In researching and writing my book 21st Century Consultation and Community Engagement: A Guide for Developers, Planners and Local Authorities, I’ve been looking into the ever increasing number of consultation tactics that exist – getting on for 300, I think!
Of course many are variations on a theme, but there are some very clear patterns emerging:
- The increased use of qualitative, as opposed to quantitative tactics – local authorities don’t just want to know figures and percentages, they want to know about thoughts, ideas and sentiment.
- The demise of the public meeting – something few developers ever enjoyed – and the rise in its place of participative planning – such as Planning for Real, Enquiry by Design
- The importance of early engagement: dialogue on issues as opposed to a ‘tick-box’ for an already complete masterplan. Nick Woolley’s Concerto model is a great example of how early engagement can engage on issues very effectively using both a qualitative and quantitative approach.
- The rapidly growing and exciting toolbox of online consultation tactics – conversation about a development proposal takes place online whether a developer intends it or not; the question is not whether to run an online consultation but how best to interact with existing online conversations in a positive an effective manner.
I could go on – and I will: from January 2017 there will be 100,000 words on the subject, available from all good book shops.
But in the meantime, here are a few thoughts on selecting appropriate consultation tactics:
- Accessibility – do the tactics selected give all sections of the community an opportunity to comment?
- Analysis – consider the outputs required for a convincing consultation report, including achieving a balance of qualitative and quantitative response
- Anonymity – consider the benefits and drawbacks in relation to the consultation’s objectives
- Appeal – make it fun
- Balance innovation and more established methods
- Cost – are the chosen tactics realistic in terms of the consultation budget?
- Different tactics appeal to different people
- Ease – avoid requesting unnecessary information or requesting that a form is posted when an email would be an easier option for most
- Mix old and new means of communication to appeal to the various demographic groups within the community
- Past successes – consider what has worked well in the past, or discuss successful local consultations with the local authority and local groups
- Time – assume no prior knowledge; give people time to digest information
- Variety – don’t rely on just one method: different tactics appeal to different people