Planning Advice Note 3/2010: community engagement

Planning Advice Note (PAN) 3/2010 on community engagement.


64. A great deal of guidance on how to achieve effective community engagement already exists and several references have been included in Annex 1. The Royal Town Planning Institute's publication Guidelines on Effective Community Involvement and Consultation and the National Standards for Community Engagement, as linked to VOiCE (Visioning Outcomes in Community Engagement) are particularly useful and when followed can help plan, monitor and evaluate community engagement. The National Standards below have been applied to the planning system and are ideally suited for use by planning authorities for development plan preparation, by prospective applicants in pre-application consultations with communities and by people and communities in engaging on planning issues.

Standard 1: Involvement
Standard 2: Support
Standard 3: Planning
Standard 4: Methods
Standard 5: Working Together
Standard 6: Sharing Information
Standard 7: Working with Others
Standard 8: Improvement
Standard 9: Feedback
Standard 10: Monitoring and Evaluation

SP=EED. A benchmarking tool for community engagement in planning, prepared by Planning Aid for Scotland ( which aims to help anybody involved in community engagement to make it as meaningful and worthwhile as possible. It is: designed to be used for any consultation process, including development plan and pre-application consultations; aware that different types of consultation will be appropriate for different scenarios; aimed at sharing good practice.

Standard 1: Involvement: Identify and involve the people and organisations who have an interest in the focus of the engagement.

65. Different groups of people will want or need to be involved depending on the nature and scale of the development and whether the engagement is linked to the development plan. On development planning, it is good practice to ensure that engagement is broadly representative of a cross section of all communities and includes a range of interests such as community councils, community planning partnerships, local traders and other businesses, amenity societies, developers, investors and statutory consultees and agencies.

66. A contact database comprising people and groups with an interest in planning issues should be developed and maintained by the planning authority. This can be used to assist with community engagement in development plan preparation and where the planning authority is coming to a view on additional consultation at the pre-application stage. In this case, it should be shared with prospective applicants as it will assist them in preparing their proposal of application notices.

67. While some community groups and individuals will be well organised and represented, others will not and may be less able to engage in the preparation of development plans, or in making their views known on individual proposals. Research 1 has shown that the under 35s and those in full-time employment are less likely to engage in planning.

68. Engagement with a wide range of interests is essential to ensure that harder to reach groups have the opportunity to get involved in planning - and in ways that best suit their needs. In recognition of the importance of equality issues, the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 places a duty on Scottish Ministers and planning authorities to perform their planning functions in a way which encourages equal opportunities.

Standard 2: Support: Identify and overcome any barriers to involvement.

69. An understanding is needed about the support particular individuals or groups require to help them engage. The needs of minority groups and people with disabilities should be accommodated where possible, including the opportunity to access information in alternative formats such as Braille, large text and audio and the provision of information in alternative languages. Some people may need practical support with, for example, transport or child care, and whilst this is sometimes impractical, the benefits of providing some assistance can be considerable.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission published Good practice in community engagement from an equality perspective in March 2009. It can be accessed from

70. But barriers to involvement may also exist due to a lack of knowledge of the planning system. There may therefore be a need for capacity building within communities in advance of changes to the development plan. Prospective applicants may also need to reflect that their audience at pre-application consultation may require some knowledge of the planning system. Since community involvement relies mostly on voluntarily effort, consultations should not be timed to coincide with major holidays.

Standard 3: Planning: Gather evidence of need and resources to agree purpose, scope and actions.

71. Thorough project planning is essential in delivering effective community engagement in the planning process. Planning authorities should recognise the value of continuous engagement through regular meetings with community organisations to support understanding of the process and build capacity for engagement. In development planning the participation statement has a vital role to play in setting realistic and deliverable actions for community participation.

72. It is equally important that pre-application consultations by prospective applicants with the public are well planned. Less will be gained from poorly attended or unrepresentative events. Whatever the engagement, the timescales involved and respective roles and responsibilities of those undertaking the community engagement, and those participating, should be clear.

Planning Aid for Scotland offers a range of training programmes including Planning for People in which includes the delivery of awareness raising events designed to stimulate interest in planning and the provision of training on issues such as providing effective representations. In 2007 it gained an Award at the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning where the judges remarked that the programme helps communities to understand the hard choices that need to be made and encourages them to engage positively, making best use of their time and resources.

73. Any planning policies, planning proposals, constraints, opportunities or limitations within which decisions will be taken should be expressed openly and honestly, and communicated at an early stage in the process so people know what to expect.

Standard 4: Methods: Agree and use methods of engagement that are fit for purpose.

74. Effective community engagement requires the use of a variety of methods. The choice of method and the people involved will vary and it is impossible to set methods for every circumstance. What is important is that the approach adopted suits the scale and impact of the project, the people participating and the particular situation.

Choosing the right method

The method used should help achieve the plan or proposal objectives and take account of the:

  • history of engagement with the community;
  • culture of the community;
  • demographic, social and economic landscape of the community;
  • literacy levels;
  • availability of skills required to deliver this method;
  • budget in place to support the engagement method;
  • support from communities for this method; and
  • time required to deliver a good result with this method.

75. Mechanisms that promote dialogue, rather than one-way communication, are more effective, less confrontational and more valued by participants.

These are just examples of methods - if you are aware of these or other methods working well in practice, then contact the Scottish Government which is looking to disseminate such examples.

Portfolio of Methods

  • Distribution of information, for example postcards, leaflets, brochures, easy read guides and mail shots to postcode area.
  • Use public notice boards in shop windows, GP surgeries, places of worship such as churches, mosques and synagogues, community centres and sports facilities where people congregate.
  • Disseminate information by Community Councils and other networks.
  • Use e-participation/e-planning systems - interactive plans and applications online.
  • Use of the media to raise awareness - Newspaper adverts/articles/radio.
  • Use a mobile unit - taking information and advice into the community.
  • Public stalls/street stalls - for example within a shopping centre,
    or at a market.
  • Public meetings, exhibitions, roadshows, workshops and focus groups.
  • Visits/talks to established group settings/meetings, for example to schools and mother and toddler groups.
  • Have an open house event/Inviting people in - an informal means of communicating information.
  • "Planning for Real"© - participants place notes on a map or model containing their ideas.
  • Site visits and tours.
  • Cognitive mapping exercise or workshop with sectors of the community, such as school pupils.
  • The use of charrette style exhibitions and events - multi-disciplinary collaborative design workshops
  • Photo survey - taking images of what is important in a local environment for sharing with others
  • Visual aids such as Computer Aided Images/3D visualisation, models, photographs, animations.
  • Use games - an enjoyable way to get people working together.
  • Develop a telephone/enquiry helpline.

Standard 5: Working Together: Agree and use clear procedures that enable participants to work together effectively and efficiently.

76. All participants should be given equal opportunity to engage and all participants should seek to listen and reflect on the views of different individuals and organisations. Behaviour should be open, honest, respectful and non-discriminatory. In all situations it is important for the community to understand the decision making process, its role within it and what can and can not be influenced. If necessary, independent facilitators should be used to help build consensus and recognise and resolve conflicts. In some instances, where there is disagreement, or conflict, mediation can be used to help to build bridges between stakeholders and resolve issues of dispute. The aim should be that the various parties understand each other and try to reach an agreement that everyone can live with.

A Guide to the Use of Mediation in the Planning System in Scotland is aimed at helping those involved in the planning system in Scotland to understand how mediation can be used to enhance the planning process (

Standard 6: Sharing Information: Ensure necessary information is communicated between the participants.

77. Information relevant to the development plan or development proposal should be shared between all participants. Information should be easy to understand, jargon free, accessible, attractive, clear, understandable and relevant. It should be made available in appropriate formats and provided in good time to enable people to take part and discuss their views with others. Electronic communication methods can provide good opportunities for sharing information effectively. But care should be taken not to exclude people through reliance on one method of communication.

Standard 7: Working with Others: Work effectively with others with an interest.

78. Planning authorities should promote effective community engagement by making strong links with other community structures and organisations relevant to their work, such as existing local authority networks, community planning networks, Access Panels and organisations such as the Black and Ethnic Minority infrastructure in Scotland ( BEMIS). Working with these networks can ensure a more co-ordinated approach to community engagement and help to avoid consultation fatigue. These networks can provide links to other organisations where mechanisms are already in place for involving communities. There might also be opportunities for resources to be shared.

79. There is scope for better links, in particular between community engagement in the preparation of development plans and community planning. As the two processes develop ways in which to work effectively together, this will inevitably deliver greater certainty and enhanced accountability for people and communities.

80. As the same people are often involved in both community and land use planning, planning authorities should seek to strengthen their links with the Community Planning process and utilise community planning partnerships and their networks as far as possible. It is useful to develop opportunities for engagement through regular contact with existing wider local authority networks including for example customer focus groups, community councils and Access Panels.

Standard 8: Improvement: Develop the skills, knowledge and confidence of the participants.

81. The skills of all parties should be maintained and improved in achieving effective community engagement. Everyone with public or community liaison responsibilities - including developers and their agents - should have appropriate training and customer care skills, including specific training programmes to develop skills and the capacity of community councils and other groups and help ensure that as far as possible community engagement is sustainable.

Standard 9: Feedback: Feedback results to the wider community and agencies affected.

82. The more the process is clear and transparent, the more likely it is that people will be able to understand and accept the final decision. People who have made comments on a development plan should be able to see within the participation statement report how their views have been taken into account and the authority's reason for proceeding in the way it intends. Pre-application consultation reports should include response to the comments made and how the proposals may have changed as a result. Everyone who has submitted comments on planning applications can expect feedback in that they will be informed by the planning authority of the decision.

VOiCE - Visioning Outcomes in Community Engagement, is a database tool which was developed to help plan, record and monitor community engagement activity. It is designed to help those involved in community engagement achieve the National Standards. It can support community engagement in a range of situations and it is designed to be relevant both for individual services and for integrated, cross-disciplinary community planning. It enables all users to have a common system for analysing, planning, monitoring, evaluating and recording that provides common definition of terms and understanding of different types and purposes of engagement. Further information is available at:

Standard 10: Monitoring and Evaluation: Monitor and evaluate whether engagement achieves its purpose and meets the national standards for community engagement.

83. Monitoring and evaluating success is important, and planning authorities should see this as an opportunity to learn from their experiences to improve the quality of their services.

Evaluating Community Engagement: Checklist

  • Has the community been made aware of the programme for participation in development plans and opportunities to make their views known on planning applications including in pre-application consultations in required circumstances?
  • Have those most likely to be affected by the development plan or development proposal been given opportunities to make their views known?
  • Was the engagement in a manner, location and at a time that allowed a wide range of people to make their views known?
  • Has the planning authority or project team analysed the results of the engagement and provided feedback to the community?
  • Has the planning authority or project team responded by amending the plan or proposal where possible?
  • Where changes have been made, have details of the revised plan or development scheme been publicised with an explanation of how people's views have influenced it?



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