Citizen dialogue for Vision Älvstaden, Gothenburg

Description of the practice: 

A consultation process for gathering visions and ideas about the future development of Älvstaden (Rivercity)– a part of Gothenburg stretching through the central part of the city on both sides of the river was started in 2011. The dialogue took place in an early and abstract phase of the planning process. The dialogue played an important role for the formal vision for Älvstaden – Vision Älvstaden. Vision Älvstaden is one of the city’s four main strategies concerning urban development until 2030. The target group of the activity was broad but with special attention paid to children and youth. The consultation process was implemented by the municipality in close cooperation with local district authorities (stadsdelsförvaltningar), the Cultural Department (Kulturförvaltningen), and Center for Urban Studies at the University of Gothenburg.

  • To listen to views and ideas about how the future life in the city should be, and to collect as many opinions as possible.
  • To facilitate one important part of the foundation for the work on vision and strategy for the development of Älvstaden in the coming years. (Other parts are processes with the private sector, academy, the municipality, experts on sustainability, international workshops and investigations.)



The “dialogue stair” (dialogtrappan), based on the Ladder of participation by Sherry Arnstein, has been developed by Swedish Sveriges kommuner och landsting. It is widely used by Swedish municipalities and it was a great support in the dialogue process for Älvstaden. In the dialogue of the vision, the process can be classified as consultative. In the next steps, when the planning process treats more concrete questions, higher steps of the stair will be aimed at in the dialogues. Sustainable development and communication were the points of departure for the dialogue. The design of the dialogue process consisted of the following parts:

  • Formulate aim for the dialogue
  • Target group analysis and development of methods
  • Create cooperation around the dialogue process
  • Recruitment of participants
  • Immediate feedback to participants
  • Analysis and categorization
  • Implementation in the process of creating the vision
  • A synthetized feedback to participants and general public

 Aspects of the target group that have been considered when developing methods for dialogue:

  • Time available for participation
  • Age of participants
  • Housing area
  • Background
  • Knowledge for and interest about urban development
  • Area of interests

Four persons were responsible for the development of methods, planning and realization of the process. Furthermore, a larger group of civil servants have been part of the process, as well as two interns from the University of Gothenburg.

A variety of methods have been used during the dialogue:

  • Service design has been used as a method which has contributed to a target group oriented structure and process.
  • Workshops with inhabitants and practitioners in the ten city districts. In cooperation with the SDF. Participants marked places with good quality, problems and potentials in the city and formulated visions about the future life in Älvstaden. A synthesis was published on the website and was sent out to all participants.
  • Dialogue meetings with groups of interested parties. Same method as with workshops with inhabitants, but also more specific questions were treated. In some cases, a series of meetings have taken place in order to develop a platform of knowledge.
  • Meetings at public places in the city and at events. Same principle as on workshops with inhabitants. Input has been visualized for visitors at the event and a synthesis has been published at the website.
  • Future walks. A method for getting to know Älvstaden by foot. Guided walks with conversations about the character of places, the history and possibilities of places. Thoughts and ideas have been synthesized and published at the website.
  • Interviews in the area with small businesses, boat owners and user of public space as well as activists in order to identify the areas’ character and identity that is important to preserve.
  • Exhibition at libraries about an international workshop about the area.
  • Method for analysis: All input have been synthesized in documents that enable the material to be used in future planning processes. Patterns in the material have been identified and categorized in themes that have been formulated as recommendations for the production of a vision and strategy for Älvstaden. There has been time to make proper analysis and there has also been a plan for how the result from the dialogue should be used in the work on the vision and strategy for Älvstaden.  
Communication & Dissemination

A website where anyone was able to leave their viewpoints and opinions was established. It was seen necessary to include also stakeholder’s opinions that were not able participate in physical meetings. The outcomes of the dialogue were published on the website. In addition, Facebook and Twitter were used for communication.

  • 2550 persons contributed with visions, views and ideas. 270 persons used the website for comments.
  • Recommendations were formulated as input to the work on a vision and strategy for Älvstaden.
  • Recommendations for the future dialogue processes for Älvstaden were prepared
Further description of the experiences: 
Lessons learned

The city has identified some important aspects that have affected the dialogue process in a positive way:  

  • Establishment of a clear structure for the phases in the dialogue process with a time plan.
  • Realistic idea of the level of influence that the dialogue can have
  • A clear picture from the start of the end product = recommendations to the work on a vision and strategy for Älvstaden
  • Possibility to trace the incoming input that can be used in other projects
  • Using the method – orto photo and marks for good quality places and places with problems and potential – have facilitated the documentation and analysis
  • Organisation of meetings in public spaces as back to back with other events functioned very well. Many persons stopped by and good discussions were generated.

The following challenges were identified in the process:

  • Cooperation is time consuming and due to tight time plan the process was not enough deeply rooted always.
  • Lack of resources for the dialogue process and unclarity about the relevance of it for some involved organisations.
  • Difficulty to communicate an abstract mission as creating a vision for the development of an area. In combination with insufficient public communication about the process, it was difficult to recruit participants to the workshops.
  • In the dialogue big democratic questions were raised and the civil servants and politicians were not able to answer them or take them into consideration in the analysis and proceeding of the planning
Further utilisation of the good practice

The methods used for the interviews and walks are seen useful to be used later phases of the planning process.


Göteborgs stad (2012) Dialog om framtidens Älvstad

Mattias Hagberg 2006 GP