Covid has affected far more people than those who have contracted the virus, and it is clear that the social challenges and economic uncertainty will be with us for some time to come.
Human connection has become increasingly tested with the introduction of the Local Covid Alert Levels and now a new national lockdown.
The Government hopes that we can weather the economic storm by building our way through the recession, by investing in our critical infrastructure. The energy sector for instance has been set ambitious targets by the Prime Minister to get to 40 gigawatts of electricity generation from offshore wind by 2030 – a task which requires rapid and significant infrastructure delivery.
The biggest communications challenge in these unprecedented times is that, in order to work together, we must stay apart. As a result, technology has never before played such a vital role in human engagement. Thankfully, we have been able to apply digital communications solutions to aid the planning process whether it be for strategic housebuilding or Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. BECG’s response has equipped our clients with the right tools to navigate this new normal.
Our approach to digital consultation effectively utilises the platforms available and reaps additional benefits which traditional consultation never quite achieved.
Lower Thames Crossing, the proposed new road crossing of the River Thames estuary linking Kent to Essex through Thurrock, provides an example of a response rate achievable through digital consultation; gathering nearly 14,000 users visiting the virtual exhibition during the consultation period with more than 100 members of the public attending one of the webinar sessions offered. When asked if the virtual exhibition was easy to use, 62% of respondents stated that they were either happy or very happy with their website experience.
The virtual world also provides the unique opportunity to ensure that projects can connect with groups classed as ‘disenfranchised’ or Hard to Reach. Our virtual exhibitions are compatible with screen-reader technology, live subtitles and can incorporate British Sign Language interpreters into the webinar sessions.
The Bradwell B consultation website for a proposed nuclear power station at Bradwell-on-Sea achieved nearly 15,000 unique visitors and received over 2,000 responses to consultation, a rate difficult to achieve at the best of times. What’s more, as Community Forums can no longer be held within the confines of a local town hall, the Bradwell B project team hosted their inaugural meeting via a webinar, coordinated by BECG.
Sandra Fryer, Independent Chair, said:
With over 40 people in the meeting it took some careful planning and goodwill for it to work and I am delighted to say the meeting went very well.
Whilst digital consultation is far from the final frontier of engagement, online techniques including virtual space, webinars, chatbots and interactive platforms enable the industry to continue to consult whilst meeting statutory requirements and even obtain better results compared to traditional means.
Indeed, Covid has not prevented our ability to connect with people but provided the opportunity to develop new means of engagement that will outlast the virus altogether. To discuss engaging effectively please email Phoebe Sullivan.
Download our Guide on Planning Consultation Communications and find out more about Built to Engage our suite of digital tools to connect with your stakeholders and communities.