Taking consultations online – Make the most of the new opportunities

As road transportation shifted from horses to the internal combustion engine even great minds of the time struggled to adapt. In 1899, inventor Uriah Smith came up with Horsey Horseless (pictured left). Smith thought the logical step was in seamlessly blending the benefits of a motorised vehicle with the traditional appearance of a horse. There was some fear at the time that the rise of the car would cause anxiety to beasts of burden using the same roads and this ingenious idea was designed to literally avoid ‘scaring the horses’.

Unsurprisingly it never took off, but it demonstrates what a hard-to-conceptualize thing a horseless carriage was.

The same could be said for a public consultation that isn’t held in a drafty church hall or a public library. Such is the task before planning applicants today as they are asked to consider how to consult with a community when social distancing means you can’t ask them to all turn up to a community centre “any time between 4pm and 8pm”.

If you’re a developer involved in such considerations, you will likely have seen some new online solutions that recreate that public consultation, sign-in sheets, digital easels and all. Recreating the physical consultation digitally is an interesting approach, but there is so much more than can be achieved through online consultation.

Holding online consultations can give planning applicants more opportunity to make their development come alive. Images that used to lay flat on a pop-up banner can become three-dimensional content that the observer moves around and explores. A line of display boards to be slowly passed in turn can be replaced with an interactive diagram of the site where the visitor can go straight to their area of concern or interest first.

The people you’re consulting don’t want to get the ‘public consultation experience’. What they want is to get a real sense of what living near to your new development will be like.

The public meeting, often a developer’s biggest fear, can be held as an online webinar which can be a much more constructive setting. Technology can allow for the viewers to vote on the questions they want to see answered and this avoids the session being hijacked by a few vocal individuals.

And when you’re saving costs on printing a dozen A1 display boards and hall hire, then an online consultation making the most of the format needn’t be much more expensive than traditional methods.

It’s unlikely that the days of consultation events in church halls are over and they will resume once it is safe to do so. But it is almost certain that virtual methods of engagement, consultation websites, webinar sessions and other forms of digital engagement will no longer be ‘optional extras’ to a developer’s pre-application community consultation process.

At Connect we are helping our clients make the most of the new normal. Get in contact with us to find out how.

James Goldstone by:
James Goldstone