News  |  Posted January 26, 2022

Removing Systemic Barriers to Participation

A blog by Petra Biberbach, Chief Executive of PAS

Image (right) illustrating the concepts of equality, equity and justice. Courtesy of  Advancing Equity and Inclusion: A Guide for Municipalities, by City for All Women Initiative (CAWI), Ottawa

I’ve always been struck by this graphic (right) since I first came across it. For me it captures the essence of our work at PAS: helping people to participate by working to remove barriers to participation where people encounter them.

As an organisation we provide impartial advice and support on planning matters, we cannot advocate specifically on behalf of individual users or groups, however, where we encounter such barriers in the course of our work, we certainly do shine a spotlight on them.

As an educational and environmental charity, this speaks to our core values, in particular, our commitment of being inclusive, impartial and facilitate participation in decision-making:

  • We are inclusive: We seek to reflect continually on our practice to provide opportunities which open placemaking to all.
  • We are impartial: We enable people to engage proactively in the planning system and placemaking, but do not express opinions on individual plans or proposals.
  • We promote participation: As an educational organisation, we facilitate people to be involved in shaping the future of their places, and celebrate volunteering, learning and active citizenship.

So, what do we mean when we talk about removing systemic barriers to participation in the context of the planning system? The first step is simply to recognise that there is a difference between treating people equally, equitably, or in a way that helps remove any barriers to their participation.

Secondly, it’s important to consider how different people may wish to engage in a process. Rather than designing an engagement process and then expect people to fit in with what you’ve designed, consider the different voices within the community, the challenges or barriers to engagement they might face, then design your process accordingly – or even in partnership with those whose views you are seeking. This is something that our SP=EED toolkit (free to download) and associated accredited training programme explores, as a means of improving the quality of participation.

Thirdly, Planning is about placemaking and that at its very essence, it is about democracy. People should be engaged as citizens and that means we need to be adaptive, creative and inclusive in our engagement methods. For example, let’s encourage more young people, Gypsy/Travellers and other ‘seldom-heard’ voices to participate in placemaking. Over the years I’ve observed that the methods we develop to support seldom-heard voices to participate actually help all people to participate. In other words, removing barriers to participation and trialling creative and flexible approaches can raise the bar for participation for seldom-heard voices and across the board – equity and equality!