Not only was MPCs Engagement conference a world first but it was also (probably) the only conference in the world to bring Aristotle into the field of public engagement. In one of the final workshops of the day, we had a unique chance to hear from the political and voluntary sector on effective ways to communicate – whatever your industry.
Firstly we heard from Elspeth McCobb from the Liberal Democrats, who many of us in the political world might know helped Sarah Olney nab the Richmond Park seat from Zac Goldsmith in 2016. She talked about the Lib Dem's continuous cycle of campaigning which ensures that the party is consistently in contact with potential voters, even when there aren’t any elections going on. She emphasised that we are all a little bit egotistical – we like someone to actually think our views are useful – and this can also apply to NIMBYS. "No, we don’t want that development, but yes we do want a new cycle path so thank you for listening. I’ll vote for you next time."
John Myers from the London YIMBY brought us on to the 'marmite' topic of social media as a tool for engagement. He was keen to point out the importance of using social media when looking at development, in a way to build grassroots support for new homes and connect with people about the many benefits that development can bring.
It is important to focus on the positive side of the argument when using social media, as this does often become overshadowed by the negativity of local NIMBYs - who we all know tend to shout the loudest. Did you know that hundreds of years ago, there would have been protesting against the construction of the Royal Crescent in Bath as it would have been built on a greenfield site? Yet now, people know it as arguably one of the most beautiful and well-loved developments in the UK.
Next up was quite possibly the most interesting insight into development and communication. Alice Sachrajda, a specialist in immigration policy, taught us how telling a story can be one of the most effective ways to communicate. It might be difficult to imagine how telling stories can be applied to the housing sector, however it was agreed that everyone’s house, or home, tells a story and we must find ways to reframe development as the beginning to someone else's story. Be it a fresh start, a new home to start a family or a first home for newlyweds – a new home can be an integral part of a great story.
Alice also used the example of Aristotle’s use of logos, ethos and pathos to utilise logic, rationality and emotion to construct a winning argument. She explained that by using value-based messaging appealing to people’s backgrounds and values and really speaking to them as people – you are more likely to get them on your side. This might seem obvious but I think sometimes it can be easy to miss what people truly value and want in their community without engaging with them properly.
There are many things that the development industry can take from politics and the voluntary sector, but it is clear from this insightful discussion that one of the most important messages is the need to truly connect with your audience and recognise their role in shaping development.
A piece written by Alice Sachrajda can be seen here, on the Engagement2017 blog.