nick wright planning


Making the most of digital engagement

By Nick Wright on July 20, 2020
community engagement culture change

There's been a lot of talk about online engagement in planning since lockdown started in March, much of it focussing on the use of web platforms for public Pre-Application Consultation on planning applications and Local Development Plan consultations. The Scottish Government's flexibility in allowing online consultation in these statutory contexts has been widely welcomed to avoid development management and development planning grinding to a halt.

The Scottish Government has also published a useful overview of digital engagement options and best practice examples on its planning reform website, If you haven't already looked, you should - it is an accessible and valuable resource. Meanwhile other organisations are broadening the discussion about digital engagement in planning; check out these examples from PAS and Architecture & Design Scotland. PAS is also extending its SP=EED training on community engagement in planning to include more on digital techniques.

To help move online engagement discussions forward, Orbit Communications is organising a free roundtable discussion next Wednesday afternoon 29th July. Lesley Carus from City of Edinburgh Council, Neil Collar from Brodies and I will join Orbit's Alastair Stewart for a round table discussion.

The reality is that digital engagement has already been happening in planning for a few years now. Recent research for the Scottish Land Commission by Steven Tolson and I contained examples of good online engagement by developers (plus widespread caution about social media). There are lots of examples of digital engagement in non-statutory planning like community action plans, charrettes or regeneration masterplans. For example, at the Balloch charrette in 2016, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and West Dunbartonshire Council took the decision to use online channels, particularly social media, as the main focus for public engagement - a forward-thinking decision at the time. 

So, it's good to see that digital engagement is now becoming more widespread and established through the statutory planning world, even if the trigger has been the tragic circumstances surrounding COVID-19. But this rapid mainstreaming of digital engagement brings a number of questions: 
  • What are the particular strengths and weaknesses of digital engagement? When should you use it in preference to more traditional methods? And when shouldn't you use it?
  • How do you develop a digital engagement strategy? In other words, how can videoconferencing tools like Zoom work alongside other digital tools like mobile friendly web platforms, interactive mapping, surveys and social media?
  • What are the limits of digital engagement? When do you really need to meet face-to-face, and how can you do that with social distancing?
We'll be exploring these and other questions in the roundtable discussion next Wednesday. Please join us to find out more, share your knowledge, and steer the discussion to questions that you would like to explore.

To see a video recording of the online roundtable discussion, please click here.