Come hear the news! The Government wants more meaningful involvement in planning and we can help.
The Proptech Engagement Fund Round 2 is up and running.
In case you missed it, the government is pushing for “the widespread adoption of digital citizen engagement tools and services within the planning services.” We can almost hear many of you exclaim, woohoo, finally!” The White Paper, Planning for the Future, calls for “radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War.” And much of this reform will need to come from community engagement in planning, which by no surprise gets a huge shout-out in the document with 31 mentions, alongside 51 mentions of the word digital.
To help kick start this radical reform, the government launched the PropTech Engagement Fund in 2021. This fund supports the widespread adoption of digital citizen engagement tools and services. It is hoped that the funded projects will help the DLUHC (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) to find out more about the challenges faced with greater digital engagement and how to adopt these across the planning system. Do we hear more woohoos?
Getting the widespread adoption of digital citizen engagement tools and services within the planning system will be no easy feat, so we are doing our bit at Granicus to get involved and provide assistance. One of the ways we can do this is to share our considerable experience and pioneering work in online community engagement, where our team has been at the forefront for more than a decade.
Understanding the Requirements of Proptech Round 2
The current focus of the PropTech Engagement Fund round 2 is to support projects that can demonstrate how to “incentivise communities to positively engage in planning conversations through informing on the trade-offs and wider benefits of development.”
The DLUHC is seeking to fund projects that will aim to demonstrate how digital citizen engagement can:
- Incentivise communities to positively engage in planning conversations
- Engage a more representative range of citizens in decision-making
- Inform the community on trade-offs and outcomes through development
- Establish meaningful baseline data and, where possible, integrate digital and traditional engagement best practices
The DLUHC is particularly looking for ideas that “focus on how more inclusive community feedback can be (and has been) used to inform the design and delivery process, to enable a culture of co-design, and to increase public interest and participation.” But what does this all mean? In the spirit of collaboration, we’ve put some thoughts around some of these funding priorities which may provide clarification.
Incentivising communities to positively engage in planning conversations?
When it comes to digital engagement in planning, it may be best to think about the following incentives for participation (and breaking down the barriers to participation):
- Provide a variety of tools for participation (not everybody wants to participate the same way) which encourage reflection, dialogue, and debate, not just one-off transactions (see the comment at the end of this post about thick engagement)
- Make the process engaging by including videos and images as part of your approach
- Make the user experience easy, varied and engaging
- Reward people by closing the loop and having systems in place to keep people informed of progress (for too long people have been put off participation in planning because nobody gets back to them and says – you said, we did, but these things we could not do)
- Use multichannel engagement e.g. web, email, social media and messaging
- Ensure your tech complies with data protection regulations and accessibility requirements, and be mindful of data poverty restrictions on taking part
A word of caution: be wary of gimmicks. It may be tempting to make your engagement edgy or innovative. People take planning seriously, so your engagement tools need to promote meaningful participation over and above fun, although the two are not mutually exclusive.
Engaging a more representative range of citizens in decision-making
Now there is quite a bit of overlap with this topic and incentivising participation however, if you are going to engage a more representative range of citizens in decision-making, you should also consider the following:
- Make sure your online system promotes asynchronous participation. The beauty of the internet is that people don’t all need to gather in the same place at the same time to get involved. So make sure people can sign up to dip in and out, to participate at times that suit them, leave a comment and come back later.
- Ensure your content is available in multiple formats. Whilst some people do still read big weighty documents, many prefer bite-size infographics, video, and podcast type content.
- Provide 24/7 moderation so that people feel that your engagement platform is a safe place to participate. Too many people are put off getting involved because they feel they may be harassed, bullied, or made to look foolish.
- Do your digital stakeholder mapping and use email and social media to encourage people from different backgrounds to participate in your planning project.
Inform the community on trade-offs and outcomes through development
Lack of updates through a project’s development is a common complaint when it comes to planning and community engagement. To ensure participant satisfaction throughout the process, you should:
- Make sure your digital tool(s) can keep people up to date and informed of progress (for too long people have been put off participation in planning because nobody gets back to them and says, you said, we did, but we could not do__).
- Use multichannel feedback e.g. web, email, social media and messaging.
- Encourage people to register because if you don’t know who has taken part how can you keep them informed of the detail of trade-offs and outcomes through development.
Establish meaningful baseline data and (where possible) integrate digital and traditional engagement best practices
Integrating digital and traditional practice, so-called blended engagement, is an early trend for 2022. Here are some pointers and we have written previously about The Seven Ingredients of Blended Public Consultation.
- Invest in some research to understand who participates in traditional methods vs online, and set your baselines so that you can understand how digital changes participation.
Make a plan for integrating digital and traditional methods, we have written about this here.
- Think digital first and don’t try to squeeze your traditional approaches into the online world. E.g. if you are accustomed to getting people to read and comment on a lengthy planning document, don’t expect them to do this online. Instead think of ways of breaking down the main subjects into topics for discussion using videos, infographics and audio.
- Make sure your face-to-face engagement follows the structure and techniques of the online dialogue so contributions can be combined.
- Encourage registration so that you can capture information about people and understand how online engagement has improved participation amongst different audiences and made it more representative.
Finally, in this round, DLUHC is looking for a focus on proposals that address how “inclusive community feedback can, and has, been used to inform the design and delivery process, to enable a culture of co-design and increase public interest and participation.” Many of the points above address this aspiration but one thing we would add is the important difference between thick and thin engagement. Thick engagement is more intensive, informed and deliberative whereas thin engagement is faster, easier and convenient. For the radical reforms the Government is looking for to succeed, thick, thin and traditional engagement will need to complement each other. Most importantly thick engagement will need to be done at scale if planners are going to be able to get the meaningful participation they need from residents.
How can we help?
As a pioneer with unrivaled experience in digital engagement, our team from Granicus is here to help.
- Our EngagementHQ platform is used by thousands of government clients for digital engagement in planning. Projects involve citizens in master planning, council-led development, estate regeneration, community development and what might be considered “wild card” projects. We love to share these examples and experiences with people.
- Our experienced online citizen engagement practitioners can help you scope your bid and be part of your team.
- Our govDelivery solution can help you manage citizen relationships through automated, targeted, & peronalised messages.
- Include EngagementHQ in your bid, with 8 dialogue tools, 14 information and learning widgets, a participant database, and a reporting and analysis suite it is already available to meet the requirements of the Proptech Fund Round 2 and address the Government’s aspirations for the adoption of digital citizen engagement tools and services.
- APIs and integrations with other partners you may include in your bid.