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Planning 2.0 revisited

January 6, 2010

“Its not April Fools is it? Consultation through Facebook!! whats the next suggestion – submitting planning applications on MySpace??”

This was the response of one ‘giddy planner’ when I last posted on the possibilities of using social networking for consultation. But among the other responses was an acknowledgement that social media is already having an impact in some areas of planning in the form of local networks. The writer added that “officers ignore them at their peril”.

It may have been a lighthearted movement, but the role of Facebook in propelling Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number one last year demonstrated the power of social media. You can be sure that this sort of campaign will only become more common. The way we communicate and interact with each other is changing. It would be naive to think that planning will escape this shift.

Planning is sometimes seen by the public as something that is done to them. Communication is the key to solving this image problem. Letting people understand the process and making the system more transparent from start to finish can only be a good thing.

Why not see this shift in the way we communicate as an opportunity to change the way planning is done? Why not publicise applications on Twitter, map the locations on Google StreetView and invite comments via Facebook? Don’t leave it for residents to find the information themselves but push it out there, and explore new ways to canvas opinion.

I’d be really interested to hear about ways in which local authorities, consultants or other stakeholders are using social media in the planning process. If you’ve got an example to share or just have a view on this,  please comment below or drop me a line at mark.wilding@haymarket.com.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Yael Simantov permalink
    January 6, 2010 11:38 am

    Definately, open information to the public is a good thing to encourage fair decisions. Its not just this information that should be available and easily accessible to the public but also networks and online groups where property consultants can also discuss advice and share experiences amongst themselves have been set up i.e Linkedin

    • Mark Wilding permalink
      January 6, 2010 11:43 am

      Thanks Yael, I hadn’t considered the possibilities offered by LinkedIn. I’ve just found the UK Town Planning Professionals group after a quick search. Are you a member of any particular groups on there?

  2. January 6, 2010 1:15 pm

    If we’re talking about local consultation then the internet leaves massive doubts about where the “consultees” are based, and therefore wide open to abuse.

    Different uses of the internet remain specific to class, sex, age and ethnicity. Certain campaigns on local issues will be targeted by politically motivated NIMBY groups – for instance planning applications on wind turbines in local areas will generate input from consultees that have nothing to do with the locality, but everything to do with the fact they are funded by the nuclear lobby and may live thousands of miles away.

    It’s likely that the people who are most opposed to most development are also the people who most actively use the internet to campaign and object, therefore skewing “consultation” via the internet towards certain topics. Consider the right-wing bias in most blogs, as blogging demands an immediate, regular and therefore reactionary view rather than a measured, studied and considered one.

    In short there’s a real danger that the current vogue of Twittering will throw out detail and fact in favour of simplicity (aka “dumbing down”), or facebook campaigns will risk drowing out important but unsexy issues in favour of those with tabloid appeal.

    James Harkin’s “Cyburbia” (www.cyburbia.tv) is interesting on this matter.

    • Mark Wilding permalink
      January 6, 2010 1:34 pm

      I think it’s almost inevitable that any efforts to engage with the public on sensitive issues such as wind farms will be open to attempts at exploitation for niche (or mainstream) interests.

      The same level of scrutiny needs to be applied to objections (or support) recieved via social media as it would be should the comments come in the form of a letter or hand-delivered petition.

      Condensing an application into 140 characters is unfeasible but Twitter may be a useful way of publishing links to applications. Feeds could be set up for different post codes for example, allowing users to recieve notification of development in their immediate area.

      Engagement with the public via social media should not replace traditional consultation methods, but as more people migrate to the internet to communicate the planning world needs to respond accordingly.

  3. January 6, 2010 1:43 pm

    I agree with some of the risks that Connor highlights – but I think that there is also an opportunity here to tap into what we call “the silent majority” for projects such as wind farms. It is busy groups of people such as those who work full time/ parents with children at home who often do not have time to engage with the off-line planning system. Social media such as facebook at least opens up an avenue for these people who want to support projects with the risk of being shouted down by quite often intimidating NIMBY anti-groups. Links can always be provided to more detailed material held on project websites. Please see the attached link for a wind farm support group “We say YES! to Wind Turbines at Spaldington and Holme Upon Spalding Moor” (I do not know statistically how many are local- however one of the locals involved in the project has says she recognises a large number of the 120 faces!)

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=199683043128&ref=ts

    • Mark Wilding permalink
      January 7, 2010 9:58 am

      Thanks for the link Vicky, I’ll look into this. Great to see an example of a community campaign in support of proposals!

  4. January 6, 2010 2:20 pm

    From a planning policy point of view use of the internet is becoming more and more central to consultation on emerging new documents – but, further to the issues that Connor highlights, whilst we can encourage its use as the option that perhaps best suits our needs, it is important to still enable consultation via more traditional methods. I understand that Trafford council have used Facebook (I think) to consult on some elements of their emerging LDF Core Strategy – we attempted to do the same here in Stockport but were scuppered by our IT departments blanket ban on social networking sites! In short – yes its a good thing that should be exploited as far as possible but it should never be used without traditional methods of consultation running parallel to it.

  5. Yael Simantov permalink
    January 6, 2010 3:21 pm

    Firstly, perhaps publicising applications on these networking groups would result in bias and conflicts of interpretation and would be a unprofessional approach. But if links on these networking sites are made to planning applications on local government and town council websites, this way there would be one source of information where users can all obtain the same primary facts. This also enables those people who may not be to aware of the planning process to know firstly and fundamentally where planning applications are made to and at the same time they will be able to see the same primary information; maps, plans etc.

    Another idea, perhaps if these networking sites had links to the RTPI website where the debate could continue? & this way these discussions can be monitored by this overarching professional body? This way users will also always remember that using networking sites is useful, positive, negative, bias but above all secondary!

    Finally, Mark, as a recent graduate with property experience, I am a member of those groups which have accepted me as they have the added criteria that you need to receive approval to be a part of !

  6. Mark Wilding permalink
    January 6, 2010 4:50 pm

    I’ve just received an email from Paul Lincoln at the Landscape Institute pointing out the possibilities of using a dedicated social network for consultation. Paul suggests Ning, a bespoke tool for creating such a community.

    He included a link to a site he has created for his local community. It’s not for consultation but does demonstrate the potential of this sort of site. Not only does it provide an online forum for discussion about proposals but allows people to easily share photos, videos and notice of events. I imagine this sort of thing would be ideal for a long term consultation on drawing up a neighbourhood plan for example.

    Paul’s site can be found here: http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/

  7. January 6, 2010 9:26 pm

    Yes, social media has GOT to be part of engaging more and more – especially younger and WIMBYs (Welcome) not just NIMBYs – in planning issues and the future of their places. The Christmas No. 1 was a classic example of the power of the internet. We at urban8 will be demonstrating this in Hastings on their Site Allocations DPD informal consultation, on which we are collaborating with Nick Wates, one of the pioneers of community planning methods. Very exciting. Watch our space. Happy to keep Planning mag posted on its effectiveness over the coming months.

    • Mark Wilding permalink
      January 7, 2010 10:01 am

      Sounds interesting Andy, I’m assuming it’s in the early stages at the moment? Would be good to see some links if you have any, otherwise let us know how things are going at a later date. Feel free to give me a ring to have a chat about it.

      • January 7, 2010 7:48 pm

        Yes, early stages… will keep you posted. Problem we coming across is that local authorities routinely consider Facebook, Twitter, Google User Maps, You Tube, etc etc etc as ‘BAD’ and staff blocked from using them. So we end up having ‘fun’ with IT Managers and internal policies. We have done some international research too and can only find a few examples, e.g. in Sweden. Bespoke or commercially-available software are often out of some departmental budget ranges and are less ‘popular culture’ and engaging, though are used for commenting on specific policies, e.g. Manchester LDF.

  8. Giddy Planner permalink
    January 7, 2010 12:35 pm

    I would just like to say that I did mean my initial comment to be a jokey one!! However I am glad that there is now some debate. I am not such a luddite to believe that we can’t/shouldn’t be using social networking as a consultation tool. We do still near to bear in mind that there are many people out there who can’t or don’t want to engage with the internet and there needs to be a variety of means of consultation employed. There is also the concern of abuse of social networking sites to attempt to lobby, etc. Like Richard in Stockport my authority also has a ban on social networking and it would not suprise me if this is the case for other local authorities too, so this attitude towards social networking by IT and senior management is an obstacle that needs to be overcome if this is to be an effective consultation tool. Happy New Year one and all!!

  9. January 7, 2010 1:10 pm

    I’m not using twitter or facebook but I do think there’s scope to make more use of the web. In response to public consultation changes in Scottish planning, I’ve started using our website for gathering comments on applications and proposals (see http://www.urban-animation.com). All consultation publicity now includes the website address and offers visitors information, downloads of relevant documents etc.
    The website is designed to be accessible to the public as well as potential clients. I feel there’s benefit in leading people towards the site as they may look at other content and gain a better understanding of planning and our general approach. It’s important that people know the positive role they can play and that might improve with a wider public awareness of the subject.

  10. Mark Wilding permalink
    January 7, 2010 4:56 pm

    I’ve just been reading some guidance issued this week by the Planning Portal titled The Building Blocks of a Good Local Planning Authority Website. Those who are interested in this sort of thing might like to note that to achieve service level 3 (out of 3), the guidance suggests “making full use of integrated social media tools”. See page 4 of the document after the link.

  11. January 8, 2010 10:15 am

    We are running 71 online consultations for a range of project and companies and we’re starting to incorporate social media. Our work is run alongside traditional, face-to-face consultation but makes the process more convenient. I imagine social media will be a great way to maintain the momentum of the consultation and i’m very interested to see if the demographics of participants changes. Surely an opportunity not to be missed, definitely for peojects where opposition groups are common, but support groups not so.

  12. January 12, 2010 2:13 pm

    Noting just how many responses this post received, I have been reading through the comments above and visiting linked sites where information has been provided.

    We seem to be putting the cart before the horse, deciding on ways that the public can be ‘consulted’ rather than actually understanding or seeking to understand the public’s role when they participate in the planning process.

    How are the public viewed by those professionals, landowners and developers who operate within the system? As knowledgeable partners in working towards creating places where we can all live happily, healthily and prosperously or as commodities whose good opinions are sought to quickly further the progress of a development proposal? Some mixture of both those views or are the public thought of in other ways entirely.

    It probably isn’t as ‘sexy’ as talking about ‘teccie’ stuff, but as someone who is not very computer literate I need the ’emotional’ connection.

    As APTSec I would welcome feedback.

  13. January 20, 2010 1:34 pm

    Many civil servants are clueless about social media and even big IT companies are incompetent at managing them. Rage Against the Machine? Just look at their forums run by Epic Records to see the spam, scam, and otherwise junk content there.

    What people need to realise is that councils do have websites, and can build social media into these websites. It’s not actually a huge job to get a basic one running. Unfortunately, councils are easily woo’ed by IT companies who see councils as having big pockets to dip deep into, and councils, being often serviced by clueless people unqualified to make the decisions they run, are happy to buy into it.

    2 cynical c. 🙂

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