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A lesson in engagement from South Dublin’s award-winning public consultation

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The County Development Plan (CDP) review process includes a requirement under the Planning and Development Acts to engage with the public during the plan making process. In 2020, South Dublin County Council commenced the preparation of the new County Development Plan 2022-2028.  The Council’s ai was to reach out to all the people residing, working and recreating within the County and to engage them in the preparation of the new Plan.

The innovations carried out as part of the consultation process, using an array of technologies and dynamic marketing tools, raised awareness and facilitated engagement in the overall process. Access for all to contribute towards the plan making process and the future development of the County was key.  The initiative was innovative, climate resilient, interactive and is a fully adaptable public engagement process tool that can be used again and again and by a variety of departments, for many project schemes.

The process involved the development of new innovations, which adapted to Covid restrictions and increased public awareness and engagement, across a broad cohort of people.   The primary aims of the Public Consultation Strategy were:

  1. To develop a platform for engagement between the Council and people/bodies affected by the implementation of the Plan and expand the reach of the engagement.
  2. Through involving people with a stake hold in the County at an early stage in the process the ownership of the plan would be strengthened, and achievement of the ultimate policy goals could be shared.
  3. Providing customer service and strengthening public relations.

A pocket-sized and colourful Issues Paper-booklet was produced

Innovation

In 2020, Covid-19 restrictions were introduced that reduced the ability for human interaction. Public consultation had to become more innovative in its approach.  The following were some of the innovative ways that the aims/objectives were realised:

  • A customer-centric approach to the plan-making process was developed.
  • A distinctive brand was developed with the tagline of Shape–Explore–Experience relating to each stage of the process.
  • A public consultation video was produced.
  • A pocket-sized and colourful Issues Paper-booklet was produced, with clever use of infographics, photographs and diagrams. Available in hard and soft formats.
  • A ‘One-Stop-Shop’ location on the Council’s website, which included ‘virtual-rooms’ in which to enter and pick up the ‘virtual’ phone to contact a member of staff to discuss aspects of the plan and process.
  • Webinars that included themed Stakeholder Webinars and Public Meeting Webinars
  • PPN Community Involvement – targeting community groups at source.
  • Art Competition to engage with children.
  • Mayor’s Launch Day
  • Promotion/Advertisement
  • Submissions Portal
  • Promotion in conjunction with the print media and social media.

All of the above provided exemplar customer service and contributed to the strengthening of public relations.

Mayor’s Launch Day

The initiative was communicated far and wide using the following methods:

  • Virtual Consultation: A distinctive and interactive website was developed which included a Virtual-Consultation Room (VCR) providing the public with the opportunity to view content and interact virtually with the team via Microsoft Teams. The room provided the relevant information whilst also facilitating direct access to discuss issues/concerns or raise queries in both a ‘live’ format at specified times or outside of these hours via voicemail.  The VCR concept, which was initially developed in-house, maximised the functionality of Microsoft teams within the Local Authority and is now used as a public engagement tool across all departments. The VCR was viewed over 40k times.

Virtual-Consultation Room

  • Social-Media: All major social media platforms were used to issue timely posts/tweets on orchestrated days/times using highly distinctive images to entice engagement. The campaign lasted 8 weeks and included live links to the Mayoral launch.  This process resulted in over 160k links.
  • Print Media: South Dublin collaborated with The Echo Newspaper to action a highly informed information campaign, which included a full two-page spread each week over a period of 8 weeks covering all 8 themes of the draft plan. A full article was included in the Citizens Newsletter and distributed to every home in the county.

Print Media – ‘The Echo’

  • Promotion: The use of Councillors as ‘Champions’ for the plan, engagement with the PPN and an effective advertisement campaign that included bus shelter advertising and posters issued to highly frequented places, such as libraries, community centres, post-offices etc.

Advertisement Campaign

Achievements

The Public Consultation was highly effective and widely successful, resulting in a substantial number of submissions, representing 100% increase in submissions received for the previous plan at this stage in the process.

The Social Media figures (for the 8-week public consultation period) clearly indicate how far-reaching the public consultation campaign was:

  • Twitter – 83,891 ‘Impressions’, ‘Total engagement’ of 2,856.  Of the ‘Impressions’ 22,416 of these were specifically related to the Virtual Consultation Room.
  • Facebook – An overall reach of 65,972 people, with 1,683 of these resulting in total engagements.  49 comments were made, and 32 posts shared. The Virtual Room posts had a total reach of 18,602, resulting in 308 engagements.
  • Instagram – An overall reach of 12,020 people.  1,651 of this reach is specifically related to the Virtual Consultation Room.
  • The UX (User Experience) provided the public/stakeholders with an opportunity to view relevant information in video/display-board (pop up) PDF format with the ability to make direct contact with the planning team via a call button and a direct link to the public consultation portal to make an instant submission, which would not happen during a more traditional public consultation event.

The Virtual-Reality Consultation Room increased the level of public engagement in the plan review and captured a wider cohort of the County’s population, for example, people with accessibility issues, and parents with young families.

The public consultation was not only sustainable, helping to reduce the need for the community to travel extensive distances to discuss the process and issues with the planning team, but also raised customer service through increased accessibility to the plan making team.  The long-term impact will be increased customer service in line with provisions of the Governments ‘Our Public Service’.

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