Sustainable Penang’s Online 24/7 Open Town Hall Meeting

Sustainable Penang whatsApp cover page vol 1 2

Introduction to Vol II.  Archive Edition –  1 February 2016

The exchanges start to heat up, some differences emerge, while at the same time all of us remain reasonably civil and respectful of the others participating in this somewhat unusual crowdsource exercise. As the discussions go on and become more specific and often more detailed, it begins to become close to impossible to use the WhatsApp website as a research or analytic tool. For this reason it strikes us as a good idea to continue to extend the online archive edition in this form, and we have been comforted that through a number of supportive messages coming from the participants.

Since we are now at more than 200 pages, it seemed like a good idea to work out a simple table of contents to allows readers to find messages on a given day. And since we have prepared this in Word form, it is also possible to search the contents through keywords.

Often when governments or indeed other sponsors organize meetings, public or private, for presentations and discussions, they tend to try to keep control, for better or worse, of the discussions. This is not at all the case of the exchanges that are reported on here, as you will quickly see. In addition to wise counsel, and often hard questions, you will also find yourself confronted with poor jokes, mysterious asides and more or less dubious claims. That comes with the territory, if your objective is, which is our case, to hear the voice of the people.

So welcome aboard this second archive edition, use your fast research tools and good habits to work your way through this jungle of ideas and views, and hopefully come up with some inspirations and things that you may not otherwise have thought of.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions for how we can improve this in future editions, please get in touch with your erstwhile amateur editor at

Introduction  to Vol I. First Archive Edition –  18 January 2016



On 14 Dec. 2015: Mr. Lim Thean Heng, Chief Engineer,  creates a WhatsApp group “Sustainable Penang”. It can be accessed online via, and from there clicking the men to Sustainable Penang. The forum is open to invited participants, and thus far has 97 members.  One of the main targets of the forum in these opening days is to get feedback and views on the state government ‘s work in preparation of a Penang Transport Master Plan, on which there are many opposing views, including in the most informed public and reaches of civil society.

Governance: Government and Civil Society

Many government agencies, while will prepared to make presentations of their plans and issues, have difficulty in getting a full range of critical views and useful feedback through the usual public meetings. This phenomenon has been well and frequently explored in fact and in the literature. It is not great mystery.

But what this WhatsApp session offers – with all its limitations – is an open forum, 24 hours a day, seven days a week — for exactly the kinds of discussions, contributions, arguments, sometime disagreements, and in summary, the very kind of feedback that government officials and agencies in a democratic country so badly need to have from an educated, prepared population. The 40,000 words-plus that follow here offer concrete evidence of how this can be put to work, albeit in a very simple way.

Putting it to work:

But one month later, this WhatsApp site is starting to get a bit complicated. As of today it already accounts for more than one hundred pages and 40,000 words of exchanges as you will see here, and it is growing vigorously every day as people start to join in the discussions and make themselves heard. The exchanges are extremely varied and not all of them can be counted as key materials for these policy and planning exchanges.  Fortunately, we have the tools to turn it into a useful resource for those who are interested and resourceful enough to take advantage of the exchanges.

The temptation with this sort of site is for the reader to read it once, perhaps react and then move on to other things. But there are other, better, more useful ways of putting this to work.

Consultation of the website content is not an easy process when one is on line. So to make it easier and more useful for us, we have produced a first “archives edition”, reporting the full content of all the exchanges to this date since opening day on 14 December 2015 when Lim Thean-Heng had the brilliant idea of creating a WhatsApp site to encourage broad discussion of what is going on in Penang in all of the events and processes that underlie the work in progress to create a sustainable transport agenda for Penang for the years immediately ahead.

What you have here now is the full text of all the exchanges to date.  Since it is presented in MS Word form, it is entirely searchable which is going to come in very handy when you want to see what XXX had to say about YYY (see below on key words searching).


The volume is freely available to all in the Penang Public Library site which is part of the program Sustainable Penang: Toward a New Mobility Agenda at  We invite your critical remarks and suggestions which you can send to Eric Britton at  We intend to update from time to time as seems useful.

Searching the site:

The hundred plus pages can of course be consulted in the same order in which they appear, but there are alternatives: searching the discussions through key words.  To see if this works satisfactorily we have run a number of key word searches, which call up all the exchanges in which those words appear. Here is a sample of what we found.

  • Frequent topics and references: Transport (117), cars (83), bus (84), monorail (56), parking (43), pedestrian (32), traffic (28),
  • Less frequently used: public transport (29), mobility (26), cyclist (25), Master Plan (22), cost (20), enforcement (18), Land use (17), trishaw (16), civil society (12), job (10)
  • Rarely cited: Women (8 – all in one section), Vision (7), shelter (5), taxi (2), rural (4), affordable (3), BRT (3), resources (3), trucks (2), disabled (1)
  • Zero mentions: Climate, handicap, security, equality, the Commons, fairness, vulnerable

First Conclusion: We are just getting started. We will get better as we do it more.  And as we become more interactive. Stay tuned and tune in.

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Other useful Sustainable Penang references

  1. MISSION: Sustainable Penang: Toward a New Mobility Agenda homepage –
  2. PUBLIC ENQUIRY/Brainstorming report of Nov. 2013 –
  4. TWITTER –
  8. CIVIL SOCIETY IN Penang (Draft for review) –
  9. ONLINE 24/7 Open Town Hall Meeting (Vol. 1, 2) –
  10. COMMENTS/QUESTIONS: Skype – newmobility

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About the author:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at and @ericbritton

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