Virtual Consultation and Digital Engagement

Background

BECG provides Aldi’s with consultation and engagement support to its Atherstone, Sawley, Neston, Darlington and Swindon regions for all of its sites where planning is being sought for a new store, store extension or store demolition and rebuild. This typically involves face-to-face meetings with senior representatives from the local planning authority and an extensive consultation exercise encouraging people provide feedback by post as well as attending a face-to-face event where they can discuss the proposals with members of the project team.

Following government guidance in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing and non-essential travel restrictions meant that traditional methods of consultation and engagement were no longer possible.

How we assisted

Supporting three separate projects in the region, BECG compiled a digital solution to the limitations placed on traditional methods of consultation. Our solution gave Aldi confidence that it could still undertake robust and meaningful stakeholder engagement and community consultation, produce a compliant Statement of Community Involvement, and avoid any significant delay to the submission by migrating traditional face-to-face activities to digital forums:

  • Video conferencing meetings: These were successfully used with senior political stakeholders, parish/town councils and nearby residents to provide briefings on the plans and an opportunity for direct feedback to the team. BECG hosted meetings using its secure software GoToMeeting.
  • Virtual public exhibition: Hosted on each project website, the virtual public exhibition emulated the experience of walking round a physical public exhibition. People could click each of the display boards to enlarge and read information in more detail. The virtual exhibition encouraged people to click through to the outline feedback form and provide their views on Aldi’s proposals. Where people were unable to access the internet, they were encouraged to contact the project’s Freephone information line to provide a postal address for printed exhibition materials and a feedback form to be sent to.
  • Live chat function: This was offered as part of BECG’s virtual public exhibition and allowed people to talk to a project team representative as they were reading through exhibition material. Conversations were recorded so that they could be used in feedback analysis and a ‘ticketing’ function meant that queries that could not be answered on the day were tracked and resolved by the project team in good time.
  • Social media advertising: To boost the level of engagement with the virtual public consultation, BECG used social media advertising creating Facebook pages for each new store proposal and pushing people to visit the online exhibition and provide their feedback.

Outcome

The methods we employed ensured that we were still able to deliver quality feedback from stakeholders and allow the identification of support from the public whilst stopping short of the face-to-face conversations. Stakeholder and immediate neighbour conversations were constructive, and, in many cases, digital methods made these meetings easier to chair. Each of the virtual public consultation events secured a substantial amount of feedback with an average of over 450 forms completed per event.