What do I need to know about… Moving community consultation online?
Communication with local residents usually starts during the planning process, but it does not end there. The immediate community, local groups, and potential users and purchasers will want to understand what is being built and the timescales involved.
Traditionally community relations during construction have been managed through newsletters and viewing windows or platforms, site visits or exhibitions. But the internet and social media are changing the way we communicate in every context.
Online is the preferred method of communication for many people. In fact, more than 60% UK residents own a smartphone or tablet. In public consultations and planning applications run by ConsultOnline, engagement via mobile devices is increasingly popular: an average of 78% of those taking part do so this way.
As our use of the internet increases, the old, often expensive and time-consuming methods of communication can be replaced or augmented by a community relations website. This will typically include a timeline, interactive Google Maps, questions and answers (to which users may contribute), the construction management plan, regular updates on construction work and images. Time-lapse photography is popular, as are digital “flythroughs” of the scheme.
An introduction to the team with hyperlinks to each firm’s own website is an chance to inform residents of sustainability initiatives, commitment to local workers and suppliers, and other corporate social responsibility initiatives such as apprenticeship schemes. External links, such as to the Considerate Constructors Scheme, are also popular.
Finally, a website offers the opportunity for users to register their interest in a specific subject, such as construction updates, property sales, lettings or employment opportunities.
Our research has shown that online community relations are particularly popular among younger age groups, working parents and commuters. Many traditionally “hard to reach” groups can also find what they want through
a website, thanks to the accessibility of the internet and its ability to provide information using translation, large text and text-to-speech conversion.
Online communication is available 24/7 and residents most frequently view our websites late at night, so construction companies benefit from being able to respond immediately.
As more communication moves on line, community relations will follow. The savvy developer and construction team will use this to form an image that is welcoming, informative and constructive, and puts its scheme at
the heart of the community.
By Penny Norton, director of PNPR, which incorporates ConsultOnline and CommunitiesOnline