Bringing the conversation to the people
Traditional public consultation events are very important. It is a quintessential part of our planning process to gather up the project team, head down to the local village hall and answer questions from the most active and interested members of the local community.
Late into the evening, detailed discussions will be had over models, master plans and banners. Through in-depth conversation we will change minds, dispelling misconceptions and the apprehensions of near neighbours, local councillors and association members. Such events are our opportunity to listen to feedback and a great chance to communicate, face to face, the benefits of a forthcoming project to those who are most interested.
However, there is a glaring weakness in such events – they require the community to take the initiative and come to us. No matter how well publicised, on social media, in local newspapers, on the radio or through leafleting campaigns, the onus will still be on the residents themselves to actually turn up on the day, thus self-selecting only those most willing to make the effort to come and missing a large swathe of the community. Relying too much on these kinds of events will risk putting a consultation campaign on the back foot, reacting to only the most sceptical parts of the community and missing a large group of potential supporters.
‘Pop up’ consultations are a great way to address the selection bias of traditional events. By setting up in a high footfall location for the day, perhaps a busy high street, a shopping centre or train station, we bring the consultation to the public. With the aid of an interesting model and/or enticing banners, the team draw in curious passers-by and explain the potential future of their area. In doing so, we can engage with a far broader cross section of the public and generate real enthusiasm within the community for our proposals.
A recent pop up consultation we ran outside Reading Station demonstrated to me how such events can complement their more traditional counterparts. Whilst our near neighbour consultation, held in a local community centre, was a great chance for the local civic society and interest groups to get involved, our pop up stand attracted a wider selection of people, from commuters waiting for their train, architectural students interested in our model, dog walkers, workers on their lunch break, cyclists, young professionals looking to buy a new home and passers-by wondering what all the fuss was about.
It may not always be part of a traditional ‘tick box’ consultation process, but getting out there, into the community, and setting up a pop-up stand, is a superb way to have quality conversations and generate enthusiasm for our schemes.
Written by Joseph Palasz Account Executive at MPC.