Social Network Analysis for Communicative Planning Research: Applications, Advantages, and Limitations

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

Many municipal governments today experiment with participatory initiatives to develop better governance and planning practices. They call for public, private, and civil society actors to engage in complex decision-making processes by integrating offline and online elements. While these inclusive practices, such as participatory budgeting, are becoming widespread, the processes themselves have often remained obscure. This introduces the risk that even good intentions of having more communicative and democratic planning turn into bad planning habits, which renew or introduce political biases and limit communications to those already most capable of expressing and carrying out their interests.

Against this backdrop, this thesis critically examines urban planning processes by applying social network analysis (SNA). The thesis has both societal and theoretical ambitions. By scrutinising participatory cases, the thesis contributes to more elaborated planning practices. As for its theoretical ambition, the thesis contributes to the discussion on democratic deliberation and social capital, two essential elements in urban planning, by blending SNA with communicative planning theory. On the one hand, communicative planning theory is an influential research strain that provides a critical framework for examining communicative processes. On the other hand, SNA is a long-standing field concerning the study of relational patterns, recently popularised in many disciplines. The thesis examines the critical roles of social capital and democratic deliberation and how they can be studied more systematically.

The thesis is composed of three peer-reviewed articles. Article 1 combined SNA with time-series analysis to make a novel contribution for assessing dynamic online deliberation processes. Article 2 is a comprehensive literature review to map the landscape of SNA in social capital research. Article 3 used a network model, called the exponential random graph model, to examine social capital determinants in an urban regeneration project. As argued in the synthesis of this dissertation, the results show that SNA helps communicative planning research in terms of 1) network visualisation, 2) descriptive statistics, and 3) new network models. Empirical results of SNA also exemplify how practitioners can identify and better address ongoing problems during the planning processes. However, the thesis found critical limitations of SNA, restricting its use as a stand-alone method in planning research. SNA is well combined with other quantitative and qualitative methods in a mixed research design; thus, it could become an influential node in a network of planning research methods.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Rask, Mikko, Supervisor
  • Toikka, Arho, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2021
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-951-51-7023-1
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-7024-8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Fields of Science

  • 5142 Social policy

Cite this