Civic Engagement - Planning for Real
Over 20 years ago the Tullyally Health Group used the innovative tool ‘Planning for Real’ to increase community engagement.

Civic Engagement - Planning for Real

15 January 2015

Ahead of the launch of our Civic Activism Programme next week, we will be looking at some innovative ways in which people can become more engaged in the processes that run their lives. Here we look at 'Planning for Real'. 

Civic engagement has actually been taking place in Northern Ireland for many years, however you might not have heard about it before.

Over 20 years ago the Tullyally Health Group used the innovative tool ‘Planning for Real’ to increase community engagement. At the time they were hoping to prioritise key issues within their local area, 27 of which had been flagged up as requiring immediate attention.

Catherine Cooke, who was involved in the project, said: “At the time we had many issues on our agenda and we really wanted to find a way to encourage feedback from the community on which we should look at first. We also wanted to have set goals for the medium and long term. The idea to use Planning for Real came to us through a neighbourhood youth worker who was in the area at the time".

The Technique

Planning for Real (PFR) is a technique developed by, and a registered trademark of, the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation. It is a process used to engage members of the public in neighbourhood regeneration and planning. The process is based on the development of a 3D model of the community, usually built by local community groups or school children.

In Tullyally the local youth club built a 3D model of the estate, showing every house in the area. The process then involved each local household being given a ‘polling card’ and invited to vote for their priorities. People presented their card in the local community centre and then, once checked off the register, got five sticky dots to place alongside their top five priorities, which were posted on charts on walls.

Ms Cooke continued: “This tool worked for us because it involved the whole community. We asked our local youth club to make a model of the estate, we sent voting cards out to every house and when it came time to vote we were able to illustrate who had taken part on the model.

“We also turned the voting process into a family fun day. The youth club helped to raise awareness of the event and on the morning of the event children in fancy dress paraded through the area, led by someone playing a flute, rather like the Pied Piper going through the estate!

"When children came to the venue and saw that there was no sticker for example on the 3D model of their granny’s house or their auntie’s house, they went and told them they had to come and vote!

"Every house that voted was automatically entered into a draw to win a prize and this helped to encourage more people to take part".

Engaged in Planning

PFR has been used by a range of organisations to engage members of the public in the planning process – including local councils, housing associations and housing providers. A key commonality is that the process is led by the community rather than the commissioning body.

Following initial scoping, early informal meetings and training, a stakeholder mapping activity is undertaken.

This helps the project team to understand key routes into the community, to ensure as many people as possible are involved, and to scope communication methods, publicity and potential venues.

Suggestion cards are a central part of the process – these consist of eight different tailored sets of colour coded cards based on themes such as housing, crime, and transport, as well as blank cards available on the day of the meetings.

A model of the local area is then created, often in the local school. This is followed by a range of events, sometimes for specific groups.

At each event, members of the public place suggestion cards or flags around the model to highlight specific issues and suggestions, with the colour coding giving a snapshot of issue distribution.

A report of the event or events then feeds into a process of prioritisation involving residents and relevant professionals, with the ultimate goal of producing a realistic action plan.

Mandate for the Future

Ms Cooke added: “There were ten people in total who helped to plan the whole thing from start to finish. It created a real sense of community and a high percentage of people, almost 95%, came out to vote, endorsing the need for the work that we do.

"Local service providers such as Derry City Council, the Health Trust and the Housing Executive were partners in the initiative. This enabled them to engage with the local community and hear more about what the local issues were.

"Sometimes statutory bodies can seem faceless, but this gave us the chance to meet and talk to them directly".

The success of this project provided the local council and the organising group with a mandate for their future work.

To register for the Civic Activism Launch, please click here. 

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