Any town regeneration or climate action programme requires the involvement of local people, not only for delivery and long-term support, but also to ensure that the right needs and aspirations are being identified and met. A certain amount of connection can be created through publicity, but there is also a value in a network approach, with people in a particular group reaching out to others of the same like, for example local businessmen spreading the word to other businesses.
Involving local people can also be achieved through a public survey, which can help provide missing data not found from other sources. The focus of the surveys (one for residents, one for local businesses) should be on gathering as much missing data as possible – not least because continuous surveys can lead to “consultation fatigue” and progressively fewer responses – while allowing people some space at the end of each survey form to make any further suggestions. Local people can also be given the opportunity to share their contact details to receive further information as a town project progresses, using an email system such as Mailchimp which reflects data protection regulations in the way it operates.
There is a range of community engagement techniques that may be used to connect with people face-to-face. These include community workshops to discuss key local issues, “walking workshops” in the form of a tour of the local area, exhibitions of emerging ideas with a board for posting comments, and talks on specialist topics by professional experts. The choice of approach will depend on local circumstances, but every event will need an “animator” to manage the discussion and produce notes afterwards.
Equally vital to the initial outreach is a regular point of contact for people to call and visit to gather information or exchange ideas, so their involvement can be further encouraged. A phone number and email address can be set up to receive messages, and to develop local confidence it will be important to respond to each contact. Social media such as a Facebook page and also a website are valuable tools for sharing information and displaying progress.