We’ve been running small group round table discussions with our volunteers to how explore place, planning, and engagement are evolving during the current COVID situation.

The Coronavirus crisis has put engagement as we know it into a spin. Many community engagement events were ready to launch when the instruction to stay at home was received. Organisations, including PAS, have had to think quickly and adapt creatively to how we can continue to engage people with their places remotely and consider what are the challenges and opportunities that are associated.

We have a large pool of volunteers who are built environment professionals and students with their own experience of adapting to life from their living room. This why we have put together a series of round table discussions to offer the space for our volunteers to share their experiences and ideas for the sector going forward.

The first conversation explored ‘Engaging Online’ and the challenges of facilitating community conversations online. The participants for this first round table included 5 PAS volunteers who came from a range of professional backgrounds from private consultancy to local authority.

To start with we reflected on how the restriction of movement had affected engagement. The conversation touched on how any planned engagement activities have effectively been stopped and consultations thrown out of sync. In their professional lives, volunteers experienced a steep learning curve as they figured out how to move traditional engagement to an online space and develop meaningful and effective engagement activities. We identified some new platforms that our volunteers are already using included online meeting services such as Zoom and GoTo meetings, which could be used to help deliver community engagement events online.

Here are some of the other reflections and comments from our round tables participants:

  • While some organisations have embraced digital means, others have been more reluctant to do so.
  • We might want to think beyond the event and think more about engagement as something that happens over a length of time, rather than an ‘event’.
  • There was consensus that good chairing and facilitation is essential to ensure success in any online engagement exercise.
  • Online platforms can give organisations access to local information which can help inform the process.
  • Communities could be overwhelmed by the different platforms available therefore best practice should be shared to identify one or two preferred platforms depending on the form of engagement.
  • Further guidance from Scottish Government would be useful to ensure engagement meet a high standard during the current crisis and complies with statutory processes.
  • Training opportunities could also help planners make the most of online platforms.

We’ll be continuing to explore how the sector is adapting with discussions around the digitisation of planning and how we are experiencing place from home. Thank you to the PAS volunteers who took part in this conversation. If you are a planner and would like to find out more about volunteering with us, please get in touch with Erin Fulton, Volunteer Manager: erin@pas.org.uk.