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Written by Stephanie Edwards, ARB RIBA, Founding Director at Urban Symbiotics

What if?

What if we could understand loneliness by reaching out to those suffering, enabling them to contribute to the process of design, creating appropriate places and environments for social networks and connections to flourish?

What if we could regularly track the perceptions of safety and comfort in spaces, particularly of girls, women and young people, fully recognising their challenges and adapting to reverse it?

What if we could make steps towards cultural acceptance by providing places of openness, celebration and shared belonging? 

What if we could incorporate the lived experience of all types of people within society into the planning and process of design to inspire new and innovative design solutions?

‘What if?’ can be a reality

Mitigating loneliness, addressing safety and achieving cultural acceptance are just a few outcomes of an inclusive world.

In this context, I’m discussing inclusion in shaping the built environment through engagement and consultation, where we can take steps to include every type of person from the very start of a project through to decision-making, design and delivery.

Inclusion in engagement is central to delivering a democratic planning system and essential for creating places that work well for as many people as possible.

Research shows that alongside connections, social mobility and safety, empowerment through this process is a significant aspect of wellbeing and can also contribute to the health and resilience of individuals and communities. 

Current status

Unfortunately, the current status differs greatly from this ideal yet achievable world.

A survey of Civic Voice members found that those actively engaging, in this case opposing development, tended to be owner-occupiers, live in villages, be over the age of 45, come from a two-adult and children household and are retired.

Other statistics include that just 5% of neighbourhood plans completed (community-informed plans to drive change) are in urban areas, with only 6.7% of neighbourhood planning areas in places classified as most deprived.

These statistics are alarming as they preclude most people, including those under the age of 45, renters, single-parent and single-dwelling households and the large majority of UK citizens who live within urban environments.   

A toolkit for change

The Inclusive Engagement Toolkit that we’ve developed at Urban Symbiotics as one of the partner organisations of the Community Consultation for Quality of Life (CCQOL) research project, seeks to address this wide gap between participation in engagement and inclusion.

The Toolkit is a handy guide for anyone involved in meaningful engagement and inclusive development and shaping of places through seven simple and easy-to-use steps.

The seven simple inclusion steps include understanding the wealth of communities and their make-up, a sensitive approach to planning an inclusive process, and suggestions on collaborating with and involving communities and stakeholders directly.

It details considerations surrounding co-creation and co-delivery throughout the process, ending with the continuation of conversations and communication beyond the engagement and participation process.

The Toolkit addresses the critical steps towards inclusion by highlighting fundamental principles such as addressing existing barriers such as trust, the management of expectations and the ethical implications of sensitive processes whilst touching upon aspects such as jargon busting and inappropriate terms and statements.

The Inclusive Engagement Toolkit is an excellent step towards a world built for the people who use, create and foster it.

It goes beyond addressing the need to mitigate development being ‘done to’ people. Instead the inclusion toolkit provides communities and professionals with guidance on how to develop processes and outcomes that are inclusive and nurturing leading to responsive places that are built together with pride.

Download the Inclusive Engagement Toolkit