Stick figures in various poses some of whom are using mobility equipment are represented against a blue background with white speech bubbles around them

Consultations are important: they’re an opportunity for local communities to have their say on proposals that will affect them, and to ensure that communities aren’t unnecessarily negatively affected. When done well, they make sure that the best version of a proposal is the one that is finally implemented, and that local infrastructure serves the needs of the people who live and work there. However, poorly managed, exclusionary consultations antagonise and divide communities, creating more problems than they solve. Here are our ‘Top 10 Tips’ for inclusive consultations – let us know what you think!

  1. Provide clear information for the people affected – what will happen, when, what the aims of the project are.
    • People need all the information about the whole project, not just part of it, in order to be able to comment on it and raise any issues.
    • Information on temporary disruption is important as well: if someone knows that certain routes will be inaccessible on certain days, they can plan round it in advance.
  1. Use a range of accessible formats – both in print and online.
    • Providing information is pointless if people cannot access the information.
    • Not everyone has internet access, and not all websites are readable by screen-readers or other accessibility software. Having a wide range of formats for providing information and receiving feedback allows a wider range of people to respond.
  1. Make sure people have accessed, understood, and been able to respond
    • Inclusive consultations are proactive: they don’t just offer information and hope people respond, they take steps to ensure that different groups of people have received and understood the information, and have provided a response – or consciously chosen not to do so.
  1. Contact under-represented groups directly
    • Under-represented socio-demographic groups – older generations, less economically secure communities, Disabled communities, BAME communities – are less likely to find and respond to consultations independently, and are may be less able to adapt to adverse changes, so steps should be taken to ensure that their perspectives are included.
  1. Ask open questions – start a conversation
    • ‘Closed’ questions – such as asking whether someone agrees or disagrees with a proposal – will only collect a limited about of information. They may indicate that there’s a problem with a proposal, but they give less information on what that problem is, and how it could be resolved.
    • They also create the impression that the decision has already been made, or that it’s a yes/no case – the local authority will either implement the project in full, or the project will be scrapped completely. There’s no room to develop a project to suit the wider community, or to start a conversation about what is needed locally; instead, it forces people to choose ‘sides’, creating division and antagonism.
  1. Learn from the experts
    • Local authorities, transport planners, highways engineers etc are knowledgeable about their field of expertise, but they’re not experts in every aspect of living in a specific build environment. Different demographic groups have particular needs, and different local contexts create specific issues, which local authorities and planners may not be aware of.
    • Local authorities and planners cannot be expected to be experts in every possible aspect of built environments – but they can be expected to find and consult people who are experts – and pay them for the expertise! There are Access Consultants who can provide expertise on making environments accessible for Disabled people – they should be consulted as a matter of course.
  1. Include on-site consultations
    • It can be hard to visualize the impact of a scheme from an architect’s plan or artist’s impression, and it can be easy to forget local problems which people have become used to dealing with. In-person tours of sites to explain proposed changes ensures that different people have fully understood the proposals, and can highlight or demonstrate the particular problems in different areas.
  1. Co-production – use what you’ve learnt
    • Consultations are meaningless unless the feedback received is used to improve the proposals. A consultation needs to be part of the ongoing development of a project, where the information provided by local communities is treated as a valuable source of data to make a possible draft proposal better. It should be the start of a conversation and a partership, not a request for local communities to give their approval to a predetermined plan.
  1. Evaluate and refine
    • Some ideas look like they will work on paper, but don’t work as neatly in practice. Similarly, some difficulties and problems get overlooked by planners and consultees at the design stage. Any inclusive consultation and planning should include the evaluation and adjustment of any projects to ensure that the best possible version of a proposal is made permanent.
  1. Leave room for people to raise the issues you didn’t know you needed to think about
    • It’s easy to ask the questions you think you need to know the answers to – but there’s likely to be a whole range of issues that you didn’t realise you needed to find out about. An inclusive consultation always leaves room for people to raise issues that haven’t been addressed elsewhere.
    • And on that note: what have we missed? Is there anything else that an inclusive consultation should include? Let us know in the comments below!

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