Change to build community trust

This post first appeared on the TCPA’s blog series about trust in the planning process. Thanks so much to them for asking me to write something.

Public trust is a powerful concept, that’s beset with fuzziness and contradiction.

We instinctively know if we trust a person, organisation or process, but can’t always clearly explain why.

Leaders universally agree that trust matters, yet don’t pay enough attention to maintaining it. Like a football referee, many don’t fully appreciate its importance until something goes wrong.

I’m sure that most planning and place-making professionals appreciate how volatile trust can be. If you’re in any doubt, here’s a reality check: the sector faces a crisis of confidence amongst the people upon whom its legitimacy depends.

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#PlaceIndex webinar catch up: engaging communities after the pandemic

Industry leaders discussed our inaugural Place Index report at a webinar organised by Social colleagues today (14 May 2021).

It was an enjoyable and fascinating discussion chaired by political journalist Geri Scott, which covered key issues raised in our recently published report. I was on the panel discussing topics including ‘levelling up’, engaging young people about the future of their areas and building trust in the development process.

My heartfelt thanks go to colleagues for organising the session and for working on the report over recent months. It’s been seen by loads of people, been well picked up in the media and was great to work on. I hope those reading it find it useful.

Thanks also to TCPA’s Fiona Howie, MOBIE’s Mark Southgate and Ahead Partnership’s Stephanie Burras CBE for joining the panel today. We had some great feedback and want to do something like this again soon. If you attended and asked questions, thank you too. I hope to see you in person at a future event before too long.

You can catch up on the webinar below. It lasts for about an hour.

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Five ways public relations can make places happen

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably interested in places and place-making. Maybe you work for a government body, housebuilder or housing provider. You could be involved in new development, regeneration or infrastructure.

This work often sits in the context of ‘delivery’ or hitting targets and numbers. While important in itself, it often misses the bigger picture around why this work matters. It matters because it makes great places happen. Done well, this transforms areas and improves people’s lives.

Throughout the disruption caused by COVID-19, good, agile communication is helping to make places happen across the country. Every project is different, and there’s no template to fit its needs. But here are five things we advocate through our work to make places happen that keep our clients moving forward at this challenging time.

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Why engagement needs to change

A well-used phrase of mine – which bewilders my kids – is: if a tree falls in a forest and no-one’s around to hear it, how do you know it’s fallen?

It’s not intended as a philosophical question. In a work context, it’s used to stress the importance of letting people know what you’re doing, rather than just doing it and expecting a response.

So, if you’re creating a website, let people know it’s there. If a council makes plans that affect people’s lives, telling them early and offering a chance to feedback should be part of that process.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It is to us, and colleagues and clients work every day to engage the public on important things that affect their lives.

Looking more widely, however, there remains a gap created by complexity and exacerbated by a lack of awareness.

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Three thoughts from the #housingwhitepaper roadshow

“I am a man desperately in need of allies to help build the homes that we can agree are desperately needed in this country.”

Gavin Barwell, Housing Minister, 2 March 2017

I was in Taunton this week to see the housing minister’s white paper roadshow.

Gavin Barwell is at least the eighth housing minister I’ve seen in action since 2004. Five of those were on similar visits to the South West when I worked at the HCA.

To say that he’s inherited a tough gig is an understatement. The Housing White Paper has had a mixed response, which isn’t surprising for a sector with so many interested parties.

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Collaboration: more than a buzzword

Calls for ‘collaboration’ across the housing sector are hitting high levels. I have attended conferences recently at which panelists have insisted that collaboration is key to our future. At one event covering areas ranging from the performance of office buildings to the future of cities, speakers used the phrase six times in an hour.

Articles and blog posts stressing its importance are abundant. Google ‘collaboration and housing’ to see for yourself. And local and national government call for a collaborative approach from employees and partners. This can sometimes feel like a call for inspiration.

Meaning of collaboration

In an era of networks, for an industry that has thrived on partnership working, this makes sense. The challenges facing the sector are too big for any organisation to face alone. Those that work together stand a better chance of success.

It is difficult for anyone who works in the sector to argue against this sentiment. But defining good practice in this area – let along making it work – is more challenging. Statements like ‘collaboration is key’ are often used without any sign of how this could happen.

Collaboration between organisations frequently misses the input of the communities or people affected by what they are trying to achieve. And conflict seems built into the system, with some groups feeling their views are ignored. When this happens, positions become entrenched and delivery can grind to a halt.

If we are to benefit from a collaborative approach, there needs to be wide understanding of what good collaboration looks like. And organisations must prepare to change mindsets and structures to embrace it.

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