The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) revisions highlight the importance of digital tools in community engagement. At PHM, we’re already using them.
If you have anything to do with development planning, you couldn’t have missed the Government’s newly launched consultation for revisions to the NPPF. As community networkers and communicators, one point really caught our eye:
“Plans should be accessible through the use of digital tools to assist public involvement”
We know this is hardly new thinking. Websites and email newsletters are a solid addition to the community engagement toolkit, perhaps even a Facebook page or a Twitter handle in more recent years. Platforms such as givemyview.com were already pushing the digital agenda a couple of years ago. However, the truth of the matter is, until recently many developers have fallen back on traditional strategies simply to tick the planning boxes.
The pandemic has forced the hand of many developers and consultation consultants. Church halls and community centres have been replaced with Zoom webinars and online feedback forms. Posters in the local supermarket have been replaced with targeted Facebook ads.
We, for one, are delighted and have been banging the virtual drum alongside a number of our clients for some time. Digital is fast becoming the star of the consultation show – and we think it is high time it should be.
- A digital approach widens your net exponentially, meaning you reach a wide range of demographics with different views, opinions and priorities.
- It makes regular communication quick, easy and convenient for you and your audiences.
- Thanks to digital measuring tools on social media and Google, it makes your activities easily trackable and your reporting detailed.
- It creates an ‘always on’ environment, with feedback gathering facilities live for weeks at a time with an accompanying online presentation. You can’t sit in a town hall for the same period of time!
I should add that we absolutely still believe that face-to-face meetings are a crucial part of a comprehensive engagement strategy, as are local print advertising and door-drops (the latter of which is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence as a marketing tool since lockdown restrictions started). In a room with other people, you can generate excitement and really motivate your stakeholders.
However, we believe that true, worthwhile community engagement will reap benefits until your very last home is completed and sold – it does so much more than tick a box. To do this, you must attract and engage with as diverse a range of voices as possible and the reality is, younger people are far more likely to get involved via social media platforms, with plans that speak to them personally, than with a technical drawing on a poster. That works for some people – and should be part of your strategy – but it doesn’t work for all people.
Done well, you’ll be creating and building your sales database months before you’ve even submitted your application. You’ll initiate a brand for your scheme and a reputation based on authenticity, transparency and true community creation.
If you want to find out more about PHM’s approach to community engagement and how we can start your communications strategy as you mean to go on, get in touch.