2.3. Participation and information
2.3.2. Participation methods
Many different methods can be used for community participation and consultation, from ‘Planning for Real’ workshops through simple round table discussion groups to telephone surveys and postal questionnaires. Information is available on a variety of methods including how to run public meetings, how to develop sense of value in an area, and on many practical activities that encourage people to participate and express their views (see Appendix 5, Useful publications on page 111).
Table 5 overleaf reviews a range of methods and summarises some of their advantages and disadvantages and the circumstances and points in the planning process at which they might be employed. The potential difficulties in carrying out these sorts of activities should not be underestimated. Nearly all of them require careful management and may benefit from the involvement of a skilled, independent facilitator.
Techniques selected should be appropriate to the circumstances of the AONB, to the participants involved, and to the outcomes required. For example, activities directed towards those who live and work in an area are likely to be very different from those directed at visitors or holidaymakers. Creative and innovative approaches are most likely to engage successfully with local communities. Participation workshops can include activities that start to get people thinking about the value of their area by celebrating local distinctiveness, and focus minds on issues and solutions. The aim should be to keep the profile of the AONB high in the minds of the community and of participating organisations throughout the process. It will normally be necessary to consider a variety of levels of promotion with special events for key groups (such as local authorities and land management organisations) to raise the profile of the process and to promote the importance of the plan.
Different methods can be used at different stages during the process. For example, it may be advantageous to start the process with a series of exhibitions and widely publicised events. These raise the profile of the AONB and capture the attention of the community. It may then be appropriate to run a series of ‘round table’ events to identify broad visions and local aspirations. A further stage may involve visioning of solutions that could lead to specific management policy objectives. This could involve topic groups and focus groups working on particular issues. Where these are established it is important that they do not consist just of specialists in a particular area. For example, agricultural policies should not be discussed only by farmers, nor access policy only by ramblers.
Method Strength Weakness Comment
Open meetings Cheap and easy to Often contentious or Best for area issues,
organise dominated by particular when organised by local
groups of interests representative bodies (e.g. parish councils)
Displays and exhibitions Portable, effective ways Messages may be Best if produced by
of providing visual impact; ambiguous or stakeholders themselves,
good way of stimulating personal otherwise likely to be
discussion seen as ‘window-dressing’
Small group meetings, Focused and motivating, Expensive in terms of Mixed groups useful for topic groups, focus groups allowing consideration of officer time, need careful initial ‘visioning’
particular issues in depth management and may For subsequent
duplicate other forums consultation on draft plan use existing forums
School based exercises Involves community May be seen as Use in combination with
through parents pre-empting democratic other methods
and teachers processes
‘Planning for Real’ Highly participatory Can lead on to very broad Best for specific
and focused debate, losing perspective development issues
and raising unrealistic expectations; does not work on an AONB- wide basis
Face-to-face, Good for ‘specialist Take time, and ideally Best for initial research
questionnaires research’with selected carried out by trained and/or final
individuals market researchers. troubleshooting on
Danger otherwise of particular topics yielding unrepresentative,
Telephone surveys As above As above As above
Web based consultation Accessible to many Level of response likely Techniques range from
including those beyond to be low simple questionnaires to
the AONB boundary more engaging interactive
Postal questionnaires Good for ‘saturation Costly; poor response rate, Use with care, or where it consultation’, providing information of doubtful is particularly important
everyone with the significance that consultation is seen
opportunity to respond to be taking place
Each stage should involve a broad cross section of stakeholders, including local authority members and officers, representatives of relevant organisations and interest groups and members of the community. This varied mix of participants encourages equality of involvement and helps to build a level of trust that is rare in more formal consultations.
Participation and consultation should be genuinely open, but beware of others hijacking the process for their own ends. The objective is to draw up an AONB Plan, so the agenda should focus on AONB priorities. The process should be used as an opportunity to educate people about the AONB. Be clear about the partnership’s roles and powers, aiming to raise aspirations (but not necessarily
expectations) amongst stakeholders. In particular it may be useful to agree key indicators of success as part of the participation process. This means everyone will be clear about what the plan is trying to achieve (see Section 4.2.2 Monitoring condition on page 64).
It is important that each stage in the consultation be recorded in detail and reported fully, both to those who participated in them, and to the larger community.
The Kent Downs AONB Landscape Assessment was completed in 1995. It was agreed that the next step was
to raise public awareness of the AONB and to involve local people in developing management policies. The AONB covers 128 parishes. The Jigsaw Project was
launched in March 1996, with an invitation to each of these to nominate a ‘jigsaw co-ordinator’, each of
whom was sent an information pack and a simple questionnaire asking about perceptions of the local
countryside. Films were included with process paid envelopes, for people to record what they felt
was distinctive about their locality – eyesores and problems as well as the loved and attractive
features. In some cases only a few people were involved, sometimes just one keen photographer. In others, there was wide participation, with photographs displayed in shops, pubs, libraries and at fetes, and with people invited to vote on which photos they felt embodied the character of the area. In the autumn, a series of workshops were held, where each participant mounted and captioned a set of prints, resulting in more than 800 A3 ‘parish pages’ resulting in a complex compound photographic snapshot of the Downs that year. Parish coordinators were also invited to make a photomontage to the outline of their parish, using a second set of prints. These were then assembled into a jigsaw which was
subsequently made available to all parishes in the AONB for display at village events. The whole process generated interest and involvement with a wider consultation process feeding into the draft Management Strategy for the AONB.