Using personal smartphone location histories in public engagement: Locating a new campus amenity

A.E. Rout, Paul Galpern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Selecting a location for a new amenity can be a ‘wicked problem’ in planning engagement processes, involving multiple contradicting criteria. Recently available data sources generated by personal devices such as smartphones may be able to help. Planners are often required to incorporate public engagement methods when making urban planning decisions. Ideally, such decisions will be informed by evidence of how relevant public spaces are used. Researchers have speculated that smartphone location data, which can be mapped to show the use of space, might be useful for such purposes, however, it is not obvious whether non-experts will trust location data enough to use it. Our objective is to investigate whether non-experts use these data in an urban planning scenario by empirically measuring the influence of personal smartphone location histories on a location selection. Using an experimental simulation of an engagement scenario with 48 participants, and two manipulated factors (data presentation format and group size) we ask: do students use smartphone location data when locating a new campus amenity and how were the data used? We utilized regression analysis to assess changes in location selection after viewing data and compared these results to a qualitative post-study interview. Our data demonstrated a plausible change in location selection after viewing maps of smartphone location data. In addition, groups using a digital interactive surface discussed the data while those using paper did not. We also found that, when asked to make a final location selection, participants combined the data with previously held values (such as centrality). We conclude that those researching and leading planning decisions, such as locating a new amenity, should invest in incorporating smartphone data where it can provide empirical support for public engagement decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-77
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Geography
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


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