Participatory planning during covid-19: strategy in the fight against the pandemic

Community-led local development (CLLD) helps local people to design, plan and decide themselves how to best develop the territories they live in, either under usual conditions or emergency situations, like in the case of a pandemic. This is not just a simple developmental equation, this is something stronger: it is strategy.

As a general rule, participatory planning is a human-centred strategy which considers actors (local people as community members with multiple properties) more significant than economic results and that’s exactly why achieves way much better ones. Correspondingly, community members focus on their actual local identity in order to boost their community’s absolute territorial advantage.

Local people as community members with multiple properties know better than the remote decision-making centres the territorial features of the area they live in, the current situation, their abilities and capabilities and what they want to achieve in the future. Therefore, they are the appropriate policy designers and decision-makers for their own development problems, according to their real needs. Becoming active partners, they are also empowered to become part of the solution, increasing their social responsibility.

Social responsibility builds higher local trust between people, private enterprises, public institutions and sectoral interest groups and cultivates a sense of local pride. Responsibility, trust and pride strengthen the community’s territorial competitive advantage and make a territory self-reliant under usual conditions and resilient to disturbances.

It means they can also help other communities. Broadening this bond from people to communities as neighbours become clear that is born a high-value provider network of regional trust in ways that have multiplier effects (cohesion).

In specific, public participation in planning evolves many opportunities. Planning as a process for community members means that every step and decision of the procedure is taken together (transparency).

The actors design the multidimensional and inclusive the same time vision of the context. All actors take responsibility for the design, realization and maintenance of the plan. This creates space for dialogue between stakeholders.

They operate in separate sectors and they can interact and share ideas and data. The bargaining power they acquire leads to a conditional decision-making process with the institutions, building higher trust between the community and government administration (accountability).

It is now clear that any local action, which is proposed by a community member or group of members, bottom-up planned in a spirit of teamwork, brings value on the table of European cohesion. Every single step is part of the bigger European strategic plan for integrated development. The involvement of local people in European Cohesion Policy does not replace market regulation or state intervention to achieve growth but completes both of these functions.

Participatory planning during the pandemic

In any case, communities should have a local plan as a place handbook whether to deal with usual conditions (growth) or emergency situations (natural disasters and economic disturbances).

Regarding the covid‐19 pandemic, engaging the public in pandemic planning puts planners in the front line of public safety, as the virus is creating new parameters for places (the CLLD approach was originally developed in rural areas and can be adapted in every kind of community-based economy, urban or maritime).

Most of all, communities must become more flexible and bridge the digital divide by shifting from real to virtual. Despite physical distancing, all planning stages of commoning as a practice remain invariable:

  • Bottom-up approach: design process, evidence gathering, resources, problems, solutions and policies, assessment of current conditions.
  • Task forces: planners, scientists, citizens, stakeholders, policymakers.
  • Action: the Local Pandemic Plan.
  • Outputs: monitoring, evaluation and adjustments.


Participatory planning adaptation to pandemic crisis

As we see, the local strategic plan is neither survival nor a defensive scenario: it is a transformative tool-kit to the new (structural, functional and behavioural) normal.


To summarize, local communities form the third equal agent between the state and the market as the key factor which addresses global resilience. That means: local systems and operation have to respond rather than react effectively and achieve a rapid post-disaster recovery and reconstruction. Therefore, they need to set out a Local Strategic Plan

Finally, the pandemic was an opportunity to make it clear why it was important to have a deeper involvement of citizens in public affairs. This is the power of participatory planning.

Further information

  • Author: Christina Barbarousi, Development Planner
  • References
    • ESPON. (2020). COVID19 – How Local and Regional Authorities Respond to the Crisis. CrossRef
    • European Commission. (2018). Guidance for Local Actors on Community-Led Local Development, Version 3.
    • Interreg Central Europe 2021–2027. (2020). Toolbox of Smart Urban Innovation Participatory Methods & Tools, User Participation.
    • LSE Cities, UCLG and Metropolis. (2020). Emergency Governance for Cities and Regions, Policy Brief No1, Analytics Notes No1, No2.
  • Community-led Local Development (CLLD) is a term used by the European Commission to describe an approach that turns traditional “top-down” development policy on its head. Under CLLD, local people take the reins and form a local partnership that designs and implements an integrated development strategy. 
  • ESPON is collecting evidence on national and local reactions to the COVID-19 crisis. ESPON is open to host any other authors covering the ESPON countries.