12 Principles for an Architecture of Participation

September 28, 2008

These are non-constraining, open-ended, and adaptable principles for an architecture of participation that can be used by any group of people, NGOs or urban planners interested in activating the collective intelligence of a community. Here, we use the example of city planning, but the principles are adaptable to the development, coordination, or management of various types of open systems, including corporations or software development.

1. NEED IT: Necessity is the mother of invention. What do you need, as an individual and as a community? It is not for master planners to guess what people need. Stakeholders should speak up.

2. GET IT: No need to reinvent the wheel again. Lets find what works elsewhere and adapt to the local/present needs and then expand it.

3. DO IT: You don’t really understand the problem until after you start implementing the solutions. It doesn’t have to be an all out “redevelopment”, we can start small and gradually build knowledge and best practices. This will develop the social and cultural capital of the community.

4. BE OPEN: With the right attitude, interesting (and unexpected) issues will come up and make the plan & development better.

5. SHARE: Do not feel proprietary about the plan. Or rather, let other people feel proprietary about it as well. The common goal is to have the best/optimal solution for all.

6. CONTRIBUTE: Residents should be co-planners and co-developers. The concerned population is the biggest asset for and of planners.

7. COMMUNICATE: The plan should be publicly accessible to all concerned parties at all times. Updates should be frequent so everyone has access to the latest information and can react immediately. Say what you have to say and listen to what other people have to say and immediately incorporate it. It can always be modified/adjusted along the way.

8. CONVENE: If we have enough people looking at different aspects of the plan, any issue can be recognized and addressed quickly. Finding the issues is the biggest challenge. Once identified, someone will have an idea about how to solve the problem.

9. INCLUDE: Finding an efficient way to get everyone’s input is more important than the inputs themselves. A lot of time and attention should be spent to cultivate the community’s active participation.

10. ACKNOWLEDGE: If participants are treated as the most valuable resource of the plan, they will become the most valuable resource of the plan. Contributions should be acknowledged and valued.

11. PROCESS: We should strive to activate the collective intelligence of a community, which also means processing, selecting and incorporating good inputs into the plan. This may or may not be the task of a sub-group of people acting on behalf of, and accountable to, all stakeholders.

12. BE CRITICAL: Realizing that our concepts are wrong might lead to the most striking and innovative solutions.

These value-based principles will lead the plan in a certain way. They are self-consistent and mutually reinforcing. These principles have been proven to work very well for the development of complex systems over time. They are actually based on an analysis of the success of the legendary open-source operating system Linux.

We “hacked” these 12 principles from Eric S. Raymond’s groundbreaking essay of the organizational principles behind the development of Linux by a global community of programmers (The Cathedral and the Bazaar, 2001). We simplified them and tentatively adapted them to the field of urban planning. Eric S. Raymond himself formalized the principles that Linus Torvald followed with the success that is now legendary. Eric S. Raymond also successfully tested these principles for the development of “fetchmail”, an email application.

These principles are still at a nascent stage and we hope that with time and practice they will get defined better. After all, we are still pretty much walking in the dark as far as participatory planning is concerned, so it might be wiser to abstain from organizing these principles too tightly. People should adapt them according to their own objectives, context and experience. We encourage everyone to propose new versions of these principles on this blog or elsewhere.

These principles echo a mutation in knowledge and information systems, characterized by a new consciousness emerging amidst a confusing mix of ideas, which question established hierarchies and blur the boundaries between fields of knowledge. When some wires cross, especially between information/communication theory and urban planning, new systems come to life, new energies are unleashed.


  1. I find this a really good idea. I’d like to participate developing the principles. I have on my shelf (Still need to read): TaKing On the System, rules for radical changes in a digital era by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga… Maybe a read of interest to you?

    Comment by Yaz — October 4, 2008 @ 6:47 am

  2. Hi Yaz, thanks for your comment. If you want to develop these principles, just go ahead and post a new version below or on your blog. Would be nice to see them evolve. Taking On the System… seems like a good read! Waiting for a post on your blog about it. Nice blog by the way! It is in my bookmarks now.

    keep in touch!

    Comment by matias — October 6, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  3. Thanks Yaz for the information. I’ll check if the application works.

    Comment by Thomas Watkin — November 24, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

  4. [...] … | 01.12.2009 – 7:00 am In determining crowdsourced placemaking, Airoots/Eirut’s simplified 12 principles of architectural participation can be used which is based on the Linux open source community (a pioneer of crowdsourcing). So [...]

    Pingback by Crowdsourcing : Airoots/Eirut’s 12 principles | Crowd Sourcing Log — January 12, 2009 @ 1:29 am

  5. [...] Airoots is developing 12 principles for an architecture of participation, “based on an analysis of the success of the legendary open-source operating system Linux”: 1. NEED IT: Necessity is the mother of invention. What do you need, as an individual and as a community? It is not for master planners to guess what people need. Stakeholders should speak up. [...]

    Pingback by airoots | neo-nomad — November 26, 2009 @ 2:15 am

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