New Digital Tools Increase Engagement between Developers and Communities
Our company, Commonplace has recently completed a seed funding round to support further development of our digital product for developers, which helps them collaborate more effectively with local people about their proposed schemes. The funding included investment from Clearly Social Angels, a social-impact focused angel group.
But why would a developer want to open up a public debate about a prospective development? And how can they benefit by adopting a more transparent approach with the help of new technology?
In the UK, informing the public about forthcoming development is mandatory but the level of engagement that is actively courted varies a great deal. There is certainly a traditional view, held by developers and some public authorities, that advocates the minimum required engagement with the public. Details of a plan tend to be primarily developed with public officials who are custodians of "The Planning System". Of course, elements of this approach are essential - there is every reason to work with the planning authority to ensure that plans meet local policy frameworks and aspirations.
Implicit in this traditional arrangement is the idea that public interest is best mediated by planning authorities. However, the legitimacy and effectiveness of "The Planning System" is being challenged from a number of directions. The arc of this challenge ranges from the objective pressure to develop housing to keep up with the growing population, through a vigorous debate on what makes sustainable communities - environmentally and socially, and on to the balance of power between local communities, local government and central government, for example through the Localism Act.
These challenges are being expressed and mediated not only through traditional channels of communication, but increasingly through digital and social media as well. Herein lies the first new dilemma for developers: the public are debating their plans on social media whether or not they like it – or take part in the conversation. Should they engage, monitor or ignore these discussions?
New digital tools are evolving to facilitate debate about the built environment. A virtual arena is flourishing alongside the traditional interaction between communities, planners. politicians and developers. These tools (which include Commonplace) offer developers the opportunity to get on the front foot in their interactions with the public – and establish a new paradigm of transparency and collaboration with the public, which ultimately benefits their businesses as well as local communities.
How is this new public arena evolving and what does its existence mean for public engagement in the built environment?
Broadly, the tools of the digital arena fall into three categories, each disruptive of the status-quo in a different way, covering an evolution from information through interaction to engagement:
1. Informing the public of processes and forthcoming decisions. The foundation of changing engagement has been ease of access to procedural information. Local authorities publish agendas and details of planning proposals and applications on-line. There are tools for the public to receive real-time notification of any proposed local development provided by local authorities and commercial site http://www.planningfinder.co.uk/which lists planning applications in a searchable web site. http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/ contains information about the planning system and tools for lodging planning applications on-line. The recent "Right to Report" legislation, allowing anyone to digitally report from public meetings, is a further step towards transparency.
2. Tools for interacting with decision-makers. Decision-makers are easier to find and communicate with than ever. The humble email gives instant access. Emailing is made easier by web sites such as https://www.writetothem.com/ which provides details of elected leaders by postcode - national and local. Local social media such as Streetlife, hyperlocal websites like Westhampsteadlife.com and Facebook are used to communicate and organise concerted campaigns on local planning issues. Twitter can create a wave very quickly and engage younger people with local issues. While these tools are external to the planning system, they impact on the decision-making process, raising dust in the arena where diverging interests compete.
3. Tools for engaging in plan making. A new category of web-based tools is coming onto the market that seeks to engage local people in helping shape plans for their localities. These tools are attempting to address the multiple challenges to the planning system - the fact that more and more people want to engage with local decisions, yet are frustrated with the established ways of doing so. This frustration manifests itself in the declining turnout for local elections (and elections in general) especially by young people. But the same citizens who refrain from voting are more active than ever on-line. Commonplace falls into this category.
The opportunity is to build a bridge between lively and growing online engagement and the deficit in formal local engagement with communities. There are significant prizes for the developers that embrace increased transparency and collaboration: greater trust, reduced planning risks, more balanced views from across the community, and development of a beneficial long-term relationship with communities as well as the planning authorities.
Developers should be at the forefront of building this bridge. Planning applications perceived to be agreed between local authorities and developers to the exclusion of the public can fail expensively through a concerted social media campaign - yet the participants in such a campaign may not be representative of wider opinion. The remedy is not to try and preserve the traditional order by ignoring social media, or by continuing adversarial process within it.
Our reason for creating Commonplace was a belief in the need for a more collaborative tool, a neutral and open platform where local opinion, sentiment and ideas can be obtained and shared. This may sound idealistic, but really it is a hardnosed response to the new rules of engagement (pun intended).Smart Cities will be inhabited by smart citizens, and will required smart developers to engage with their needs. The smartest developers will be those using this opportunity to benefit their business models.
Mike Saunders and David Janner-Klausner are founders of Commonplace Digital Ltd and respectively, its CEO and Director of Business Development. They can be reached via [email protected]
Vinci Facilities, Amey and Vivo win UK defence contracts
VINCI Facilities has been awarded an estimated £1.1 billion contract to provide facilities management services to Ministry of Defence (MoD) for its Built Estate across the South East of England. The total contract is for a seven-year term, with an option to extend for three additional years.
The deal includes £423m for the core contract and a potential £732m for billable works. It is one of four regional hard FM and capital works contracts and VINCI Facilities will be managing over 6,200 buildings and infrastructure assets supporting a significant number of MoD military and civilian personnel in over 59 establishments and is being mobilised now.
It is among a flurry of deals involving the MoD and Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) this month.
Amey has secured two contracts with the DIO to maintain Service Family Accommodation (SFA) across its Central and Northern regions.
The contracts, which fall under the Regional Accommodation Maintenance Services (RAMS) element of the Future Defence Infrastructure Services (FDIS) will run for seven years with an option to extend for an additional three. In addition to the core services, which include housing maintenance, the contracts will deliver improvement projects and refurbishment work to approximately 25,000 properties.
The contract award follows Amey successfully delivering maintenance solutions under National Housing Prime - procured under the Next Generation Estates contract in 2014. Amey’s defence team will work with the DIO to provide enhanced services, as outlined within the new FDIS requirement, through collaborative working and improved data management.
RAMS will support more than 500 jobs within Amey and its key supply chain partners in both the Central and Northern regions. New ways of working will provide opportunities for flexible employment, meaning members of the military community, parents, and carers will be able to access jobs. This will translate into more choice and flexibility for people living in SFA.
Craig McGilvray, Managing Director of Amey Secure Infrastructure, said: “We recognise the important role housing plays to military personnel and are committed to providing an enhanced service that not only improves living standards but contributes to thriving communities.
“Supporting and sustaining regional and local supply chain partners remains a core part of Amey’s agenda and we are pleased that our delivery model will support specialist contractors across Britain including Northern Ireland.”
Air Commodore James Savage, DIO Head of Accommodation, said: “Accommodation is such an important part of family life for Servicemen and women, which is why we collaborated closely with representatives of our Service personnel and their families to develop these contracts and ensure that their needs are fully considered.
“These new contracts offer the opportunity to break decisively from the past and to build on the commitments made by all suppliers to innovate and deliver more responsive and flexible services to the Armed Forces and their families.”
This month VIVO Defence Services (VIVO), a 50/50 Joint Venture between Serco, the international provider of services to governments, and ENGIE were awarded contracts to provide asset and facilities management services for the UK Defence built estate by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO).
VIVO has been awarded contracts for two of the four regions being tendered under Lot 3 of the Future Defence Infrastructure Services (FDIS) programme. VIVO will be responsible for providing services in the South West and Central regions of the UK, the largest two regions of the four that were competed, and which represent around 2/3rds of the MOD’s estimated value of Lot 3 of the Future Defence Infrastructure Services contracts.
The total core contract value to VIVO for the two regions is estimated to be around £900m over the initial seven-year period. There are a further three one-year extension options. In addition to the core fixed price contract for each region, there will be significant amounts of additional project work, which will be commissioned as required by the DIO. The Ministry of Defence estimates that they are likely to be worth a further £2.5bn over the initial seven-year term.