Hilary Satchwell, director at consultancy Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design gives some pointers about how to engage locals in the planning process.
Think about why you’re engaging with the local community: Have an overall plan for consultation, considering: who to engage; when to engage; and how to engage. It's always better if there is a clear purpose.
Who to engage: Don’t just rely only the ‘usual suspects’ such as representatives of residents associations. Work hard to engage those people who don’t normally get involved. Get in touch with young people through schools. Track down the local Ramblers, cycling organisations and other clubs to get their opinions about routes around town if that’s your issue.
When to engage: Timing is everything. ‘Front loading’ consultation avoids wasting time and effort on things that are not important to local people. You may think “We already know what people want,” – the reality is, you probably don’t! Once you have got going, think about the timing of key decision-making points. Are there different options to test? Are there specific issues that need to be checked?
How to engage: What do you want from the consultation? Is it information about what the place is like now? Endorsement of the work you’ve done? Or maybe simply raising awareness?
If possible ‘piggy back’ on existing events: You will get far more people involved if you do this. Advertise – use Facebook and twitter as well as posters and leaflets. Go out to where people are – stand outside supermarkets, invite yourselves to meetings of local clubs and societies, and don’t stand in the library!
Provide different ways for people to respond: Some love to fill in long questionnaires, others only have time to add a few sticky dots to a plan.
Tell people what happened: Provide easy-to-read reports, and make them available soon after the event before people have forgotten about it. Some projects take a long time: use social media and the web to keep the consultation alive with regular updates.