Experiments with Geodesignhub online voting

Quote from the master dissertation of Lingxiao Li-‘ Geodesigning green networks with recreated abandoned areas: Case study of Birmingham’ submitted to the Landscape Department at University of Sheffield on September 2017

I would like to express my sincere heartfelt thanks to my supervisor, Olaf Schroth and Hrishikesh Ballal for their contributions to my thesis.


Transforming abandoned areas into green space is recognized as a multidisciplinary task from aspects of landscape, soil, hydrology, engineering, ecology, history and social science (Dixon et al., 2008). Most data about the sites in question look at geography through the application GIS software to evaluate the suitability of the site for potential green space, and how it can be part of a wider green network. Furthermore, accounting for social demands, and end users’ satisfaction of the landscape is significant for maintaining long-term remediation. Therefore, collaboration of participants in this design process is necessary (Swaffield, 2013).

To satisfy the above requirements, Geodesign has been used as the framework in my master thesis to study how to combine proposed green spaces regenerated from abandoned areas into citywide green networks. It discusses the process of determining which type of green space is best for which abandoned areas, and how Geodesign can be applied to explain how abandoned areas can become a network of green spaces. Using the city of Birmingham as a case study, the suitability analysis of abandoned areas and stakeholder feedback are two main components of the research.

Preparation for online voting in Geodesign hub

In this research, due to time restriction and control of a single variable in the interaction research, all scenarios are proposed by the researcher instead of a workshop with several teams responsible for different aspects in the practical Geodesign process. It focuses on the study of public replies to the decisions online through Facebook, email and other social networking mediums to attract more public attention and attendance.

With the assistance of suitability analysis based on ArcGIS, text descriptions of proposals are able to be quantified into digital form to regulate the suitable scope. It is beneficial to ensure the accuracy of delivering planning policies and standard from governments and agencies.

After evaluation maps and planning proposals are uploaded into Geodesign Hub (https://www.geodesignhub.com/p/4b5c268d11dbc1dd/design/), the online voting was generated to receive stakeholder’s feedback. The vote was about 5-15 minutes with 32 alternatives. It is convenient for participants to choose the schedule and place to take part in the online vote through their own laptop or mobile phone.

Interface of online voting

It includes three main interfaces, including welcome page, interface of voting, and thanks screen as Figure 1. While participants enter the voting system, the overview map of the country the study site belongs to is presented first, the target area is gradually zoomed in from the scale of the whole nation. For each option, selected diagram is introduced on the satellite map which is available for participants to zoom in and out, and to check the site location and condition of context. These participants are people who ever or nowadays visit, study, work and live within the study area- Birmingham urban and sub-urban area, particularly those whose study fields are related to landscape architecture and urban planning.


Promote the online voting

This vote is mainly promoted as an event posted on Facebook as Figure 2. The picture including site location and planning proposals is used as the cover photo of the event to attract more potential participants who are concerned about Birmingham development. Besides, the address of this event is set as New Street Station to enlarge its opportunities to be seen by more local people. Informed with the consent form and participant information sheet of the event first, participants take part in the online voting through clicking the link (this link is expired now). The duration of this voting is 3 days from 5th September to 7th September 2017.


Furthermore, this event is also post in Birmingham local groups on Facebook, which are related to urban planning (Figure 3), and post in my timeline to attract friends and friends’ friends who care about Birmingham urban transformation (Figure 4).



Collection of the results

This three-day online voting totally collected 819 votes, including 692 approvals and 127 rejections. With the assistance of Geodesign Hub’s founder, Hrishikesh Ballal, the data, containing IP address, time, and corresponding decisions for each option, is collected in the form of Excel tables. Due to data confidentiality stated in the application of ethic review, identifying information like IP address is not analysed and illustrated in this research.

The degree of public agreement towards one proposal is measured by the average of ‘vote’ column, in which digit ‘1’ and ‘0’ respectively correspond ‘Approve’ and ‘Reject’ in the original data. According to this measurement, passing rate of proposals is 84%, and proposals are ranked in Table 1 through ‘Subtotal’ and ‘Sorting’ tool in Excel software. Furthermore, top 10 and last 10 favorite proposals in Table 1 are concluded in the form of pie charts for further analysis of public desirability towards remediation of abandoned areas in Figure 5. To decrease the disturbance original system priorities within this vision, this is also tallied as a reference in this figure.


In condition of further study about public feedback towards these systems, rank for proposals in sort of system is listed in Table 2.

Besides, after finishing the online voting, eight participants gave their feedbacks about qualitative characters of this online voting. The positive and negative attitudes towards this voting are illustrated in Figure 6. Most participants appreciate the dynamic interface of this online voting.



With deference to the other part of the results, online voting indicates the advance of social network and quantitative feedbacks. Firstly, promoted in the local Facebook group and friends’ timeline and recommendations, more and more people who are indeed concerned about the project or real stakeholders near to the development areas decides to participate the voting (Figure 3). Within three days, 819 votes are collected and recorded in the background program-running, which is really convenient for researchers to summarize them for further study in contrast to the traditional paper questionnaire. Compared to face-to-face or online workshop, the result of online voting may appear more deviations due to totally-exposed to all people familiar or unfamiliar with the site, professional or non-experts, and unknown situations when they select the options, with deep consideration or random selection (Evans-Cowley and Hollander, 2010). However, this residual can be decreased in rational scope when enough sample size of participants is involved in this quantitative research (Slotterback, 2011). This solution is easy to be reached due to the mass of participants within three days in this research.

Besides, qualitative research is also added into the research to achieve general assessment towards quality of voting systems itself, which is summarized in Figure 6. According to those positive feedbacks, the dynamic interface (Figure 1) is indeed attracting more people to participate, and leads them to finish the voting. It is confirmed that options based on GIS databases allow participants to give more interactive feedback after further understand the site location and existing land cover (Slotterback, 2011). It reflects large potential value for improving public involvement in urban planning and development of politics and advocacy (Evans-Cowley and Hollander, 2010). At the aspect of negative attitudes, most problems come from lack of comprehensive information about each proposal and context. In my opinion, these problems could be solved if other backgrounds, including map of land use, transportation and so on, are provided to participants to refer for decision making.

Significantly, the method and process stated in the research are capable to be directly applied or referred by more projects about regenerating abandoned areas into green spaces or green networks. It simplifies the complex planning process of remediation, containing various factors, into six steps of Geodesign with a series of quantified standards. This research provides a collaborative method to quantify the process of evaluation and decision-making, which is suitable to be applied to planning policies and projects by agencies and the public to achieve targets of sustainable development of environment especially abandoned area.

Although both of this research and the graduation design I submitted in June, 2017 take attitudes and sense of stakeholders into consideration to shape the project, the emphasis of them are dissimilar. At the planning phase, this research takes shorter time to propose all suitable and convincing diagrams in contrast to repeated comparison and overloaded Geo-based sources in traditional planning phase. Furthermore, according to difference of scales between this research and design stage of my graduation design, this research provides a more rational analysis and evaluation of Geo-data rather than the public experience of space and landscape which is not only focused in the design project, but also in traditional landscape architecture. Besides, the project in this research involves public decisions towards proposals, in contrast proposals are proven only through 3D models about space experience in the graduation design, which is not a totally persuasive project.

Last but not least, it possesses a great research value of the subject concerning the application of online participation to urban developments, planning decisions and policies adopted by local governments and agencies. Social networking has more advance to connect neighbours, and is essential to enhance social welfare and local life. This benefit can be enlarged through further study of the relationship and collaboration between the online participation tools and as a complement to traditional methods of participation (Evans-Cowley and Hollander, 2010).

Birmingham City Council. (2017). Birmingham development plan 2031. Available from: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/5433/adopted_birmingham_development_plan_2031.pdf [Accessed 12nd January 2017]

Dixon, T., Raco, M., Catney, P. and Lerner, D. N. (Eds.). (2008). Sustainable brownfield regeneration: Liveable places from problem spaces. John Wiley & Sons.

Evans-Cowley, J. and Hollander, J. (2010). The new generation of public participation: Internet-based participation tools. Planning Practice & Research, 25(3), 397-408.

Facebook. (2016). A Guide to Getting the Most Out of Facebook Events. Available from: https://s0.wp.com/wp-content/themes/vip/fb-events-2015/pdfs/Event_Playbook.pdf [Accessed 28th August 2017].

Hampton, K. N. (2007). Neighborhoods in the Network Society the e-Neighbors study. Information, Communication & Society, 10(5), 714-748.

Slotterback, C. S. (2011). Planners’ perspectives on using technology in participatory processes. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 38(3), 468-485.
Southwark Council. (2017). Russia Dock Woodland. [online] Available from: http://www.southwark.gov.uk/parks-and-open-spaces/parks/russia-dock-woodland [Accessed 10th June 2017]

How do you think online voting can be improved based on the above?

The problems I met during the research and suggestions from my perspective are listed as follows.

1. Disordered display
The order of presenting programs shows disordered.

I suggest to present options in sequence of the location or in the class of theme or tags.

2. Unclear topic and objective
With the presentation of single option, it is difficult to express the positive half of the series of proposals and changes under one topic.

I suggest to present the whole Masterplan first to introduce the general idea of the project, and to introduce the collection of all proposals in each topic before participants’ voting for separate proposals.

3. Deviations due to open online
The result of online voting may appear more deviations due to totally-exposed to all people online who are familiar or unfamiliar with the site, professional or non-experts, plus unknown situations with deep consideration or random selection.

I suggest that before or after the voting, some questions with multiple choices be provided to participants to record their background like ages, occupation or the length of living at the study area.

4. Lack of professional suggestions
At the aspect of negative attitudes of participants, most problems come from comprehensive information about each proposal and context.

I suggest that other layers, including map of land use, transportation, hydrology and so on, should be provided to participants for referring for decision making.

@LingxiaoLI I very much appreciated your contribution that to the best of my knowledge is among the first detailed report on the “voting link” use. I welcome, in particular, the survey submitted to the users after finishing the voting. The survey results, as well as, your feedbacks are particularly interesting and should be taken into account to improve the tool. A curiosity: why the voting link only lasted 3-day? Generally the voting links are available for one week.

@LingxiaoLI, Congratulation for your really interesting master thesis topic. As @chiara.cocco mentioned in a previous comment, the type of research you carried out is an important step forward concerning pros and cons of applying a post-workshop voting system for the purpose of obtaining a significant amount of feedbacks which in turn, better inform the decision-making process.
According to your experience, do you think it would be also possible and useful to integrate the tested voting system not only in the post-workshop phase but also at the beginning of a Geodesign project for the co-creation of the evaluation maps together with locals? I am asking this because it would be useful to get feedbacks from the public also in the pre-workshop phase when it is required to take a series of knowledge-based decisions that will obviously influence the whole project; I personally see a lot of benefits in including local people and their knowledge in this early phase.

Thank you very much for your appreciating. In terms of the duration of the online voting, it is related to two main parts.

Firstly, the sample size is originally aimed for 600, calculated with 95% confidence level, 4% margin of error, and 1.1 million population size according to the population in Birmingham (Birmingham city council, 2017). After communicating with my tutor Olaf and Hrishi, they recommended me that this sample size normally be achieved within 3 days, and it is much easier for me to deal with the data especially it was limited time for me to analyse and write the thesis. Actually, 600 votes were achieved within two days.

Besides, I think that it is very important to remind the potential participants again and again to finish the voting as soon as possible in case that they forget it after seeing this voting, particularly in social networking. So, if there are only 3 days available for them to finish the voting, it is one way to remind them to click the link to vote once they see the post of the voting.

Sorry for late reply. I went abroad last week, and it was not very convenient for me to reply you during that time.

Thank you very much for your appreciating.

It is really a good idea to apply the online voting to the beginning of the Geodesign to collect stakeholders’ requirements and their proposals. In my opinion, this voting could be much easier to be conducted because at this phase, participants can point out the existing issues and requirements within their familiar areas based on the map without too much professional knowledge.

However, at the beginning stage, it might not be very convincing for people to believe the profession and the significance of the online voting. I think further steps and results after this voting could be described in the post to attract more local people to participate if they believe this voting can really influence on their environment.

Sorry for late reply again. I went abroad last week, and it was not very convenient for me to reply you during that time.

Thanks for the answer.

I agree with you; it would be harder to involve people in a pre-workshop phase rather than in a post-workshop one. I believe voters could be more inclined to give their opinion if they see the co-created outcome and as you said, they understand that they have the power to influence it, to some extent.
Meanwhile trying to achieve that credibility point, it could be interesting to investigate and test people knowledge regarding physical and societal characteristics of a place setting a voting system supported by pre-workshop meetings and “brainstorming” exercises.