Insights article

Two engagement strategies for your next residential masterplan

Sebastian Weise
Published: 04/11/2019

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This insight article outlines two online engagement strategies for master-planned residential sites, based on a series of focused online engagement campaigns. Residential projects are often of great interest to the public as they provide the opportunity to shape new living spaces. It also helps to note that most prospective buyers tend to live close by. 

The effectiveness of community engagement can be significantly improved when approaching consultations early and at key decision stages. Digital and web-based tools that present interactive versions of proposals, such as PlaceChangers Engagement tool keep costs of engagement low while enabling design teams to reaching out to more people online and gather detailed feedback on site layout and architectural designs. 

If you plan a residential or mixed-use development, it pays to consider early on which aspects of a development are open to feedback from residents. You are well advised to approach the local community early and receive feedback in a timely manner as the cost of adapting a design increase significantly with the completion of each architectural design stage.  

If you want to find out about the engagement requirements for construction projects, go here: When is early community engagement required for developments?

To be effective, community engagement is ideally built around key design parameters so that feedback aligns with the design process at a stage where changes may still be made.


Taking the RIBA Plan of Work as guide for your community engagement strategy

For projects in the UK, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)’s Plan of Work provide a useful framework to help the design team guide the timing and content of community engagement against key stages when parameters of a design are locked down. 

If you are an architect, you understand the Plan of Work model as a loose guide to the key work outputs delivered at each stage. Using the RIBA Plan of Work, engagement activities can built around influencing the outputs from each stage of the plan of work so to have a greater chance to influence the emerging design. 

Below is a simple summary of the key project outcomes per RIBA stage and potential focus for community engagement. 


Key outcomes

Possible community  engagement focus

RIBA 0: Strategic definition

Business case

RIBA 1: Design brief

Site analysis and constraints understood

Feedback on constraints or housing needs

RIBA 2: Concept design

Site layout principles defined

Shaping emerging site layout

RIBA 3: Detailed design

Worked up designs prepared

Feedback on detailed design aspects

Here we give you two potential community engagement approaches with online campaigns mapped to key RIBA Plan of Work Stages.

Online engagement for small-scale master plans

On smaller-scale major development sites your design may emerge rapidly, especially on the lower end of the spectrum where sites are less complex. At other times, you may have less scope for community engagement earlier in the process due to time constraints.

While advisable to fit in further feedback opportunities for earlier conceptual design stages (as outlined further below), by default you would ideally  run a online community engagement campaign coinciding with, for instance, a public exhibition before the design is frozen and the planning application submitted. 

It is worth remembering that at that stage yourself or your agents should have established some level of rapport with key local groups and decision makers. This may require research into the local area prior to the conceptual design stage. 

It is important to reserve sufficient time between community engagement and submission of the planning application so that the implications of the feedback can be considered in a meaningful way.

Give yourself some time by planning key project milestones into your engagement programme in advance. 

RIBA stage

Focus question


Key Result


What do you think about the submission proposals?

Present the master plan.

Contraint to specific points of interest, or aspects of the design. 

Timed around any public exhibition(s)

Feedback on final design

Online engagement for large-scale master plans in complex settings

If you are preparing a large-scale major development, the range of factors to consider in your master plan and architectural design will increase rapidly, and there will likely be great interest in your plans amongst well informed local stakeholders.

In terms of the design, many key questions arise early, at design and access preparation, such as with regard to integration to any surrounding or adjacent built up land, but also on detailed level per development stage. 


Love Wolverton is a good example of early community engagement at conceptual and detailed design stages.

Approach community engagement in phases matched to the design or, indeed, on specific themes (traffic, greenspace, etc).

For instance, consider three key questions for feedback on key RIBA stages of your project, especially at the point of site analysis, conceptual design, and detailed design (outlined in the table below). At the conceptual design stage, multiple site layouts could be presented along with an invitation to feedback on specific elements of the outline. And lastly, what do local stakeholders think about the final design? 

The suggested outline of potential online campaigns is outlined below. It provides a series of interconnected campaigns that match the level of design detail at each stage.

RIBA stage

Focus Question 


Key Result


What is special about your town? Send us photos and comments of aspects you like or don't like.

Focus on the area adjacent to your site. 

Relevant response categories, and open response on the area around your site.

WIth the option to send in photos of the issues raised

Contextual awareness what is missing or needed.

Understanding of housing need


What do you think about the indicative site layout?

Present the draft layout.

Open response on any aspect of the site. 

Timed around any public exhibition(s)

Feedback on site layout option


What do you think about the submission proposals?

Present the master plan.

Focus on specific points of interest, or aspects of the design. 

Timed around  public exhibition(s)

Feedback on final design

Through a series of community engagement campaigns, you build up a picture of key concerns regarding specific elements of the architectural design; and your architect or master planning will be able to use that feedback to make suitable amendments while staying within the requirements of your business case.

Noting contact preferences and interests, you will be in a position to communicate to groups of individuals with specific concerns. It is important to take local residents along with regards to significant development in their area and to build a positive line of communication. Feedback options on pragmatic and meaningful stages help deliver exactly that. 

Ask us in case you like to discuss the detailed outline for a development project. We are very happy to advise how best to layer online engagement onto your already existing plan. 


Add interactive online engagement to your next master planning project and work faster.

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