Documenting and reporting on community engagement can be an extremely rewarding exercise to ensure that your development project addresses the local context and that the benefits of the project are fully appraised. Even on standard projects, seeing community engagement as an opportunity to learn ensures that your project makes a valued contribution to the local built environment.
Reporting on community engagement then fills an important role for capturing lessons learned.
You may ask what makes a good Statement of Community Involvement? PlaceChangers researched the Statements of Community Involvement for residential planning applications to understand good practice when it comes to pulling your SCIs together.
What is a Statement of Community Involvement?
For clarification, in England, an SCI is required under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act (2004) and there are two different kinds to consider.
The first is what local authorities are required to produce to define how they would engage on planning policy and how they want developers to engage.
The second is what is produced by developers to document engagement that has occurred before submission of a major planning application. That is sometimes also referred to as ‘pre-planning engagement.’
Undertaking community engagement is generally good practice, but not necessarily always legally required. Read our article to understand when you are legally obliged to submit a SCI with your application.
A developers’ Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) is a crucial document for your planning application. The report needs to document the activities performed to engage and more importantly, the response obtained from stakeholders and the local community.
In doing so, reporting on engagement activities is an exercise for the project owner to revisit the designs and strengthen the fit of the proposal to the local area.
Six tips for a robust Statements for Community Involvement
Our review of eight master planned residential schemes showed a wide diversity in levels of effort to engage in both types of SCI. Despite the varying ways of presentation and volume of content, the following tips tend to characterise better quality SCIs:
Design and layout
Consider format and style of the document based on the purpose of the report that you aim to achieve. A document built around the narrative of the engagement activities can be of great interest to the public and be used as a way to advertise the project itself.
Especially for larger projects, where it counts to communicate with wide audiences, illustrating your points beyond plain text will prompt intrigue and can highlight facts you want to stand out.
Do you need to follow branding or a colour scheme? Will you include graphs and tables to showcase statistics and findings in a more aesthetically-pleasing way?
Below are two examples of SCIs that serve different purposes.
Report as comprehensive story
Example from 500+ homes Chapelgarth project (Urbed on behalf of Siglion)
Report by the facts
Example from 500+ homes Wawne Road project (id planning on behalf of Strata Homes)
Readability and visual aids
The language you use should be easy to understand, especially if the SCI is used as a public-facing document. Your community should be able to read what has been proposed and digest any points that are made.
By using too much technical jargon, you run the risk of excluding people who you are trying to engage with.
Use of illustrations and images throughout helps to make the document come to life.
Example from 500+ homes Chapelgarth project (Urbed on behalf of Siglion). This example provides a visual timeline on how feedback from engagement activities was used to rework the emerging master plan layout.
Understanding of the audience
In terms of substance, effective documentation of who has been spoken to helps to demonstrate the scope and scale of the audience and demonstrates a robust approach.
Good questions to ask
Example from Carlton Village Phase 1, ±50 homes (Hellens Group)
Inclusion of choices
Productive reports reflect on the scope of change that was possible in advance to community engagement and reflected on feedback in relation to those choices. Community engagement becomes effective and reports that consider choices on offer become powerful conversational tools.
For example, the SCI below offered a selection of layouts for the eventual site, which proved decisive for the further evolution of the design.
Reporting on choices
Example from Carlton Village Phase 1, ±50 homes (Hellens Group)
While most respondents were against new development, a clear preference for the eventual site layout could be established. This kind of feedback supports effective community engagement.
Focus on outcomes
The key focus of both the engagement activity outcomes and your development should be clear from the outset.
Ideally the document will balance equally between descriptions of the project and the matters that arose from public engagement.
It should communicate what details have been captured and how this information was used to understand your audience.
Well balanced reports
Example from Carlton Village Phase 1, ±50 homes (Hellens Group). Ratio of results pages to rest of document was 5:3. Meaning that the report mostly worked through the responses received.
An example of a report that balances project context with a well-balanced reflection on the material matters the engagement offered.
Less balanced reports
Example from 1000+ homes Dissington Garden Village (Local Dialogue on behalf of Lugano Group). Here the ratio of results pages to rest of the report was 1:11 despite the sheer scale of what is proposed.
Despite extensive activities, the report only mentions two responses on one page, communicating doubt about the effectiveness of engagement.
Note: the proposal got rejected.
Clear on the matters that arose
Identify and break down key themes that arose from the engagement activities and the likely actions they identify what has happened in response to feedback.
By responding to concerns raised, you will demonstrate a robust design process and install trust and respect to the place where you build.
Clear summary of themes
Example from 50-home Grange Road scheme (Lichfields on behalf of Bellway). Table or subheadings with individual concerns raised help to understand the concerns raised and demonstrate which ones could be addressed and which ones could not.
Developing effective engagement reports
Engagement reports differ widely in terms of appearance, and content. The more your SCI gives insight on the substance of responses received, the higher the chances to demonstrate a robust design process.
While there is more scope for engagement that affects the design in large projects, even smaller-scale projects benefit from a robust approach that flags up key themes and provides responses.
Ask yourself what purpose you want your SCI to serve and what stakeholder engagement was for? A very short and concise summary with pointed detail communicates a professional style may be better suited to a submission for a small-scale major scheme. For large schemes which affect diverse stakeholder groups, consider the SCI as a piece that speaks back to the concerns of those groups.
A clear coherent design combined with demonstration of outcomes communicates trust and demonstrates a sophisticated design process. To achieve this, it pays when the architect, planning consultant, and the project owner collaborate on the analysis of responses and the writing of the SCI.
For more information on how to create robust SCIs with our easy-to-use online engagement platform, get in touch with us for a demo or a free trial.