Phygitally Smarter? A Critically Pragmatic Agenda for Smarter Engagement in British Planning and Beyond

James Charlton, Ian Babelon*, Richard Watson, Caitlin Hafferty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


In Britain as elsewhere, planning systems are entering a “digital turn.” However, the emerging conversations around PlanTech in policy, industry, and research yield contrasting views about the promises of digital technology and “data-driven” decisions to enhance and embed public participation in the planning system. With faster, data-driven processes capable of engaging more people in more diverse ways, PlanTech offers to revolutionise planning systems. However, empirical evidence demonstrates low citizen trust in government and web-based technologies, democratic and participatory deficits, the complexity of the planning system and its opaque technocratic terminology, multi-layered digital divides, and other socio-technical factors that hinder effective and inclusive public consultations in planning. This article provides a preliminary, high-level research agenda for public consultations across Britain’s three nations that centres around a critical pragmatic design, deployment, and evaluation of blended/“phygital” (simultaneously physical and digital) information-rich ecologies of smart engagement. A review of selected national policy in Britain provides initial insight into the emphasis (or lack of) put on the adoption of digital tools within the planning process of each British nation. In doing so, the research sets out a conceptual model that complements existing models for participatory planning by adopting Beyon-Davies’ unified conception of information, systems, and technology. The conceptual model presented sets out seven Is of information-rich phygital ecologies and three interdependent “pillars” for smart engagement that enable one to gaze both deeply and broadly into opportunities for smart engagement through and beyond PlanTech.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17–31
Number of pages15
JournalUrban Planning
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2023

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