It was the Summer of 2005. Barely a year had passed since I had graduated from the University of Hertfordshire (BSc (Hons) Geography), and I had been working as a Planning Assistant in my very first job. South Bedfordshire District Council in Dunstable. Mostly, this consisted of checking planning applications. Making sure all the forms were filled in right, all of the relevant documents were included, the right fee was paid, and that it was all signed and sealed correctly.
I did that for 9 months. It wasn't that bad a job really - I had worse at university - but checking paperwork got a bit repetitive after a while. Then one day my boss Deborah called me into her office. The Head of Development Control, John Ellis, was there. What on Earth is up?
Deborah: "James, I get the feeling that you'd rather not be doing paperwork."
Me (thinking of the right thing to say): "Uhhh...I guess so...yeah?"
John: "How would you like to come and join me in DC?"
Deborah: "I think it will be good for you. To get some planning experience."
Me: "Wow. When do I start?"
That really didn't sound too good did it? But I could hardly hide the fact that checking forms was boring as hell for me. And this was a way out.
My first job was as simple as planning applications get. A homeowner in the lovely Bedfordshire village of Kensworth wanted to extend their home to the front, which under the planning regulations requires planning permission. The procedure for this is relatively straightforward, but what is potentially the most difficult part is public consultation.
At that point, public consultation was...basic. Send the plans to the Parish Council,the utility companies, and the highway authority to ask for their comments, and put notices up in the local paper and outside the property. If people wanted to comment, they write in.
"Its the way we've always done it" John said to me just as I was about to head out on site to post the notice. "This is a small app, so you probably won't get much."
A short drive through the rural lanes, and I was there. Common Road, the main road through the village. I pulled up by the kerb, got hold of the laminated paper and string, and got out. "Just find a lamp post, tie it up, then get back" I thought to myself.
As I was trying to the tie the knot, I saw an old lady approach me from the right. Shuffling up with her cane and shopping bag, in a pleasant old lady voice she sparked a conversation.
Old lady: "Hello there, young sir. Are you from the Council?"
Me: "Hi. Yes I am."
Old lady: "So what's happening here, then?"
Me: "I'm just putting up a planning notice. This house here *me pointing to the house* is putting an extension up."
Old lady: "Really? It's about time they did something with that old place!"
We then chatted for an hour. On the street on a bright sunny day in a Bedfordshire village, where I got the whole history of the house. How her friend from school in the 50s grew up there, and how they used to play hopskotch on the pavement outside. How it was then sold to 'a bit of a strange man, but you could rely on him to lend you a few bob.' Before the McKenzies who lived there at that time then moved in, and were as nice as pie.
"I'm glad they are doing up the place. It will be so nice for their kids as they grow up" she finished with.
It's really hard to explain, but something in me just clicked that day. The way that talking to the public has been told to me by so many people working at the Council was that it was a process. A chore that needed doing. A box on a checklist. You just...do it because you have to.
But having to can mean a lot of things. There is having to in order to satisfy a process, and there is having to in order to get something meaningful. To better understand the history and stories of the communities that you serve. To better understand people's lived experiences, and to understand them. We do public service to better serve them, right?
Many months then passed. The planning application was approved (no objections from anyone), and I moved on. The process of planning applications ground on as normal. More site visits. More notices on lamp posts and in the local paper. The one for the lion enclosure at Whipsnade Zoo was an interesting site visit, which involved the zebra looking on whilst I tied the planning notice to their fence post.
All the while, this little old lady stuck in the back of my mind. That whole experience, where in the space of an hour I actually got to know about the place and how what I was doing tied into it all, was rewarding. And how we were engaging with the public missed out on that.
Surely, we can do better, right?
We won't lie about this. Completely changing how you engage with citizens as part of your transport work is hard. It is a long, challenging, and often frustrating process to go through.
But the fact that you want to do it makes it worth it. And that desire will carry you through the times when this change is bad.
Over the last few weeks, we have given some hints on how you can tweak your existing engagement processes to get more value out of them. Measurement, citizens assemblies, hacking traditional consultation, and public meetings. All good stuff. But all playing at the edges. You need to start something more radical.
If you are in a situation where your local authority has identified that it needs to do community engagement better - congratulations, you truly are in a priveleged position! Your job will be so much easier. But for most of us, that is not the case. So what do you do to change things up when you are the lone voice calling for it?
Be realistic and idealistic
The first thing is to get in the right mindset, and set your expectations as to what you can achieve. You will need to play the long game to change people's hearts and minds, and demonstrate the value of what you do.
From our experience, just the process of starting on a major bit of public participation to prove your idea will take at least 9 months. You have to win people over just to get a trial going, and that takes time before you consider doing the business case. To get one other senior manager fully signed up will probably take 12-18 months. Everyone? At least 2 years.
Your idealism will drive your passion, which will be essential to getting this done. But people do not change their minds quickly, and need convincing all the time until they are signed up. Keep people updated on your success and issues. Show your enthusiasm, and spend time explaining the idea to them. And do it again. And again. And again. Until you are sick of doing so.
Few people have their mind changed by a sudden Eureka moment. Advertisers know that a constant drip feeding of the message is more successful over time compared to a big bang and then nothing. Take that mindset to your work.
A few passionate allies is better than a lot of interested people
This was a big learning that we had from organising the Transport Planning Camp. A lot of people will say they are really interested in the idea and want to be involved. But only a few will come through be a meaningful ally who you can rely on. Seek them out, and hold onto them.
In an ideal world, these allies will be in senior management positions. But a good ally is a good one regardless of their position. Not only will you all work together to actually put what you need to do into practice, but they are an invaluable support network for you. Sharing war stories and laughing in the face of adversity helps far more than you think it does.
What helps cement this is having a defined goal to work to - an event is usually a good way of doing this. Or it can be as simple as having a common aim, and a commitment to getting together for coffee once a month.
Understand your own power
It is easy to feel powerless, especially when the manager says no. But you have far more power than you give yourself credit for. You just need to understand how to use it.
Understanding the power dynamics, as well as where formal power actually lies, is probably the best thing you can get your head around. Who influences who? Who is the dominant voice at board meetings? Who do the decision makers trust most? What are your personal relationships with the decision makers like? Are they easily persuaded.
It is a good idea to visualise this if you can. Draw a spider diagram on a peice of paper with all of the key decision makers that you can think of, with you in the middle. Visualise the relationships between the different decision makers - say a different colour pen representing the strength of their relationship. Write where the formal decision making power lies, and for what.
Just this exercise will give you an overview from which you can plan. You will see people to avoid, who would be sympathetic to your view, and who you can target for the biggest impact. And then what you can do to exercise your own power in a way that has the biggest impact.
The best case for change is change itself
This is so cliche. But it is true. If you want to show the case for change, then you have to show it. That means securing time and resources for a small trial of your approach. Trials are great. For a limited amount of effort and resource you can prove an idea (or disprove it - its a trial after all). But when you make the case it has a huge advantage over a worked up project - you sell it based on the problem, not on the solution.
The way our brains work is that we almost always focus on the problems and challenges first, before the solutions and the positives. That's what comes from thousands of years constantly monitoring for threats from animals that can eat us. By focussing the case for your trial on how bad the challenge is, 80% of your battle is won. The remaining 20% is you stating how your trial could - if given the chance - help to overcome this.
For example, if you are having problems reaching a particular transport user group, you may wish to pilot a user survey delivered in partnership with a local community group who works with that group all the time. By stating how hard it is to reach that group, and how this limited trial could get some really useful insights on that group and prove whether or not the concept works, that is a compelling case.
Finally, plan for afterwards
You have done a pilot. It has gone well and you have all the evidence that you need to make community engagement the heart of your transport work. But this is where a lot of projects fail. They do not plan for afterwards, and ensuring a lasting impact.
Think about the practicals first. Chances are you won't have any more dedicated funding, or much time, to continue the work immediately afterwards. So think about how you will continue to convince people of the merit of this work afterwards. And do this before you start, so that you can build it into the work of your project (e.g. inviting key decision makers to a workshop).
How will you continue to convince people post-trial? Will it be possible? And if not, should you go for another trial instead?
Also, plan for failure. Your trial may fail completely, and may undermine your case for further work. Think about what this will mean for how you plan your changes in the future, and at what point it may be best to call it a day.
Change is hard. Extremely hard. But anything worth doing has always been hard to do. And the best thing is that people have done it before. Here are our key lessons for what makes for successful change.
In every profession you get these old adages - accepted wisdoms about how the world works, and the attitudes that are impossible to shift. Transport planning and community engagement have a few of them. But there is one that they have in common that, more than most other things, drive how things are done.
You are what you measure.
The key performance metric - whether it be number of bicycles along a road or the percentage of people travelling sustainably - drives almost everything. It is the purest interpretation of what you are trying to achieve. Something to which all actions should contribute towards.
Community engagement is no different to this. When you are planning how you engage with citizens, you have to be able to demonstrate the impact of your engagement. Warm, fuzzy feelings about how well it went, and informal feedback saying you did a good job does not do that in a defendable way, sadly. Nor does telling anyone quite how many people came through the doors at your public exhibition.
You need KPIs to show what did made a difference. You need KPIs over time to show that you have tried different things to engage with people, and this is the impact of what you have done. So how on Earth do you choose the right one?
Think about what you want to achieve from your engagement over time
This is such an obvious bit of advice. But we are always amazed at how people spend ages thinking about their objectives for their community engagement activity, before just counting the number of people who attended.
Come up with one KPI for each of your engagement objectives, and weave how you will monitor that into your plans for the engagement activity. Do not leave it as an afterthought, because if you do then the data you collect will be next to worthless. Few people voluntarily complete a survey form.
Even better, think about how you can standardise that data collection across your activities. So that you are not having to reinvent the wheel all the time.
Collect attitudes, not just opinions or demographics
It is really easy to ensure that you have a cross section of people attending based on simple demographic information, and how your activity compares to others. It is also really easy to ask people for their opinions - hey, you are doing it through this exercise aren't you?
But had you thought about attitudes? How are you making sure that who is taking part in your engagement activities reflects a diversity of worldviews? How can you be sure that as well as the ardent cyclists, you also had the Jeremy Clarkson's of the world represented.
Needless to say that this is an extremely tricky thing to do, especially when you don't have a baseline already. Except you may have. Your public engagement team are likely to be running an attitude survey of citizens all the time, asking for their general attitudes on everything from the state of the world, to how positive they feel about the world. Hey, we even have the British Social Attitudes Survey. Pick a metric, and think about the ways you can ensure that different people with different attitudes are represented.
Measure engagement, not activity
The number of people who I have seen set up a wonderful consultation website, and then just monitor the number of visits is infuriating. A shop always counts the number of sales that it makes, not the number of people looking in the window, and you must take the same approach to measuring the impact of your engagement.
Online this is easy. Using systems like Google Tags means that not only do you count the visits, but you can look for specific activities that you want people to do. For example, rather than counting the website visits, why not count the number of times people posted comments, or sent theirs in through an online form? That way, you are measuring what matters.
Offline and in the real world this is more tricky. You can count the number of feedback forms, the number of ideas generated per attendee at a workshop, and the tone of that engagement. All are difficult to do well, and are ripe for your experimentation. It is something that we are still experimenting with ourselves.
Defining what is a good KPI is an art in itself. And in many respects there are no right or wrong KPIs. Even measuring the number of people who have turned up is not a bad metric per se. But too often we focus on counting things, and surveying what is most tangible. Because it is easy. Your KPIs for your engagement activity should stem from what you want to achieve, not from what is possible. Otherwise, how will you know if you are achieving it?
Citizen's Assemblies are currently all the range. Local authorities are applying the Citizen Assembly format from everything between future transport and climate change. And everyone involved in participatory democracy is selling how they can do assemblies better than others.
For those of you who don't know what Citizen's Assemblies are, they are a group of citizens brought together to debate a major issue, take evidence from experts, and devise recommendations based on the evidence. These recomendations can be accepted by national and local government, depending on how the Assembly is constituted.
There are many reasons why such a participatory approach is attractive. Citizens get the opportunity to really debate the issue at hand, and come to some reasoned conclusions based on evidence. It is a highly participatory process, though it is also a complex and sometimes expensive one to administer.
We highly recommend Citizen's Assemblies because they are incredibly engaging, and the people who take part get a lot out of it. And they can ensure that there are a wide range of opinions represented in policy making. But they are not without their challenges. As well as the obvious ones (time, cost, and representativeness), there are many other hidden traps in organising such assemblies that you must be aware of.
Diversity of experts
As much as the assembly itself must be diverse, so should those who present evidence. We don't necessarily mean diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity (though these are important), but a diversity of views on the matter being discussed.
Ensuring this diversity of view really depends on the matter at hand, and requires organisers having a good grasp of these diversity of views. For example, an assembly looking at transport improvements across a town will want to hear evidence from sustainable transport advocates and academics as much as it does from local road hauliers and taxi companies.
This diversity should ideally be driven by the assembly itself, informed by the balance of the wider evidence as advised by experts (and this advice be documented). For climate change, for example, those who are skeptical need not be excluded completely, but the balance of experts should represent the scientific view.
Evidence the evidence
The assemblies will hear a lot of evidence, and will need to take on and debate a lot. This is not an easy process to go through, and developing recommendations based on this evidence is difficult. But just as much as the experts should present the evidence for their view, the assembly must - in delivering their final verdict - evidence theirs.
We have been part of many workshops and assemblies where the recommendations presented are as much 'a feel of the room' as opposed to something that is backed by the evidence presented. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as when reporting the findings that is made clear to anyone reviewing the decision. Assemblies should be guided by the evidence presented, but that does not mean that it cannot take its own view. So long as it is clear on that.
Similarly, where recommendations are backed by the evidence presented, assemblies should not just assume that those outside will be able to connect the dots themselves. Make the links between the evidence and the recommendations clear, and it makes them more robust.
Don't have a self-selecting process
We understand. You don't know everyone, and recruiting people to be part of the Citizen's Assembly is really, really hard. Just putting a shout out on the website is really tempting as a way of saving time. Don't do it.
Take the time to be more careful in how you invite people to be part of your Assembly. Many public sector organisations have access to datasets that segment their population according to particular characteristics, such as MOSAIC. Put those subscriptions to good use to target your invitations.
Do these targetted campaigns and mailshots first, before extending the invitation wider. This way, you lessen the challenge posed to you that those who took part are not representative of the area that you serve.
As with all engagement exercise, done well, Citizens Assemblies are empowering and engaging. But a lot can go wrong in organising them. And hopefully by highlighting these few hidden dangers, you can go into your next assembly prepared to have a great time.
Yet again, that was a lot of fun.
Last Thursday, we had the great pleasure of helping to organise this year's Transport Planning Camp, taking place in Manchester. 50 passionate a committed people (and not just transport planners) spent a day in Manchester talking about transport planning and the climate emergency.
And boy, did they talk a lot.
Despite it being an unconference - and you not having to arrange speakers - a lot of organisation still needs to go into it. Sorting out the sponsors, booking the venue and catering, sending out reminder emails, buying stationary, preparing the presentations, briefing the volunteers. It all takes time. But after our experience of 2018, we were expecting all of that.
So what did we learn this year? Well, let us first start off with what we relearned. The first being that the format of the unconference works. Some of the feedback that we have received since last Thursday showed that the format was a great hit, as people were able to talk about what they felt most passionately about, as opposed to what is the standard industry view. When you tell someone to say what they think, and provide the means for them to do that confidently, they take it.
Secondly, if you change up the format, you get a different audience. Whilst the majority were transport planners, we had many more voluntary organisations present this year. Each of whom spoke with confidence and assurity through the day. There are a number of factors that may be behind this, including the messaging used to promote the Unconference as an unbiased event (and the chance for attendees to personally influence it), the low cost of a ticket, the non-corporate branding and also perhaps that the people organising the event (us) were visible and also relatively diverse.
Third, was how giving people free reign to discuss what they wanted really was a licence in diversity. You may think that transport planning and climate change is slightly niche. And it is. But topics that were shortlisted included changing the law, smarter travel choices, and male dominance in decision making. All covered within 9 sessions.
We also learned plenty of new lessons this year too. We learned how tricky it is to translate ideas into something to commit to quickly. We had intended for people to use an area of the venue to brainstorm ideas following the sessions. But the reality was that people were so taken in by the sessions, that they simply did not do this. The only action planning time was during the final session, where participants had a specific time to reflect.
Another big lesson for us was that the venue contributes a lot to the day, and is often the hardest thing to get right for an unconference. Too polished and it comes across as stiff and corporate. Too rough around the edges and it looks unprofessional. The two venues we have used over the last 2 years - ODI Leeds and etc.venues Manchester - are at the opposite ends of the scale. But both worked well in their own way.
We also learned the valuable lesson of room tempurature when crowds are present. Do not rely on the air conditioning system to save it all the time, and make sure that you can open a door or window. When it started to get a bit stuffy after 30 minutes, we were glad to open the doors!
As for what was said, we are still processing that. A lot of content was produced by everyone.
And we mean a lot.
But what we can say is this. Transport planners are passionate about climate change. They know what needs doing. They are chomping at the bit to do it. They just need an injection of radicalism. We hope that Transport Planning Camp has provided just this.
We know what it is like. Even if you put in all the effort to run engaging workshops, creative online surveys, and you may have even deployed virtual reality and your public exhibitions. But at some point, you still have to run consultation the traditional way – a 12 week consultation, where people can write in or email their views to you.
And local authorities still receive a lot of comments that way. Recently, I spoke to a strategic transport body that received over 100 responses to a policy document as part of a consultation. Responding to each one individually is a time-consuming and intensive task.
Luckily there are ways by which you can hack this. Where you can properly consider the comments, respond well, and cut down on the time that you spend responding to them.
Set up a response process
Planning is everything. The worst thing that can happen is for messages to pile up in the inbox and in tray, to be dealt with once the consultation closes. So take the time to set up a basic process before your consultation goes out, which manages each message as it goes through. Then set up a rota with all involved in the consultation process, and stick to it.
When I have managed inboxes for consultations, I have split them into 4 folders. These are:
Then, i know that any email that is in the inbox itself has not been dealt with, and is in most need of attention.
Where there has been more than one person working on the responses, keep the same folder structure as above, but as sub-folders under a folder for each person.
Take the time to acknowledge receipt
This seems counter-intuitive. How is taking more time to acknowledge receipt of someone’s comments saving time? Simple. An information black hole is one of the worst things for consultation.
By saying thank you, and importantly giving a timescale by which you hope to respond to them in detail, you are saving yourself by stopping them from chasing you later when you tell them nothing. Also, people will actually like the fact you have acknowledged them.
Whatever you do, DO NOT set up an automated email with a standard response. That is lazy, and gives the impression you are fobbing them off. Nor do you need to type a different acknowledgement each time. A good hack is to have a selection of 10 pre-prepared acknowledgement responses in a document, and when an email comes in, copy and paste one of them and send it.
Hack your reading
We’re sorry to say this, but you cannot get away from reading the responses. But there are ways that you can make it easier, and boost your reading speed at the same time.
Firstly, reflect on when during the day your concentration is the best. For most people, this is usually the morning, often during late morning after the body has warmed up and the brain has got into its rhythm. It is often best to avoid reading responses in the afternoon, as your brain begins to tire.
Also, do other reading apart from just the consultation responses. The best way to improve your reading speed is to…read! Read magazine articles, newspapers, books, something that you enjoy reading. And it will boost the speed at which you read other things.
You should also not read the responses in your head. This is really hard to do, as we are taught to read by speaking the words, and we carry on this trait by speaking the words in our heads. This substantially slows down your reading time to the pace at which you speak. So practice not reading in your head, or distracting the internal voice by playing music.
Finally, whatever you do, do not read a passage several times. This means that by the time you read a response once, you have in fact read it several times because you have been constantly going back over words. Do not do this. If you must, come back and read the whole thing again later.
Categorise the issues raised, and form basic responses for each of them
By the time that you have read many responses, chances are you will notice very similar messages coming through. People want buses improved, they have an issue with a particular junction, or even they have literally copied and pasted a letter sent by someone else. Use this to your advantage.
Craft a basic response to each of these issues raised. Almost a common structure to how you will respond to that issue. But do not copy and paste that specific response to each person. Use it as a basis to provide a more personal response.
For example, instead of responding with…
“Improving walking and cycling infrastructure across the city is a priority as identified in the Local Transport Plan.”
…use that response as a basis to say…
“Improving walking and cycling infrastructure in your neighbourhood is a priority as identified in your neighbourhood delivery plan.”
Subtle changes, without having to type out the same sentence again and again.
Often, it is such small changes that are seemingly insignificant that can save you a lot of time as you respond to consultations. Without giving your citizens the bland, general responses that make them feel like they don’t care. Give them a try, see what you think.
The public meeting is a staple part of a democractic society. Where fair-minded people get together and debate issues affecting their communities to come to a degree of consensus, and to have their say.
Or, it is an excuse for a lot of angry people to get together in one room and shout for 2 hours, usually at a poor sap from the Council. As was covered in recent episodes of the War on Cars Podcast.
Having this polarised image of what a public meeting can do for engaging citizens is unhelpful. It also does nothing to help people realise the value that can be had from public meetings. One of the few tried, trusted, and refined ways of engaging with people.
So. How do you make a great public meeting, get what you want out of it, and make sure that everyone leaves feeling that they have had a fair say? It's not as hard as you think.
Get a diverse audience along
This is probably the hardest bit. People who attend public meetings are statistically more likely to be older and wealthier than the rest of the population. You need to put the ground work in to getting a more diverse audience along.
A key factor in this is the time and location of the meeting. Consider work patterns and the daily lives of the people who are most likely to not attend, and whether they can get there without a car. You should also advertise the meeting in places where they are likely to see the advert. Just posting it on a website and a community noticeboard will not do.
Get an independent chairperson.
Assuming that the public meeting has not been organised by any one organisation, having an independent chairperson is crucial. Ideally somebody who knows the subject area (e.g. transport planning), but has no stake in the issue to be discussed.
Regardless of whether you are able to get an independent chairperson, they must also be briefed. It needs to be made clear that they must treat everyone the same, and give everyone an equal say. This may include discussing questions with them, though we would strongly advise against giving them a list of pre-determined questions. That will give the impression of bias.
Let people know what you need out of the meeting, and how they can help.
This is so often overlooked. If you are given a chance to have your say / set out your stall for a scheme or proposal, tell people what you want out of the meeting. Tell them how they can help you, and ask them how you can help them to do that. Don't just launch into presenting. Take that time to set out your ask, and you will get what you need.
Set out the rules early, and stick to them
At the start of the meeting (or - even better - before the meeting), set out what the rules are. If people are invited to speak, give them a strict time limit and explain a general code of conduct. And importantly, stick to it. It is meant to be impartial and fair, not a reason for one or two individuals to hog the limelight.
In terms of who speaks when, what we have found to be useful is alternating views for and against a proposal. So rather than everyone against a proposal speak and then everyone for a proposal speak, take it in turns. That way, there is a greater degree of balance in the debate, even if the room may be overwhelmingly on one side.
Finish off with what happens next
A really simple and obvious one, but so many times we have been at meetings where the chairperson simply says thank you and goodbye. They should summarise the discussion, thank everyone for their participation, and set out clearly what will happen next. The most important element is telling people how they can learn more, and how they can find out how the outcomes of the meeting have changed things. If this means they must sign up to a mailing list, let them know how to do this.
Follow all of these simple rules, and you are all set to have a great public meeting.
Due to an unexpected cancellation during November, we suddenly have some free days. Some would use this to take things easy. Not us. We are generous. So for a limited time only, we have an offer for you.
We are offering to run, for you, a Community Strategy Workshop for free.
We bet you are asking - what on Earth is that, and why should we take this offer up? It's simple really. If you are working on a new transport strategy, seheme, or new service, you are going to need a plan on how you engage with your citizens, right?
We are offering a one day workshop that will help you come up with that plan. For free.
Zip. Nada. Nowt. Sweet FA.
Why are we doing this? Well, because we are nice, and we cannot stand twiddling our thumbs. Plus, we want to get to know you. To know the challenges that you face, and how we can help. And we want to help you out whilst doing it.
We'd love to chat with you about this. So drop us an email and lets see what we can do.
This last week, we had the great pleasure of being invited to the Smarter Tomorrow conference in Liverpool to chair a panel on delivering for citizens. It is not often that you have a panel at a smart cities conference that looks at this explicitly, especially at a conference that really focusses a lot on the transport side of things.
But what made this panel brilliant was that there was not one presentation on transport. Not one.
We have often felt that transport can learn a lot about community engagement from other sectors. And from the panelists we were with, it seems that the hunch is right.
The first speaker was Rosemary May, who spoke how a 5G mesh network being delivered in Liverpool was revolutionising adult social care in the city. With a focus on low, cost, accessible solutions being delivered to vulnerable people, new personalised services have been delivered on the back of this network. Services that are actually changing people's lives.
We then heard from Ana Paolo Lopez, about the leading work being done by i-Lab Barcelona to revolutionise the city's services. They have worked through a process of challenge definition, design thinking, and trialling to deliver a wide variety of project with close engagement with local citizens. They are even turning their hands to procurement. We admire their ambition.
Next, Georgina Maratheftis from techUK introduced what they are doing to encourage local authorities to engage more with tech startups. This makes sense not only from an accessing the market point of view, but also from local authorities benefitting from the insights generated on key issues by startup companies. As opposed to it being just confined to each party.
Following quickly, we had Stefan Webb from the Connected Places Catapult. They have been progressing a huge programme of Digitising Planning. An ambitious project that is hoping to make planning more responsive, more engaging, and leveraging new technologies to do this. We cannot do it justice in a few sentences, but it really is quite something.
Last, but by no means least, we heard from Therese Karger-Lerchl of Vivid Economics on their research into the value of green spaces and green infrastructure. We have certainly made a note to try out Greenkeeper, which actually makes the business case for investing in green infrastructure and its maintenance. Something that has never been done before.
So what did we learn from all this? Firstly, there is a lot that transport can learn from other sectors. And this is not just doing the basics of community engagement right. This is about using the right tools at the right time. What was often covered during the presentations was not doing technology for technology's sake. An app will not overcome an unwillingness to learn, and it never will.
Another message that came across strongly was that other sectors were by no means perfect. They are all learning lessons on how to engage effectively with communities, and adapting what they do to their circumstances. For example, the legal framework for adult social care is significantly different to taking care of a park. The speakers were keen to emphasise that this difference means that it is hard for some solutions to scale.
Finally, there was a message to just get on with it. Don't think about it. Plan it and do it. That is the only way you will ever learn. We can do that!
It's been a bit radio silence from us over the last few weeks. Not because we don't have anything to say - believe us, we do - but because we have been busy doing things. Now that we have had the chance to take a bit of a breather and tell you about one of the interesting little projects that we have been working on.
Back in July 2019, Surrey County Council declared a climate emergency. Like a lot of local authorities in the UK. But unlike other local authorities in the UK, they sought to act straight away through Surrey's Greener Design Challenge. In this challenge, residents were asked to submit their project ideas for how they could work with their community to tackle climate change. Of the shortlisted ideas (10 in all), 3 were focussed on transport. That is where we come in, as well as a visit to Kingston last Saturday.
We are working with the project promoters and Surrey County Council to bring these ideas to reality. We are doing this by advising them, and co-designing the scheme with them, giving our time and expertise to help. So we headed to the first community design workshop at Kingston University, where we got the chance to chat with them about their ideas.
We first met the Farnham Cycle Campaign, who had a very ambitious plan - a Cycle Superhighway through the centre of Farnham! Running from Farnham Park through to the train station, the plan was for a segregated route right through the town. So their challenge was - how do we get the plans approved? How much will it cost? And what will be the major barriers.
We then spoke to a group from Reigate. Their idea was to enagage with local communities to create 'local cycle maps' that identify improvements in an open and collaborative fashion. In their own words, "we want to do what Manchester is doing." Their challenge was to simply take the first step on this, and identify a community to work with to make it happen.
Finally, we spoke to a lovely lady (whose name we do not have permission to share) from WWF - who are based in Woking. Her idea was to engage with local businesses to identify improvements to local cycle routes. And her ask was really simple - how do i start?
With a first step, of course. Which is what the workshop was about.
The purpose of this workshop wasn't to spec the solution. It was to identify what the first steps were, and to set in place a plan of action to deliver. Led by the Service Design Team at Surrey County Council, a number of ice-breaker and planning activities were set out, delivered with the support of us and other partners. These activities included:
Throughout this process, our primary role was to facilitate the participants getting through the exercises, whilst providing our expertise and hints on how to get started. The discussions that we had ranged from what datasets to use, through how to design a travel survey, to planning a community engagement workshop. All within 3 short hours.
It was an intense few hours, that flew by quickly. Getting to know who proposed the ideas, and what drove them to do it, was an amazing experience. It has provided an excellent start to a very exciting community-based project that we are proud to support.
Over the coming weeks, we will be providing dedicated support to the teams, and will also be attending two further design workshops. We will keep you posted as it all progresses. It is going to be fun.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Beth Stewart and the Service Design Team at Surrey County Council for inviting us to be part of this project. Your support has been amazing!