We are firm believers that town centres are the heart of communities and there is an opportunity to introduce a more dynamic mix of residential uses, workspace and leisure facilities, creating places to live, work and play.
Community consultation is fundamental to creating places that are vibrant and sustainable, but sometimes there is a risk that traditional engagement methods can become skewed towards an unrepresentative ‘vocal minority’.
With this in mind we partnered with building database company Built-ID to develop an app, Give-my-View, which digitises community engagement and makes it far easier, and quicker, for time-poor workers, parents or those who find it difficult to attend public meetings or respond in writing to provide their views on development plans.
Built-ID developed a platform which is extremely user-friendly, presenting a series of facts and questions that be easily digested, and can be promoted to individuals in a specific catchment area via social media.
We are currently employing this tool to undertake community consultation in Bristol around our proposed £175m Soapworks development, which is not only a prominent city centre site but involves the sensitive repurposing of a Grade II listed building.
We expected a fair amount of local interest, but the level of engagement has been far beyond what would ordinarily be achieved. The initial round of digital consultation engaged almost 4,000 people with over 21,000 questions answered, roughly 10 times what I would expect for a comparable scheme through traditional methods. The greater sample size, and the fact that every response is captured digitally, means we can analyse the responses in detail, building up a picture of what local groups of people want, and don’t want.
Give-my-View has also allayed any fears that digital consultation will only help us reach young people. When we piloted the tool at another scheme in London, we actually found that one of the highest levels of engagement was from the over-65s. The results have shown that different demographics have a clear bias in terms of social media platforms, for example older demographics have engaged via Facebook and younger users prefer Instagram, which will help us refine our approach further as we undertake the next rounds of consultation.
Face-to-face engagement is still very important and that’s why we will continue to carry out digital consultation alongside traditional methods of public consultation, letters, surveys and public meetings. The two are complimentary. In fact, some exhibition attendees have informed us that they found out about the events through the Give-my-View app. People are therefore still attending meetings and providing additional feedback, despite initially responding online.
This supports growing evidence that consumers prefer a multi-channel experience, whether it is buying a new pair of shoes or responding to development plans. The online platform provides a frictionless and more convenient experience, but I suspect there will always be a need for human interaction to win hearts and minds, particularly around town centre development which is an emotive issue for many people.