Evaluating the European Citizens’ Consultations

The Democratic Society and European Policy Centre recently published a report evaluating the European Citizens’ Consultations process.

The report includes contributions from members of the European Citizens’ Consultations Civil Society Network that was established in March 2018 to monitor the process and make recommendations for future pan-European consultation processes.

“Rethinking the manner in which we do democracy and finding 21st century appropriate ways to translate our democratic goals into practice is likely to be a long and hard struggle. But it has to begin somewhere, and the ECCs are a good place to start.”

The European Citizens’ Consultations (ECCs) were a project aiming to improve the quality of democracy at the EU level.  They were formed of two strands:

Our evaluation report presents the results of the research and analysis carried out by the Network over the past seven months, as well as a number of recommendations for how to capitalise on the current round of ECCs and how to improve the way they could be executed in the future. 

Three major themes became clear in the reports recommendations: 

  • Communication is key. There needs to be greater clarity around projects of this nature, both in the process and the aims and outcomes. There needs to be strong advertisement of the process as it cannot fulfill its potential if there is low public awareness.
  • There must be a balance between focusing on national issues and EU level issues, to properly inform and engage citizens.
  • It’s important to follow up on the process. Suggestions included pushing for public synthesis of results and an additional Citizens’ Panel to properly complete the process.

We intend to continue conversations about the learning from the European Citizens’ Consultations in 2019 and to use this experience as a starting point for further discussion about increasing citizen participation, and encouraging a culture of openness in and around the European institutions and at the national level in member states. 

Find the full report, executive summary and infographics here: http://www.epc.eu/pub_details.php?cat_id=1&pub_id=8839 

Read more about Demsoc’s involvement in this project here: https://www.demsoc.org/projects/ecc/ 

If you have any questions or want more information about this report, please contact Beth Wiltshire (European Programmes Officer) at beth@demsoc.org

How councils & community organisations in Scotland can use digital participatory budgeting

The Democratic Society is helping councils and communities in Scotland to hold participatory budgeting processes online.

What is participatory budgeting? 

Try the 60-second guide at PB Scotland

Our work is part of a national programme to help more people take part in decisions about how public money is spent in their communities. 

The support we can offer

If you’re part of a community organisation with Community Choices funding, or a council looking to do digital participatory budgeting, we can help with:

  • Access to a digital PB tool – to host your participatory budgeting process. You will be able to invite people to propose ideas, discuss them together and vote on them, all online.
  • Support from our digital engagement team in how to make the most out of digital PB and how to make it a natural part of how you do participation.

See this page for more information about the programme:

Reflections From Around the World on Participatory Budgeting

The International Observatory on Participatory Democracy is a worldwide network of local government and other interested researchers and practitioners interested in developing a more participatory form of local democracy. This year their conference was in Barcelona and we used the opportunity to run a workshop exploring people’s experiences of Participatory Budgeting, considering how this technique can best be used, and what its limitations are.

We started by trying to draw some lessons from the demise,and suspension, of PB in the city were it first started: Porto Alegre. From this we asked participants to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of PB.

 What key explanations have been given for the demise of PB in Porto Alegre?

  • A lack of project implementation, with a backlog of uncompleted projects having built up. This was partly linked with a centralisation of funds away from the city.
  • Capture of the process. Part of the process involved electing citizen representatives to set the rules for PB. Over time these representatives started to alter rules to suit their own position.
  • A lack of transparency standards. Over time the budget information provided to participants became less thorough; there were no agreed standards to protect against this.
  • A lack of political will. This was partly associated with a shift towards looking for delivery partners in communities, rather than involving communities in priority-setting.
  • Difficulty including larger-scale projects. PB was mainly focussed on local infrastructure spending, and struggled to move into other issues.

After presenting this picture, we worked with participants to map out some of the strengths and weaknesses of PB. Below are some of the points discussed.

What are the strengths of PB?

  • It can, with enough effort and resource, reach groups who are traditionally less likely to participate.
  • Where based on deliberation, it can help people step in each other’s shoes and realise the diversity of outlooks and needs in their community. These interactions can strengthen communities.
  • It can make room for deliberation and the reaching of compromises, as in the Antwerp process. (There is a description of this process in Flemish here, we hope to share a case study about this in the near future).
  • As a regular annual process PB gives an opportunity to learn about what approaches work more or less well and make improvements in an iterative way.
  • It gives participants real decision-making power.
  • Participants can see really tangible outcomes of their involvement, within a much shorter timeframe than many other political processes.

What are the limitations of PB?

  • The cost of doing PB well is high, once you factor in things like the cost of facilitators.
  • Being set up to implement whichever projects are chosen also places considerable demands on organisations, who must be able to adapt.
  • People often come with their own pet projects,and aren’t keen to engage with other ideas. A more deliberative approach can help tackle this, though doesn’t remove it completely.
  • There are risks of just reaching the ‘usual suspects’, who are already good at raising their voice. However, there are ways of tackling this, and PB can be a way or reaching beyond these groups. For instance, Antwerp asked unrepresented groups what the barriers were and after discovering that uncertainty was a major deterrent went to great lengths to explain how events would work and even put on dry-run rehearsals so that people were more confidant taking part in the real decision-making sessions. 
  • The preference of the majority can, nonetheless,be very negative for those in the minority. A new sports facility might be great for most people, but could have really negative impacts like noise and light pollution for its immediate neighbours. Giving people negative, as well as positive, votes is one way of trying to mitigate against this. One case was mentioned where adding negative votes took a proposal from being the third most popular right down to the mid-50s.

Hopefully these comments will have spurred some reflections of your own. Feel free to add your own reflections in the comments. If you’d like to speak to us further about PB please contact hanne@demsoc.org or mat@demsoc.org

Key sources:

‘Porto Alegre, From Role Model to Crisis’. In: Hope for Democracy, 30 years of PB worldwide: http://www.academia.edu/37469402/Porto_Alegre_from_a_role_model_to_a_crisis

Porto Alegre: PB and the Challenge of Sustaining Transformative Change (World Resources Report) : https://wriorg.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/wrr-case-study-porto-alegre_0.pdf?_ga=2.93175645.1196892397.1543043396-497286152.1543043396

Just Space: Empowering Voices in London

As part of our Space in Common project we’ve been looking at how to make debates about the future shape of GreaterManchester into more inclusive and constructive conversations. At our latest workshop we were fortunate to hear from Richard Lee, coordinator of Just Space about their inspiring experiences in Greater London.

What is Just Space and what makes them special?

Just Space describes itself as ‘a community-led network of voluntary and action groups’ who come together to speak with a louder voice on decisions about how Greater London is developed.

Their emphasis is on supporting communities to speak up, rather than speaking for them. They gather evidence from the local level and feed this into policy debates at a strategic Greater-London-wide level.

Rather than just talking about ‘planning’ they recognise that planning decisions at this scale touch on so many other topics and talk about the issues that matter most to people.

They aim to work in a ‘horizontal’ way, for instance they don’t have an elected committee. Naturally those more involved have more influence so they emphasise the importance of using this to amplify the voices of others. Continuing to get new people involved has been crucial to ensuring it’s not just a network for the already active. For instance, they always aim to ensure that a good number of speakers at community conferences are new to the movement. The Just Space seat at public hearings on the London Plan is reserved for those unable to take part in the formal process. In their experience disagreement isn’t as much of a barrier as it might seem, there is much that unites communities on these topics, and they focus on where there is consensus(interestingly for Greater Manchester Greenbelt development was an issue where this hasn’t been achieved).

How did Just Space come about?

A key development was three main organisations working together informally: The London Tenants Federation; The London Civic Forum, and The London Social Forum. They worked together informally in response to the London Plan, along with some other organisations, then formed a network out of this.

One thing that made a difference was that the London Plan had to be examined at public hearings before the Planning Inspectorate, an organisation separate to local government who could call for revisions. This was an appealing prospect for those frustrated by responding to consultations without knowing whether they would really be listened to or not.

Following the Examination in Public on the London Plan the then London Mayor decided to grant fund the emerging Just Space network in recognition that they’d managed to bring new people into the room who didn’t normally engage on planning matters.

What has helped them grow and succeed?

As well as bringing new voices into debates Just Space have also seen policy debates shift overtime on many of the issues that they’ve campaigned on. So, what has helped them to succeed?

Over time they’ve become recognised for their expertise about planning policy at this strategic level, in a context where few other organisations are looking at this scale. As they’ve learnt who to speak to within the Greater London Authority on these matters, this has helped attract more people to get involved with them.

It’s easy to burn-out when spending all your time in a reactive mode, responding to consultations often without success. Instead Just Space have had an emphasis on being proactive and creative. Their relationship with University College London has been a big part of this. Universities are always looking for project work, JustSpace are able to approach them with projects they need their help on. The communities Just Space work with are often ‘over-researched’ but Just Space take a different approach. They involve communities in steering these projects,and the communities get something from the projects rather than researcher just coming with their own agenda.

Recently they’ve started to think more about how what happens in London affects other parts of the country, and to take the message of their way of organising to other places.

What projects have Just Space helped make happen?

Examples of projects that Just Space have helped initiate include:

  • Developing training in Social Impact Assessment within a postgraduate course at UCL. This was a response to the lack of social impact assessment in planning decisions and focusses on enabling communities to conduct this kind of study.
  • ‘Just Map’. This mapping project plots 250 community organisations, alongside statements of their purpose obtained through interviews. It also shows community assets under threat, which helped improve awareness of many BME community centres that previously suffered from a lack of visibility.
  • A community-led plan for Greater London (see below).

A community-led plan for Greater London

The decision to take this proactive step was partly borne out of frustration at their opposition to plans being ignored because they were too radical to be considered as a change to the proposals being put forward. The election of a new London Mayor in 2016 was also seen as a good time to put this vision forward.

This proactive step was only taken after several years working together during which time the network had built trust in each other and developed strong links into communities.

Conferences were held on the plan, out of which working groups were formed to develop individual parts. No-one was brought in to write it, but instead the network collectively drafted this. Through the process new people became interested in the network and what they were doing.

You can find out more about Just Space through their website. If you’d like to know more about Space inCommon, or are interested in taking part in these workshops please contact mat@demsoc.org

Uguaglianza di genere: di chi è la battaglia?

By Francesca Attolino

Al Forum Mondiale per la Democrazia del 2018, tenutosi a Strasburgo dal 19 al 21 novembre, ho incontrato una brillante giovane donna. È islandese, ha 24 anni, è una politica e sostiene di dover ringraziare le quote per la sua presenza in politica e al Forum. E lei era nel posto giusto, perché il Forum era incentrato sulla partecipazione pubblica, politica ed economica delle donne e sulla lotta alla violenza contro le donne sulla scia del movimento #MeToo.

È stato un onore e una reale opportunità di partecipazione, anche se è molto triste che l’uguaglianza di genere debba ancora essere difesa pubblicamente.
Ora, la domanda da porci è: quali sono le chiavi per promuovere il cambiamento?

Il linguaggio è di certo una di queste. In Italia, stiamo cercando di ridefinire i titoli di lavoro, per garantire che un ‘avvocato’ possa essere descritto anche come donna (Avvocato – Avvocata), e viceversa per le posizioni di segretario. La lingua inglese è neutrale rispetto al genere nella sua concezione, ma l’italiano e il francese non lo sono. Durante il forum ci sono state proposte interessanti sul linguaggio come il passare da “droits de l’homme” a “droits humains” o parlare di “giustizia di genere” al posto della più usata “uguaglianza di genere”. L’uguaglianza di genere non riguarda solo l’equità. La rappresentanza e l’impegno delle donne sono la chiave per maggiore uguaglianza, sviluppo, crescita e pace in tutta la società.

La seconda è la maternità, l’elefante nella stanza di qualsiasi discussione di genere. Marlène Schiappa, si occupa di parità tra donne e uomini nel governo francese e ha preso parte anche al forum. Mi sono sentita profondamente ispirata, poiché una parte del suo discorso era sull’idea che la maternità non sia concepita come una mancanza – data da alcuni mesi di stop – ma come un vantaggio, un master. Essere madre significa avere capacità organizzative e progettuali, capacità motivazionali, essere una professionista delle risorse umane. Si tratta di lavoro di squadra e leadership, include energia e sacrifici, perseveranza, gestione del rischio e molte altre cose. Per questo vale la pena guardare questo video di soli 3 minuti, perché riformula qualcosa che pensavamo fosse superato.
Come possiamo riuscire a raggiungere l’uguaglianza di genere e quali sono le misure più efficaci nei suoi confronti? Direi che abbiamo almeno tre modi per raggiungere questo traguardo, ma è fondamentale portarli avanti contemporaneamente.

– Formazione scolastica

– Capacity building e leadership: dall’empowerment al potere

– Misure temporanee

L’educazione non ha bisogno di introduzioni o spiegazioni. È necessario educare le nuove generazioni di ragazze e ragazzi senza stereotipi, con un forte senso di rispetto e solidarietà. Abbiamo bisogno di insegnanti e professori impegnati e ben informati sulla causa. Dovremmo essere tutti consapevoli del fatto che il genere è un tema intersettoriale e trasversale e che dobbiamo adottare e integrare la prospettiva di genere nella vita di tutti i giorni. Il genere può essere visto come qualcosa legato alla politica e alla rappresentazione, ma è anche fondamentale per l’economia, la scienza, l’elaborazione delle politiche, la qualità della democrazia, l’inclusività, la crescita e la pace.

Il rafforzamento delle capacità riguarda l’opportunità di sviluppare nuove competenze, di sfidare l’attuale leadership e politica, entrambe tipicamente costruite su una prospettiva maschile. Storicamente, le donne parlavano meno degli uomini – almeno in occasioni pubbliche! – ma questo ci ha dato la possibilità di diventare ottime ascoltatrici, e l’ascolto ci porta a prendere decisioni migliori. Ascoltare, ad esempio, è la chiave per la democrazia partecipativa e l’impegno dei cittadini. Michelle Bachelet una volta disse che quando una donna entra in politica, la sua vita cambia. Quando più donne entrano in politica, è la politica a cambiare. Sono sicura che possiamo estendere questa frase a tutti i campi: una volta che le donne saranno ugualmente rappresentate in ogni campo, daranno un forte valore aggiunto all’equazione generale.

Infine, le misure temporanee. Sono spesso – erroneamente – associate all’ideologia politica e alla polarizzazione. Dovrebbero, invece, essere introdotte in modo unilaterale per promuovere e accelerare la strada verso una partecipazione equilibrata di uomini e donne. Le misure temporanee (le più diffuse sono le quote ma non sono le uniche!) devono essere in vigore per un periodo di tempo che sia breve e definito. Ancor più importante devono essere concepite come il primo passo di un progetto più ampio per raggiungere l’uguaglianza di genere, il cosiddetto meccanismo di applicazione.

Questi non sono elementi teorici o dogmatici. La giovane donna che ho incontrato al Forum era lì grazie a cambiamenti culturali come questi. Aveva bisogno delle quote per sperimentare e conoscere la politica e avere l’opportunità di spingere per il suo paese e per l’Europa. Senza di loro, l’Islanda avrebbe perso un’occasione meravigliosa per essere rinnovata e ispirata dalla mente di queste ragazze.

Voglio per il mio paese esattamente la stessa opportunità. Voglio essere rappresentata da una donna, da una giovane donna, dalle sue conoscenze e abilità, dalla sua intelligenza emotiva, dalla sua volontà di fare il meglio che può.

Quindi, tornando al titolo “Uguaglianza di genere: di chi è la battaglia?”, vi dico: questa è la mia battaglia, la tua battaglia, la nostra battaglia. Questa è la battaglia dell’umanità e tutti noi dobbiamo stare insieme, alzarci e lottare.

Gender equality: whose battle?

By Francesca Attolino

At the World Forum for Democracy 2018, held in Strasbourg on November 19-21, I met a smart young woman. She is Icelandic, 24 years old, a politician, and she claims she has quotas to thank for her presence in politics and at the Forum. And she was in the right place, because the Forum centred around women’s public, political and economic participation, and combating violence against women in the wake of #MeToo.

It was an honour and a real opportunity to participate, even if it is very sad gender equality is still needs to be defended so publicly. The question is now, what are the keys to fostering change?
Language is one of them. In Italy, we are redefining job titles, to ensure a ‘lawyer’ can be described as female too (e.g. Avvocato – Avvocata), and vice versa for the secretary positions. English language is gender neutral in its conception, but Italian and French are not. During the Forum there were interesting proposals concerning languages such as shifting from “droits de l’homme” to “droits humains” or talking about “gender justice” instead of the most commonly used “gender equality”. Gender equality is not only about fairness. Women representation and engagement is key to greater equality, development, growth and peace across society.

A second one is maternity, as the elephant in the room of any gender discussion. Marlène Schiappa, serves as the Secretary of Equality between women and men in the French Government, and was speaking at the Forum as well. I felt deeply inspired, as her speech laid out the idea that maternity should not be conceived of as a gap, but as a plus, a master. Being a mother means having organisation and planning skills, motivational skills, being an HR professional. It is is about team work and leadership, energy and sacrifices, perseverance, risk management and a lot of other things. This video is worth 3 minutes of your time, because it reframes something we thought was so stubbornly fixed.

How can we succeed in reaching gender equality, and what are the most effective measures towards it? I would say that we have at least three ways to reach this ambition, but we have to use them all simultaneously.

– Education

– Capacity building and leadership, from empowerment to power

– Temporary measures

Education is self-evident. We need to raise new generations of young girls and boys without stereotypes, with a strong sense of respect and solidarity. We need teachers and professors committed and knowledgeable about the cause. We should all be aware that gender is an intersectional and crosscutting theme, and we need to adopt and mainstream the gender perspective in every day life. Gender may be seen as something related to politics and representation, but it is also fundamental to economics, science, policy making, the quality of democracy, inclusiveness, growth and peace.

Capacity building is about the opportunity to develop new skills, to challenge the actual leadership and politics, both typically built on a male perspective. Historically, women spoke less than men did – at least in public occasions! – but this gave us the chance to become very good listeners, and listening produces better decisions. Listening, for instance, is key to participatory democracy and citizens’ engagement. Michelle Bachelet once said that when a woman enters politics, her life changes. When more women enter politics, politics changes. I am sure we can extend this to all fields; once women will be equally represented in every field, they will strongly add value to the general equation.

Finally, temporary measures. They are often – incorrectly – associated with political ideology and polarization. They should be introduced in a unilateral way to promote and accelerate the road to a balance participation of men and women. Temporary measures, the best-known ones being quotas, must be in place for a short and defined period of time. And must be conceived as the first step of a bigger and wider plan to reach gender equality, the so-called enforcement mechanism.

These are not theoretical or dogmatic line items. The young lady I met at the Forum was there because of cultural changes like these. She needed them to experience politics, and to have the opportunity to push for her country and for Europe. Without them, Iceland would have lost a wonderful occasion to be renewed and to be inspired by this girls’ mind.

I want for my country exactly the same. I want to be represented by a woman, by a young woman, by her knowledge and skills, by her emotional intelligence, by her willingness to do the best she can.

So, coming back to the title “Gender Equality: whose battle?”, this is my battle, your battle, this is mankind’s battle and we need to stand together and fight for it.

Three things to do on democracy for the information age

I spent the last couple of days at the EU’s Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights. It was an interesting exchange of views, but I have to confess that by the end my horizons had been opened up so wide by stories of big data, big platforms and deep fakes that I was desperate to bring it back down to actions and basics. So when it came my turn to speak, in the last session, on the topic of “Free and fair elections and an informed and pluralistic democratic debate”. This is (roughly) what I said:

I want to start from something that Tanit Koch said, “We shouldn’t take human nature out of the equation”. I’d go even further. When we’re thinking about these huge issues such as disinformation, big platforms and big data, we should start from human nature and the human condition.

People are generally stressed out and time poor, I know I am. They don’t have time to read and process information in a structured way, and how we think about information and democracy has to take account of that fact. People are not “dessiccated calculating machines”. They are warm, illogical, emotional beings, and making democracy work better isn’t just a question of putting better information in and getting better information out.

The three practical things that I want to suggest are:

Show a story that is rooted in citizen voice. The age of unquestioned institutional trust is gone. The age of quiet acquiescence is going. People are not going to have trust in political information or narratives that they don’t have a chance to shape, and that don’t speak to their emotions and ambitions. That doesn’t mean oversimplifying, and it doesn’t mean avoiding the trade-offs, and it doesn’t mean referendums on every topic. It means showing your work from the start and involving people in shaping the choices that you make, demonstrating transparency and making the trade-offs clear, from before the policy is decided, to after the law is implemented.

First Vice President Timmermans said in the opening session – we have to distinguish myths from facts. As social media platforms are beginning to fragment, and the rise of deep fake makes information less and less reliable, that is going to become harder and harder.

Trust is going to be the most important commodity. This should be good news for institutions with strong brands and reputations but they can’t just rely on it. They have to show that they are trustworthy. It means taking on ideas like Marietje Schaake’s for information watermarks on government publications. That can work for some content.

At local and citizen level it will mean creating participation and engagement methods that can be trusted both by governments and by citizens – peer to peer as well as up and down.

When we’re doing this work, we have to mindfully build a democracy that looks like the internet, not like Facebook. We’re at a moment when democratic initiatives have to move from standalone projects that start and stop into systemic transformations that start and continue. We need to ensure that as new approaches to democracy are built into governing systems, they learn and support each other, and that local, national and European scale initiatives can connect up. That’s a task for European institutions, but also for local and national civil society.”

It was an interesting session to be part of – my favourite story was the Dutch organisation DROG who run the “Bad News Game” which trains young people to create viral fake news stories so they can recognise the markers of them later on. Great idea!

Thanks to DG Justice for inviting us.

How Does Greater Manchester Decide What Gets Built Where; and How Does Your Voice Fit In?

Through the Space in Common project we are using a series of workshops to learn how we create more constructive and inclusive conversations about what gets built where in Greater Manchester and beyond. In our latest workshop we were fortunate to have a planner from a local council present to talk us through how this works at the moment, and what it looks like from the inside. This blog shares what we learnt.

Deciding how Greater Manchester Takes Shape: How it works

  • Central government publishes a National Planning Policy Framework that sets out the government’s planning rules. It’s a short document but this means there’s quite a lot in the footnotes. Legal precedents are also quite important in this country.
  • Each of the ten Greater Manchester councils produces a Local Plan setting out how they want their area as a whole to take shape. These plans (and so the planning decisions that are informed by them) have to conform with the government’s planning rules. The government’s view is that these Local Plans are needed to make sure that local areas plan to make enough new housing. If councils don’t produce or review plans quickly enough, there are threats of government intervention
  • ‘Local planning authorities’ (such as Greater Manchester’s ten borough councils) make decisions on planning applications. The system is ‘plan-led’ – i.e. the policies in the Local Plan are the starting point for making these decisions. The biggest planning applications are usually decided by the Planning Committee, but most applications are delegated to council officers to decide on.
  • There are lots of things to think about that stretch across council boundaries, and lots of things where acting together makes sense in a large conurbation like Greater Manchester – such as overall strategy, the distribution of new housing, and the infrastructure to support this . Because of this the ten councils in Greater Manchester are working together on a Spatial Framework, which is a kind of Local Plan that they are required by law to make. The ten councils and the Greater Manchester Mayor have to unanimously agree on this plan for it to happen.

The History of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework

  • The first draft of Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework was developed by the ten Greater Manchester councils, and subject to a major public consultation exercise. There were 27,000 responses to this Spatial Framework, many from individuals and groups opposing the release of green belt land for development.
  • The consultation preceded the election of Greater Manchester’s first elected Mayor, Andy Burnham. In his election campaign Andy committed to a ‘radical rewrite’ of the Spatial Framework.
  • The ten councils and Mayor Andy Burnham are now drawing up a revised draft Spatial Framework for Greater Manchester, which will require the unanimous agreement of the Mayor and the ten council leaders. They also have stick to the rules laid out in the National Planning Policy Framework, including for calculating how many new homes to plan for.

What this System Looks Like in Practice

There is scope for the mayor and ten councils to decide what they deal with through a Greater-Manchester-wide plan, and what they deal within in individual Local Plans. The decision was made that the Spatial Framework should focus on strategic planning issues, and that decisions about releasing greenbelt land to meet needs for housing and employment should be made at this Greater-Manchester-wide level, rather than through individual Local Plans.

Reaching agreement between all ten councils and the mayor is potentially difficult. Local areas come with their own unique needs, and have their own focus on what is important and what is not.

While there are rules laid out by central government, these still leave significant scope to use plans to shape and develop policy within Greater Manchester to meet real needs and to make sure that the city region develops in the right way through to the end of the 2030’s.

Within councils and at the level of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority there are only limited numbers of planning staff available to draw up plans. Developers and landowners can make a lot of money from favourable decisions about what gets built where. Because of this they invest time and resources in scrutinising council plans and coming up with strategies for challenging them. There is a challenge for the Greater Manchester councils, Combined Authority and Mayor to ensure enough resource is put into developing a Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and Local Plans that are well-enough evidenced to stand up to examination by an independent inspector.

Where the Voice of the Public Fits In

Local Planning Authorities have to produce a Statement of Community Involvement, which sets out how they will involve the community in planning decisions. Each of the ten councils in Greater Manchester has one of these, and each is different. They all go beyond the legal minimum requirements for consultation, but they are all different. The Spatial Framework consultation has to be consistent across Greater Manchester, and consistent with each council’s Statements of Community Involvement.

Effectively reaching out to the community and getting their input into plans is time consuming and resource intensive, and councils have very limited resource . Generally, landowners, developers and special interests will respond to strategic issues, but members of the public are unlikely to respond unless there are specific proposals which are seen to be controversial at the local level. During the first consultation on the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework lots of people wrote replies rather than submitting these online, because they thought these would be given more attention. This made for much more work as people had to be employed to scan these responses and remove personally identifiable information before putting them online.

Public discussion of planning decisions is mainly based on opposition to particular developments. Everyone recognises that people need homes, but those living close to a proposal will be concerned about its local impact. It can be hard to discuss the longer term in this context. Neighbourhood Planning is an attempt to do things differently, where local communities themselves proactively decide how they want their area to take shape, although in doing so they also have to accept that housing is needed and that planning for this involves making often difficult choices.


After listening to this insight, we asked participants at the workshop to share their thoughts about the topic. You can see some of the key points they told us in this blog post.

This is part of a series of workshops on this topic. You can express interest in taking part in our next workshop through the Eventbrite page or by contacting mat@demsoc.org . You can also click the following link to find out more about the Space in Common project.

[Image by XAndreWx  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manchester_Skyline.jpg ]


Helping Communities Shape What Gets Built Where: What Needs to Change?

Through the Space in Common project we are using a series of workshops to learn how we create more constructive and inclusive conversations about what gets built where in Greater Manchester and beyond. At each of these we have brought together a group of people interested in the topic from a range of different angles.

In our latest workshop we were fortunate to have a planner from a local council to talk us through how this works at the moment, and what it looks like from the inside. You can see what we learnt through a separate blogpost. Having heard their insight we asked our diverse group of workshop participants to reflect on public involvement on public involvement in shaping the future shape of our cities, and what needs to change.  Here are some of the key points we learnt:

Developers have much more resource than councils. This means that developers are in the driving seat of planning, and under-resourced planners within councils can’t get on top. The challenge of achieving cooperation across the mayor and ten districts within Greater Manchester adds to the challenge. It’s in this challenging environment that planners are struggling to work better with local residents.

Political considerations can be a barrier to better decision-making. Some councils are too politically scared to make hard decisions about the future of their places. Sometimes politicians have their own plans and aren’t interested in the views of residents. Election cycles can also be a barrier to working over a period of time with residents. Other forms of ‘political’ cycle such as funding cycles can also be a barrier.

Engagement is currently based too much on consulting on plans, rather than developing plans by working with communities from an early stage. Consultation is often just about going through the motions. Too often it just involves stakeholders that the council is already aware of. There is a lack of capacity and skills in councils to engage with, and work with, communities. The level of anger sometimes received puts councils off engaging, but they need to find a way through in spite of this.  One way of motivating councils to engage better could be giving councils funding only if they meet certain standards of public engagement, similar to an approach used by Historic England.

Planning is currently very regulated, structured and legalistic and doesn’t allow for a holistic approach to issues. Engagement should be focussed on having conversations about the vision for a place before detailed plans are put in place. This is better than having an adversarial clash between developers and residents later on. It’s currently hard to look at the bigger picture within discussions of planning, such as how to design for a post-car society or create housing suitable for a society with changing demographics.

There are examples out there of working with communities to make plans, rather than consulting on the end result. There are planners and architects already working in this way. Local access forums, the Beelines cycling lanes project, and the Mayfield development were cited as positive examples. Neighbourhood Planning was seen as another example of this. Often these examples are about the local level; it’s harder to involve people in conversations about a larger, more strategic, scale. To do this you have to find a way into the topic that interests people; a way of breaking it down into issues they care about.

It can be hard for residents to get through the jargon and process, and to get to grips with the evidence base involved. It feels like it’s assumed you already know all this stuff. Save Greater Manchester Greenbelt carried out research into how spatial planning works and cascaded this understanding through training sessions, but the work involved in getting to grips with this stuff was like a full-time job.

Currently some voices within communities are more likely to speak up than others, raising concerns about unequal impacts of planning decisions.

Where resources are created to inform engagement, these are often about working in an adversarial rather than a constructive way; based on campaigning against proposals rather than having better conversations about the future of places. More could be done to provide resources that are independent and encourage a more constructive conversation. Another option is providing independent ‘brokerage’ using methods like Citizens Juries to encourage deliberation about issues in a neutral space.


This workshop was part of a series on this topic. You can express interest in taking part in our next workshop through the Eventbrite page. You can also click the following link to find out more about the Space in Common project.

[Image from the 2016 Draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework]