community engagement

buzz groups, turriff, march 2008Much has been written and said about community engagement. I believe that the basic principles are very simple:

Local communities are vast repositories of knowledge, enthusiasm and expertise.

Engaging with local communities at the right time in the planning and development process can produce better plans and projects, and can build support rather than resentment.

It’s essential to be clear on the objectives of community engagement for each project. A thoughtful, tailored approach to each and every project is very important.

Dialogue and communication are vital: discussing, talking, writing and – the one that is too often forgotten – listening. Silence breeds mistrust.

Responsiveness and flexibility – to changing circumstances, to individual people, and to clients.

Respect, openness, honesty and sensitivity are critical. Any professionals who think otherwise do so at their peril.

dawlish tomorrow, 2006It’s easy to say all these things. In my case, the words are backed up by many years of personal commitment to the cause of community engagement in planning and development. This stems back to a period in the mid 1990s when I worked full-time in Indonesia with a community-based housing association, followed by more than 10 years now as a Director of Planning Aid for Scotland with responsibility for community capacity-building programmes, as well as other paid and unpaid roles in community engagement.

My experience of working closely with local communities and voluntary sector organisations can bring a valuable new perspective to multi-disciplinary teams and partnerships, for example in masterplanning projects. I do not have a naive belief that local communities should always get the physical change that they want: but I do believe that local communities have a right to be listened to and respected, that professionals have a duty to engage honestly and responsibly, and that local communities always have something to offer when there is meaningful engagement. As a founder member of the Participation in Planning network, for larger projects I can bring in other like-minded and experienced planners with community engagement experience.

Here are some examples of my experience:

orkney schools consultationDesign and delivery of community engagement and facilitation including events, exhibitions, leaflets and websites for consultation and awareness-raising to facilitate community involvement in planning projects. Recent examples include town centre improvements in Kirkcudbright, Co. Tyrone, Aberdeenshire and Dawlish, the preparation of community-based village masterplans in Orkney, and the regeneration of a large munitions site near Glasgow.

Community capacity-building including design and delivery of a range of award-winning training programmes for local communities on engaging with the planning system, including the CLEAR and Planning for PeopleTM training programmes for Planning Aid for Scotland, and Local Development Plan training for community groups for Wrexham County Borough Council. I have also given evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Communities Committee on community engagement in planning.

Research on community aspirations and resources including identifying local community groups’ aspirations and resources as part of masterplanning in Orkney, Kirkcudbright, Keswick, Dawlish and Hartlepool.

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