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Social media and the planning process

by on October 10, 2012

Everybody is doing it, from Facebook to Pinterest, Linkedin to Twitter, it’s a social and business revolution.

Even Local Authorities are using Twitter in innovative ways to inform local folk of neighbourhood issues.

But what I wonder is the potential to improve the planning process?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and while you’re at it join me over on LinkedIn.

  1. Using social networks is certainly a more immediate form of engagement . It should be used as part of a varied consultation/education process in a variety of media (on and offline). The trouble in some areas (like in the national parks) is that social media is used as a tourist advertisement rather than a consultation tool. Authorities should be using these tools to increase citizen participation (weekly lists notification, consultations etc..). There needs to be a holistic approach in which authorities also take a look at usability of their online assets (websites, planning databases etc..).

  2. Its about time there was some discussion about this. As a planning consultant, I am under pressure to use Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and to bolg on my web site in order to maintain my profile and, yes… to advertise.

    I’m really not sure I’m getting the best from social media, nor whether I’m contributing something positive to improve the planning process and to make planning more accessible to the public etc..

    Its true that social networking is a more immediate form of engagement, but how immediate does it have to be? Local planning authorities may use Twitter as part of their engagement strategy but in planning terms I find it of limited value and more a demonstration that the local authority planners are trendy and are showing willing. (There’s a challenge to start the discussion!)

    I find social networking in a business environment stressful because I feel I have to say something really useful – not just come up with an inane tweet to show people out there I’m still around and to direct them to mey web site. Also, finding a discussion worth having which I can contribute something useful to takes time. Who can afford the time to read and post, tweets, comments and recommendations several times a day, and does the quality of the contribution suffer for the sake of being ‘immediate’ and ‘social’? Will we become slaves to social networking in the same way we have to e-mail. What’s the right balance?

  3. I agree. The way younger people than me use Twitter, and Facebook for that matter, is to promote themselves to their friends and aquaintances, let them know where they are and what they are up to and organise their social lives, for which 140 characters is perfect. Media types can use it to build their profiles online and gather a society of groupies, boosting their egos and giving them something to do in between their appeearances on TV, radio or while writing articles. For the average professional however, it’s just another pressurised form of helping the company/organisation do their advertising and marketing for them. The best way forward is to employ specialists to do it for you, if you think it really will boost your market share/sales/influence in the market place. You can pay them to ensure it’s accountable too, which surely is the point.

    It is though, particularly useful for local organisations and groups to try to communicate to a younger audience cheaply and quickly, whether they are truly interested in your message though amongst all the invites to bars, clubs, pubs and football practice, is another matter.

  4. I would like independent minded councillors to use twitter to let us know what goes on covertly behind the scenes, particularly when planning applications are called in and the vote goes against the planning officer’s recommendations. More transparency and open & honest fair play is needed for a healthy planning system at local level.

  5. Like any tool you have to learn to use it effectively and on your terms (otherwise you will be a ‘slave’ to it). I certainly don’t believe anyone should be forced to blog, tweet or interact on a social media platform (it defeats the purpose of it). For myself I have found it very useful professionally, there are all sorts of planners (even lawyers/barristers) out there who blog and their tweets let me know about the impact of new legislation or cases. My other interest is Geography and GIS, and I have personally learnt a lot from the people I follow as well as new more efficient techniques.

    Rather than me having to look for planning/geography related news on websites, it now comes to me, because I follow the right people. I don’t have to interact with them but if I need to I can.

    Don’t get too hung up on the word ‘social’, if you want to exchange ideas then yes you have to learn a new way of communicating but you can also just consume news, blogs and articles. If you don’t have the time to read them then, you can mark them for later reading (via favourites, bookmarks or other tool).

    One quick example from yesterday, I use ArcGIS and it has been crashing a lot, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and looked at the support sites, gone through the forums, nothing to help me could be found. In a moment of frustration I posted this on twitter (forgive my casual style here):

    “oh lords of #arcgis please keep the crashes to a minimum while I try & finish this load of master plan #mapping #geoprayer”

    within a short space of time someone had replied who is also a professional and his last tweet was this:

    “can you replicate the crashes? You might want to try and create a new user and try that login and see if that helps…”

    Well, I did create a new user and it did fix it, this saved me a lot of work and time. Again it’s all how you use it.

  6. Richard O permalink

    Social media allows local authorities to open and honest with the communities, which could be of real benefit to the planning profession and local members in particular.

    Elliot makes some good points about learning from others sharing experience. It does take require new skills but if your nervous about putting your toe in the water try it in your personal life first.

    Although twitter and facebook might not be around in 10 years social media will, this isn’t a trend it’s here to stay. If you feel passionately about something blog about it and the passion will show, if you don’t feel the need that’s fine too.

    Although twitter might not be right tool to communicate planning documents, many of them would benefit from being 140 characters instead of 140 pages long!

  7. subutcher permalink

    It seems like there are two questions here:

    Can social media improve the planning process – (and if so, how?)
    What has social media got to do with me and my job?

    Before I give you my answers to these, firstly, make sure you are looking at social media not as an immediate form of traditional media, but as an ongoing searchable conversation between interested parties. Plenty of volume, plenty of noise, but because it is searchable, and all participants opt in, also very valuable as a tool to bring interested parties together.

    With this in mind –

    Improving the planning process? Yes, if the objective is to make data and opportunities to engage with anyone who is online. Its success will depend on the genuine commitment of the organisations who have to make those choices. For example, some police authorities have been able to change the perception of their force with the public by sharing a data set with them online.

    For personal use within a professional career? Yes, if the part of your role is to engage with people outside your organisation. As Elliot shows with his example, it can be a very useful tool. Its success depends on using the right tool for the right job, and knowing what you’re doing and why.

    In both cases, I’ve seen so many mistakes made by organisations throwing themselves and their people into the tools without understanding the landscape, without having an integrated strategy, and without any training or workable policy.

    If you’re an individual being asked to market your employer’s business, make sure there is a clear objective in place and the participants provide you with suitable, informed training.

    If you’re responsible for an organisation’s use of social media for engagement with the community, for example, make sure you do your research and find some trusted experts to guide your decisions.

  8. Hi Chris

    Social media can be useful tool in the consultation process. It’s certainly possible to create twitter, facebook and other feeds out of planning software if local authoritites want to do that to flag up planning apps for comments on their twitter profiles.

    For example (and this is only a proof of concept so please excuse the data) take a look at this twitter profile – – that I have linked to one of our public systems.

    Different local authorities will have different opinions about how useful this is, as I’m sure will different consultees and members of the public.

    This is the key I think. We (at Idox) like to think we make these things possible. Individual local authorities will make a success of it or otherwise. This point has been made above. You need to have a strategy. Those who use social media because they can, will probably find it doesn’t make much different. Those who use it as part of plan to increase engagement with communities, or to promote the electronic consulation process for example, they probably will see it make a difference.



  9. Some great examples of LPAs using it already… Bury and Rotherham use twitter for development management (others im sure too). Cheshire East for inputs to LDF process. Individual officers. Whether an enlightened individual (great point you make Su and what happens when they make the inevitable move on) or a wider strategy I really dont know.

    I struggle with Linked-in as a product overall, but the topics and discussion threads seem underused. Facebook groups similarly seem to offer a similar mechanism.

    As father to 15 and 16 yo girls – unless they can access it via google/ipad/phone it doesn’t seem to exist. This generation is a challenge for planning if you want to engage – they too are the kids who shop online too but thats an altogether different debate.

    As a sole practitioner its immediacy can be both invaluable as a source of information, best practice, contact (and feedback), info sharing and occasional banter… ok well more than occasional. Developers seem to be hugely reluctant to engage as part of a pre-application process and that seems a wasted opportunity to me.

    Using it to “inform” is only one part of the equation, because (as we have seen from other examples) failing to have the resource and skills at the other end to deal effectively with responses is a recipe for disaster. Social media commuted sum in S106s anyone?

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