21 May 2020

Three ways that technology can be used to enhance public engagement

Guest Blog: Ana Regalado, MindFolio, outlines three key benefits to using online public platforms as part of the wider consultation strategy for planning and development as part of our #ConnectandProtect month.

The need for our planning processes to become more digitally proficient grows day by day. Citizens feel disconnected from the planning process; a recent report by Demos suggests that 54% of people do not feel involved in planning and housing decisions within their local area. Social distancing and the ‘new normal’ way of life will continue to accelerate the demand for tech-enabled forms of public engagement.  

Online community platforms have multiple benefits for the developer, planning council and the public. However, for the sake of brevity, below we will explore three in particular.   

1. Access to a much broader citizen base  

One of the most obvious advantages of establishing an online engagement platform is that it becomes much more accessible to a variety of people. It is well known that traditional forms of engagement are conducted in a manner that attracts only a small sample of citizens. By contrast, well-designed forms of digital engagement can be used by a wide spectrum of people and can bring in a much younger generation into the planning process. 

Digital engagement platforms can be linked directly to existing forms of online media. Websites and social media from the council or developer can be used to signpost interested citizens to the public engagement site, allowing it to grow organically over time.  

2. Transparent communication and feedback processes 

Increasing accessibility has to be followed-through with a feedback loop that signals to the public that their voices are being heard and thoughtfully considered. According to a Grosvenor report, only 7% of respondents trusted their local council to make decisions in their best interests. A stark finding indeed.  

A well-managed digital platform can help rebuild trust by facilitating a two-way conversation throughout the development process. Citizens have a place to post new ideas, pose searching questions and get the feedback they require. Far from being passive bystanders, experts can use the platform to inspire new thinking and dipstick innovative solutions. An online hub allows truly continuous engagement, ensuring that ‘no stone is left unturned’. 

3. Seamlessly merge a broad spectrum of analytical methods 

Some platforms go far beyond engagement. Our own platform, LociLab, is extremely efficient in terms of data analysis. This type of technology allows planners and developers to explore qualitative responses with sophisticated analytical techniques to produce quantitative outcomes. Additionally, live dashboards can be used to track live trends in terms of sentiment, preferences, etc. 

Just as importantly, one of the major advantages to online engagement is that findings can be supplemented with traditional forms of data research. For example, surveys answered by local respondents can be compared to regional data points and trends. This is invaluable for developers and planners making long term decisions for a citizen base that may not yet live in the area.  

Final Thoughts   

Although having face to face interactions can do wonders for public engagement, its online sibling should be nurtured to complement these activities. Last year Connected Places Catapult and the Royal Town Planning Institute unveiled their PlanTech Vision, demonstrating a commitment towards growing tech-friendly planning solutions that empower citizens and promote the development of better quality places.   

Ana Regalado 

MindFolio on LinkedIn