All planning discussions should decamp to the pub
Show a plan to someone and you'll get an opinion. You might not like it but accept the fact that your plan now has another dimension, feedback. Feedback is always valuable and its currency increases exponentially with depth and breadth of input. By this I mean a depth of demographics across a breadth of areas each giving you their own particular insight into your idea.
However, there's a way of pushing the value of feedback through the stratosphere which we don't often see in our country. You turn it into a conversation.
Conversations are brilliant. Sometimes pointless, sometimes heated, sometimes downright surreal but so many of them have lead to fantastic outcomes. The very web you are reading this upon came about because Tim Berners Lee was looking for a mechanic to share and converse about research data.
Add conversations to your plans and they will often be improved. Bright ideas evolve or snags are uncovered. Other plans spin off and sometimes opinions are changed radically by an unexpected view.
And where do we have great conversations? Well in the pub of course because it offers an environment where all are equal and all can (usually) get their point of view heard. Notwithstanding the fact that a dram or two can loosen the mind and the tongue. The best thing about pub conversations is that they follow no specified direction, they meander around opinions and input and are sometimes killed off by the bell. But this unstructured nature is what seeds the creativity and we should try and apply it elsewhere to see what can arise.
Brilliant, we're agreed that conversations are great. We'd like to have them all in the pub but some of them would need huge pubs with an eternal vat of beer. So what else can we do?
Planning consultation and the internet pub
We've spent some time looking at planning in our own town, specifically the residential planning process. The council publish plans and the public comment upon them. The comments are primarily objections or requests for clarification. There's not a lot of conversation going on and almost zero new ideas arising as a result.
We thought to ourselves "could this be changed?" and decided to have a go. We know that the current process is statutory and difficult to change and therefore decided to augment it instead. The whiteboard was wiped clean and several cases of donuts eaten and then we sat back to admire our work. We'd create a "Virtual Pub" for the discussion of planning applications.
Anyone can come into the pub and see what's going on, no need to buy anything or take part. But if they wanted they could start a conversation with a single "click". Simply select a plan that interests them and start the conversation, it's up to them to set the topic and up to them to choose their audience. We needed some "beers" to stimulate our conversations so managed to convince Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and good old email behind the bar. These "beers" allow our punters to share their conversations elsewhere and invite others into the pub.
This all sounds surreal doesn't it, but trust me we've done it and it's live. I'll take you to the site right now. Click on a "P" and see just how easy it is to start a conversation about planning.
We're launching this in Swindon first, it's free and will always be as we don't feel we can put a price on such conversations. We'd like to see local councillors adopt it and use it to talk to their residents. Maybe neighbourhood groups could strike up some parlay about the plans happening in their area. Or residents could start to talk to each other prior to submitting objections or constantly dismissing things as a bad idea.
We know that the public will start to show us that planning can be so much more than objection. We firmly believe that our conversations can lead to other ideas and initiatives. We also believe that more conversations are needed in the public sector and we're making it our mission to enable them where we can.