An example of immersive 3D: Two men stand in a room while a 3D model is projected onto the walls around them. They both look at the model together and seem to discuss it.

Unlocking the potential of citizen engagement with Digital Twins

Increase citizen engagement and democratize urban development, all while saving time, costs, and nerves

An immersive collaboration room at Hochschule Luzern (HSLU). Image courtesy of HSLU.

Getting citizens involved, or how to deal with the participation paradox

How would this new stadium fit into the townscape? Will it block the view of the lake? How will it affect traffic and public transport options? The kinds of questions that residents are interested in may be addressed in traditional construction plans, but especially for lay people, it can be hard to read and understand technical, two-dimensional plans that are riddled with industry jargon. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a new development project to be planned and approved – only to then be delayed or even stopped once it’s presented to the general public.

It’s clear that better participation is necessary. But involving the public early on is tricky, and often leads to a participation paradox: During the initial planning stage of a project, residents could theoretically have a lot of influence, but because the information that’s available at this stage is often very abstract, people tend to be less likely to get involved. The solution to this paradox seems obvious: construction plans and abstract jargon need to be translated into a clear, accessible format. One way to accomplish this is through 3D modelling and digital twins.

A CAD model is integrated into a 3D visualization

3D models make new development projects accessible and easy to understand for everyone.

Making information accessible = making participation easier

To make sure that the general public understands a new development project, it has to be communicated clearly and in an accessible way. That’s exactly what we can accomplish with an interactive 3D model: Instead of facing abstract data, people can view plans in a format that’s simple and intuitive.

Not only is a 3D representation more inviting and more attractive to engage with, by making the underlying data easy to understand, the participation threshold is lowered. This even makes it possible to reach groups that would otherwise not get involved, such as residents with lower literacy, as a prototype project with a 3D digital twin in Herrenberg, Germany showed. While the specialist information is still there, it is now accessible to everyone.

Particularly effective for this are experiences like the immersive collaboration room (icRoom) that Inside Reality offers with Nomoko’s 3D data. Here, people can navigate a 3D model entirely without glasses, which makes VR – which is still a new and unfamiliar experience for many people – more accessible. This way, participants can explore and discuss 3D models together: a true dialogue becomes possible.

Urban development made accessible: The case of Unterägeri

An example of how a 3D digital twin can make it easier to involve everyone is the comprehensive 3D model we created for the municipality of Unterägeri (Zug). Unlike 2D plans or physical, hand-made models, Nomoko’s 3D model can be used to present development projects interactively and intuitively. The municipality has used the model for short, illustrative films and as a virtual 3D model that residents can freely explore on a web browser.

Using Digital Twins to enable direct involvement

Using a digital twin can go even further. A major advantage of a digital model is that we can easily manipulate it and even offer people the possibility to directly engage with the visualization. At the simplest level, this allows people to move around in the model to inspect an area from each angle, as you can see in this small-scale, interactive 3D model. But there’s more.

Using augmented reality, for instance, people can place objects into a real-life environment. A slightly exotic example of this is the 3D model of a T-Rex skeleton Nomoko created, which anyone can project into their immediate surroundings using just a smartphone. Imagine doing the same, but instead of placing a T-Rex, you could place a building, a bridge, a zebra crossing, or anything else. Another possible use case is to enable people to move objects in the 3D model itself. Think of a simple version of SimCity, where residents can place and move new buildings in their neighborhood to explore alternative scenarios. The possibilities are almost endless.

The case of Dublin’s “Smart Docklands” shows that digital twins can also be used as a direct feedback loop. Through a hackathon, citizens were invited to experiment with the 3D dataset and develop their own solutions to challenges that the city faced. With success: as the city reports, the outputs of the hackathon helped address issues related to planning consultation, emergency response, and energy modelling. In this way, 3D digital twins make citizen involvement easier but also more productive for everyone involved.


Citizen involvement in action: The case of Sirnach

To create an open dialogue with residents, the municipality of Sirnach (Thurgau) asked Nomoko to create a high-resolution 3D model that could be used to showcase plans for extending the municipality. The model is fully interactive, so that citizens can move around and explore proposed changes from all angles. More than that: architects, for instance, can directly integrate their ideas into the model. This allows for a very hands-on and productive engagement with the future of the municipality.

Democratizing urban development with Digital Twins

Overall, engaging the public through digital twins bears many advantages. It’s easier to communicate ideas, plans, and decisions; at the same time, people’s acceptance of new projects can be better gauged. Most importantly, though, they make it possible to involve non-experts early on. Doing so can drastically shorten procedures and save time, cost, and nerves, because if everyone understands the project, there tend to be less conflicts and complaints later on in the process.

Of course, the best solution is only worth it if it actually reaches people. If a visualization is only accessible on a specialized device located in the town hall, that significantly limits who can and will get involved. But with web-based solutions, it’s possible to give people access to a detailed, high-resolution virtual representation of a new project on their own device, from the comfort of their living room.

Interested in using a 3D digital twin for your own use case? Have a look at our 3D services and get in touch to discuss how we can help you!

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