Insights article

Measure what matters for successful community consultation

Sheryle Moon
Published: 05/04/2022

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Measure what matters for successful community consultation is increasingly about an expanded set of community consultation success measures, which you can consistently document with model planning consultation platforms, such as PlaceChangers planning toolkit.

Community engagement for planning projects lets local authorities (such as Councils), Housing Associations, and Developers exchange information with residents to evaluate proposed projects. Beyond participation by the numbers of participants, digital engagement and consultation promotes a qualitative step change that supports earlier identification of issues and ideas important to the long-term success of a project.  

The UK Government White Paper of 2020 acknowledged that those affected by a development decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. That engagement should include digital tools to ensure maximum inclusion of local stakeholders. This transparent process informs residents how their input will be utilised in the decision-making process.  

A note on community consultation success measures in planning and construction

Community engagement practice is often extremely varied. Many smaller projects have limits to the level and depths of community consultation and there are few commonly agreed community consultation success measures.

Sebastian Weise, founder at PlaceChangers, added:

“Many organisations don’t have defined KPIs for engagement yet. The most common success measures we see stated in Statements for Community Involvement for housing projects are the number of people at a consultation event, or the number of surveys received. These indicators typically provide a very limited view on engagement success.”

As a starting point, the rationale for engagement must be clearly stated, including information on the decision to be made, who will make the decision, how the decision will be made, how community feedback can be provided, and what is negotiable and what is fixed. Beginning the consultation with a hidden agenda will impact the engagement consultation and the ongoing satisfaction with the proposed development or other changes in the community. 

Planning organisations, councils, developers each need to find their own policy on what success means and outline community consultation success measures they wish to support.

Sebastian Weise, founder at PlaceChangers noted:

“With adoption of digital planning tools, we can start to look at expansive success criteria, such as the value our community engagement has had to actually affect tweaks to a site layout and other details, such as types of homes, and impact mitigation plans.”

Expansive set of community consultation success measures for planning and construction 

The planning consultation tool within the PlaceChangers planning toolkit supports numerous consultations across various proposals and locations. Digital consultation tools enable a more comprehensive set of community consultation success measures. Below are some observations from us and our clients on what works and impedes the consultation process. 

Promotional reach

Any successful consultation relies on reaching the intended audience. Promotional reach is all about how many "eyeballs and ears'' come in contact with information about the consultation. Advertising firms use metrics like OTS (opportunities-to-see) to quantify this visibility. For consultation, an effective approach is to list out the promotional efforts using specific codes for different channels so that these can be tallied against registrations and responses from the public, who are asked where they heard about the consultation opportunity. 

Response rate

Response rate is about the share of responses as a percentage of views. It is not uncommon to receive response rates of 8% and 12% in a planning context. The response rate tells you something about how engaged the audience is with the consultation. The response rate also depends on the ease of accessing the planning consultation. 

Diversity and representativeness

Diversity & representativeness: Individuals and businesses will also potentially have different views, identifying which demographic the responses fall. It is essential to ensure that CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Different) are equally engaged in the outreach activities. Especially in city spaces and estate regeneration projects, this may require the consultation to support various languages to reduce marginalisation.  Collect demographics and compare respondent demographics (age, gender, etc) against local census data.

Number of responses and coverage

Number of responses and coverage — How many responses were received per planning proposal or topic, and how many pins and comments on a map were added to the consultation. A genuinely engaged audience will want to share their thoughts and ideas on the platform and probably engage in ongoing conversations. User-generated content is an excellent measure of how engaged your audience is. With more fine grained analytics, you can also see which issues respondents interact with most, and hence which topics cause most excitement or potential concerns amongst residents.

Engagement over time

For long complex projects, you might want to establish a good relationship with residents over a long timeframe. Here, registrations or ‘sign ups’ for email updates are an essential component as it allows data validation and provides a channel for continuing the conversation. However, it is still necessary to enable people anonymity if they prefer to respond as guests rather than registrants. Even guests can be asked to complete some demographic information as these statistics are essential to inform the consultation and ensure that all represented population groups are comfortable with the proposed changes in their community.  

Balance of sentiment

Real-life consultations will rarely see undivided support. A successful consultation invites critical voices, too. Balance of sentiment is an exciting component of the consultative process. With the advance of technology in artificial intelligence and machine learning, grouping similar views provide a way to quantify these qualitative elements and "humanise" the reporting. Close analyses of the responses can also help identify outliers or duplicate responses; even where unique email addresses are required, people are adept at finding ways to influence outcomes they care about. 

Actionable responses

The share of actions attributable to community consultations is the ultimate success factor for meaningful consultation. Consultation platforms, such as PlaceChangers, make it easy to keep track of queries you get on your project and help you see any areas that aren't clear, need more explanation or need improvement. A consultation process can serve to assess the process itself and the ease of communication between the authority or firm and the community. It will also highlight how well the project team can communicate their ideas and proposals to the public. 

Conclusion: Going further with clear public consultation success measures

Evaluation of consultations with community consultation success measures is necessary to assess the performance of the community engagement against its desired objectives. It also serves the purpose of continuous improvement of community engagement practices.

Online consultation platforms for planning consultations automatically establish information about the success of your planning consultation and help organisations to provide more refined success criteria for their community engagement programmes. 

Sebastian Weise, founder at PlaceChangers added:

“Clearer and expanded success measures are good for everybody. Developers and councils can document the impacts their engagement has had. Planners and architects find it easier to finalise their designs. Community members and residents can see that consultation has a purpose.”

Explore the PlaceChangers planning toolkit

PC Engagement tool - Market leading interactive planning consultations

Set up powerful 2D and 3D map surveys and polls for your planning or construction project and adapt proposals easily. 

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PC Site Insights tool - Place analytics tool for town planning

Make use of powerful place analytics to support briefs, engagement planning, and impact statements. 

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