism , Virtual Reality

The goal of this article is two-fold: to introduce the concept of augmented deliberation and to demonstrate its implementation in a pilot project.We look specifically at a project called Hub2. This community engagement project employed the online virtual world Second Life to augment community deliberation in the planning of a neighborhood park in Boston, Massachusetts. The local community was invited to gather in a physical space and a virtual space simultaneously, and a physical moderator and virtual designer orchestrated deliberation.This project demonstrates the design values central to augmented deliberation: (1) it is a multimedia group communication process which balances the specific affordances of digital technologies with the established qualities of face-to-face group deliberation; (2) it emphasizes the power of experience; and (3) it promotes sustainability and reproducibility through digital tracking. Augmented deliberation, when properly designed, provides a powerful mechanism to enable productive and meaningful public deliberation. The article concludes with directions for further research.

Main finding
This study introduces the concept of "augmented deliberation" in the public park planning/design process, wherein users engage in a virtual environment to explore, comment on, and change proposed design elements in real-time. In general, participants responded favorably to the experience with augmented deliberation and found the process helps mitigate challenges commonly associated with public planning of urban space. However, while augmented deliberation was empowering to lay participants, professional designers expressed apprehension about yielding considerable power to non-professionals in the design process.

Description of method used in the article
Participant observation of workshops (N = 8) and interviews (N = 18) associated with a pilot of a public park planning/design process in Boston, Massachusetts. The park "augmented deliberation" planning/design process engaged workshop users in real-time with a program (Second Life) where they could use the virtual environment (on computer screens) to simultaneously explore, make comments, and react to real-time changes to the park design. Analysis emphasizes three “design values” of “augmented deliberation”: (a) a multimedia group communication process that weaves affordances of digital technologies and face-to-face discussion, (b) emphasis on user experience, and (c) sustainability and reproducibility as a planning tool.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Digital Device Engagement
Interviews Participant Observation
Physical types
Geographic locations