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Or, to be more specific; shall we get engaged?

Okay, so not the most romantic of proposals, but given the media furore around recent Royal announcements, and that today is the one for the celebration of love and affection, my thoughts have turned to what the terms ‘engagement’ and ‘consultation’ mean to those of us who use the language on a day to day basis.

There’s usually a healthy debate among consultors - and indeed within the courts - about the terminology which should be used when delivering services, but the one thing we all agree on is that the language we use, and the terms selected to describe what we do should be clear and leave no doubt in the consultee’s mind about what is happening, and what their opportunities are.

‘Engagement’: The action of engaging or being engaged.

Or, to take it one step further and use the definitions used by the Consultation Institute (www.consultationinstitute.org), Engagement is Actions and processes taken or undertaken to establish effective relationships with individuals or groups so that more specific interactions can then take place.

By contrast, ‘consultation’ is The dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views and, with the objective of influencing decisions, policies or programmes of action.

To me, the difference is clear, but for a good consultation to be achieved (for all parties), the consultor must first of all engage with stakeholders, ahead of further interaction through consultation.

The two terms are familiar to us; we live in a democracy so are used to being consulted. So much so, that when we are not consulted, or the consultation is regarded as being substandard, communities are empowered enough to launch a challenge and demand better – sometimes through the courts.

In the world of planning, construction and infrastructure, guidance for engagement and consultation varies from one Local Planning Authority to another. But what is clear, in law as well as in principle, is that engagement and consultation should be done properly.

How developers and planning applicants as agents do this, is dependent on the size of the project in hand, and its potential impact on the community in which is it planned.

But what they need to do first, is understand their obligations as consultors, and what they can expect from consultees – including the risk that their project may be subject to a judicial review if the consultation process can be brought into question.

Ruth Shepherd delivers stakeholder engagement and community consultations through Results Communications Ltd and is an Associate with The Consultation Institute.
To discuss your engagement or consultation needs get in touch
Hartlepool Borough Council's planning committee has approved the largest housing development in the Tees Valley... with 800 fewer homes than originally proposed.

The planning application for High Tunstall in the North East town originally proposed 2000 new homes in the masterplan, which also included a new distributor road, local centre, primary school, amenity open space and structure planting.

Following the two-stage public consultation by Results Communications Ltd in 2014, and continual dialogue between the client, Tunstall Homes, and planning consultancy Prism Planning with Hartlepool Borough Council, the planning application was submitted for consideration the same year. The approved application represents the changes in market conditions, and the benefits of adopting a considered approach through early engagement with stakeholders.

Working on behalf of Tunstall Homes, we carried out the two-stage pre-application consultation with the community, gathering their views about the proposal for land south of Elwixk Road in High Tunstall. The scheme was one of the largest in the North East and required an Environmental Impact Assessment under current European legislation.

"It is great that this proposal has finally been approved. One of the take-aways for me was that that the proposed development raised a number of issues, many of which were brought forward during our public consultation events, and in feedback afterwards," explained Ruth Shepherd, Director of Results Communications, who led the delivery of the consultation.

"One of the issues which raised questions was about the number of new homes proposed, which at the time responded to the market conditions. In the intervening years, those conditions have changed, and through engagement with stakeholders and other information becoming available it was clear that the towns housing needs had reduced; in response, so did the proposal.
"This is a great example of how engagement and consultation - particularly early in the development of the proposal - can influence the final options available and - ultimately - the decision."

"It's not the first time consultees have influenced how a consultor's proposal changes through dialogue and negotiation, and it's great to see stakeholders getting involved, being informed and influencing what happens in their communities."

Is your device Adobe-ready?

Feedback Forms prepared for our community consultations are designed to be interactive, so you have the choice over how you complete the form, and whether you choose to keep an electronic or printed copy of the comments you provide to us.

We are aware that not all of Apple's devices are set to allow users to fill and sign Adobe PDF documents, but this will not prevent you from providing feedback.

Apple has made available a downloadable app to enable anyone using one of their devices the ability to fill, sign and send electronically documents. For more information click here .

If you prefer, you can also provide feedback without completing the feedback form provided - simply navigate to our Contact us page and complete the form.

Ambitious and visionary, or delayed by an unwillingness to engage?

Do as we say, but don't be surprised if we don't do it... This month, in our Northern Insight column,
we ask why not engaging is not an option for planning applicants...


Stakeholder Engagement - so much more than a box-ticking exercise...

This month, in our Northern Insight column we explore why stakeholder engagement
- done properly - is much more than just a box-ticking exercise...

New Year ; New Beginnings. Or will it be the smaller changes that will bring the biggest results?

This year sees Results Communications partner with Northern Insight magazine,
providing a regular monthly column. In our first share, we ask what does 2017 have in store?

How can I engage my audience?

The secret to successful engagement is the route you choose to reach those you want to involve.

We’ve been long-term advocates of the benefits of both offline and online forums, and happily pick up traditional and new-media methods according to the project and groups we are engaging on behalf of our clients.

Engagement, or public participation, as it was known until about six years ago, is about much more than setting up an exhibition in a community centre and wondering how many people will turn up. It’s also beyond technology. For us at Results Communications, it’s about choosing the right platform or method, to target the group or groups you are reaching out to, to ensure they have the opportunity to engage back.

Engagement is not a single-direction conversation. Nor is it two-way.

True, effective, engagement has to be multi-directional.

It has to be led by strategic objectives, with management processes in place to ensure that not only are your messages clear, concise and consistent, but they are actually being heard. There’s no point talking into a microphone if the faders are turned off is there?

So to answer the question, how do I engage my audience? , we would suggest a number of answers, but at their core are these principles:

1 Identify your audience(s)
2 Understand their concerns and priorities
3 Develop your messages
4 Identify how to reach your audience(s)
5 Establish strategy and the methods you need to use
6 Develop tactics and protocols
7 Listen to your audience(s)
8 Communicate with your audience(s)
9 Don’t wait for your community to come to you; be where they already are

10 Create an opportunity they want to be involved in
To summarise, good practice in engagement leads to good engagement outcomes. Good practice comes from sound thinking, from establishing a methodology, a strategy, tactics and protocols. Most important, it’s about what you do on a day-to-day basis. It’s no good having all of the above in place if you don’t actually practise what you preach.

What is engagement?

So, what is engagement?

We’ve asked ourselves many times and have come to the conclusion that there’s no simple answer.

It’s identifying. It’s including. It’s involving. It’s meeting. It’s talking. It’s listening. It’s knowing that your next encounter is likely to be with someone who disagrees with the reason for engaging with them in the first place. Engagement is really whatever the person you are engaging wants it to be, and it depends on context.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is:

n. 1 the act or state of engaging or being engaged. 2 an appointment with another person. 3 a betrothal. 4 an encounter between hostile forces. 5 a moral commitment.
For Results Communications, engagement is a combination of all of the above – and more. Traditionally ‘engagement’ has been a box-ticking exercise for many. The ability to say ‘we told them what we want to do’. But for us, it’s not about telling your stakeholders what you want to do; it’s about showing them what you hope to do and finding out their views. Listening to their fears about how it may impact on how they live, where they go and what they do. Working through your plans and their concerns to see if there’s another way to achieve what you want while still mitigating their concerns.
So we ask ourselves again, what is engagement?
For Results Communications, it’s involving, communicating, listening, and learning. It’s also about, where possible, tweaking what is planned to recognise the concerns of those who are likely to be impacted by what is planned.
And, in the spirit of involving, communicating and listening, we’d like to hear what you think engagement is. Feel free to let us know…

Planning approval for Yarm Country Club

Proposals to build a multi-million pound new country club in Yarm have been approved by planning officers.

Results Communications managed and delivered the stakeholder engagement for the development, on land off Leven Bank Road. The new country club, spa and vineyards will provide Yarm and surrounding communities with a range of much-needed community and leisure facilities and create around 150 jobs.

There will also be private allotments, an allotment and orchard, and the leisure facility will be run by Tees Active, the not-for-profit company which runs Stockton council’s sports facilities.

The outline proposals to develop the site and deliver a leisure centre including gymnasium / fitness centre, swimming pool and spa, as well as a café and restaurant for daytime and evening dining were considered yesterday.

Consultees welcomed the country club proposals during the public consultation in Yarm in August 2014, having fought to have a swimming pool established in the town for a number of years.

Ruth Shepherd, Consultation Manager and spokesperson for the project said: “Some planning applications can be challenging and take a long time from concept to determination, and this was one of them.

"We had a mixed response during the consultation but the vast majority of people who engaged with us supported the proposals, albeit with concerns about how the traffic would be managed.

"We are delighted that planning officers have seen the merit of this proposal, and that members of the planning committee have supported the application."

​Caption: Artist’s impression of proposed Country Club off Leven Bank Road, Yarm