The illusion of participation: Are participatory indicators truly effective in neigborhood sustainability assessment tools

Ayotunde Dawodu, Ayyoob Sharifi, Ali Cheshmehzangi, Jumoke Oladejo

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Neighborhood Sustainability Assessment Tools (NSATs) are well-established pathways to attain urban sustainability; however, this comes with its own set of scrutiny particularly with regards to the environmental bias of NSATs towards sustainability. However, more socially driven gaps that exist are generally mentioned but never fully investigated. For instance, gaps have been identified that question the effectiveness of NSATs in considering the opinion of the general public in the urban development project; and such participatory indicators that promote inclusive decision making is a key element of sustainability. Thus, this study investigates 15 NSATs to determine the competency of participatory indicators and criteria in effectively allowing relevant stakeholders to make accurate and impactful decisions in design, planning, and construction of urban spaces. The key method used was Arnstein's hierarchical ladder approach, which determines how genuine participatory exercises are through ranking. The second approach, Rowe and Frewer acceptance and process criteria, was used to determine the quality of the decision-making exercise. The results showed the misconceptions that exist within participatory indicators and criteria by drawing out ambiguities that circumvent these inclusivity claims. Some of the gaps detected were the elective nature of most participatory indicators, the low points allocated to these indicators and vagueness and open-ended nature of the instructions and execution of inclusive decision-making. Furthermore, results showed varying quality in how decisions are made. The study proceeded to provide recommendations to improve participatory indicators and mitigate the loopholes observed. These recommendations include, mandating specific participatory indicators, increasing the weights of participatory indicators, providing specific procedures on how to effectively participate within the NSAT manual and utilizing third party participatory tools such as the IAP2 framework to ensure high-level quality participatory procedures are executed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127538
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2021


  • Neighborhood sustainability assessment tools (NSATs)
  • Participation
  • Participatory indicators
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable development goals (SDGs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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