Localism and connected neighbourhood planning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences

Abstract

Under reforms to the English planning system, new powers are being granted to communities to draw up neighbourhood plans in an attempt to produce the 'Big Society'. These plans will take precedence over development plans drawn up at the level of the local authority and thus represent a highly significant potential shift of power to communities in determining how their neighbourhood should function. Crucially, however, the proposed Neighbourhood Forums and Neighbourhood Development Plans seem to ignore the fact that communities are fragmented and that individuals within them may not have a full appreciation of the range of issues facing different people within the same area. Indeed, different parts of the community may have very different conceptions of the geographical area that comprises their 'neighbourhood'. These local understandings may have little or no overlap with the formal legal boundaries that sit across neighbourhoods, making it difficult to interact with the structures of policymaking.

The Localism and Connected Neighbourhood Planning project seeks to develop a technique to help disconnected communities come together to gather information and devise creative solutions to mutual problems to inform the neighbourhood planning process. A web-based interface will be built that can be accessed through smartphones to allow community members to gather geographical information about their neighbourhood. This information will appear in the form of online maps comprising boundaries, photos, text and ratings of different areas. Two case studies will be undertaken with neighbourhood groups in Birmingham and Bristol who will be loaned smartphones to gather data about their area. Workshops will be held with community members first to train them to use the smartphone interface and second to help them analyse the materials that they collect. This process will not only allow the community to produce robust information about their area, but in bringing different community members together, will facilitate a process of conversations within fragmented communities to find creative solutions to common problems.

The interface will be developed in such a way as to be straightforward enough for communities to use with minimal input from external agencies. This is particularly important as, in the context of public sector funding cuts, third sector organisations that have previously helped communities engage with regeneration and redevelopment are having to scale back their activities. The project will have a longer-term impact through integration with an ongoing undergraduate placement module run in collaboration with Chamberlain Forum, a Birmingham-based umbrella organisation for community groups. Students from the University of Birmingham will be working with neighbourhood groups for the next 3-5 years and will be able to help different communities gather data about themselves to inform neighbourhood plans using the technique developed by this project.

The project will work with MADE (Midlands Architecture the Designed Environment) and the Glass-House (a charity focussed on community-led design) to disseminate the technique within the urban design and community sectors. Members of the communities who have been using the technique will take part in a workshop with urban design professionals to talk about their experiences on the project and suggest how it could be further developed.

Planned Impact

This research directly engages community groups in the development and testing of a simple-to-use interface to inform the process of undertaking neighbourhood planning. Community voices are multiple and contradictory and if neighbourhood planning is to be meaningful the process of gathering information about an area must not give undue weight to any one group. The technique that will be developed has the potential to bring fragmented communities together into a creative dialogue about the future of their neighbourhood. By producing a tool which is simple to use and based on technology that is increasingly accessible even in more deprived communities this project will have significant impact. This is particularly timely as communities begin to get to grips with the implications of legal changes to the planning process that will affect their area.

Participants in the study will be seen as co-constructing data, rather than simply being a community being 'studied' by academics. As a result, the process of participating in the research should be empowering. This will be reinforced by inviting community members to the professional workshop at the end of the project to serve as experts giving urban designers and planners the benefits of their experience.

The project will also be linked to an established service learning module operated by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with Chamberlain Forum. This will mean that a wide range of community groups will continue to be involved in using the technique to gather materials about their neighbourhood, working with third year undergraduate students. The approach to neighbourhood planning developed in the project will thus have a long term, sustainable impact on neighbourhood groups around Birmingham.

Working in collaboration with MADE and the Glass-House will ensure that the technique developed will be widely disseminated through the urban design, local government and community planning sectors. The Glass-House will provide expert input to the development of the interface to ensure its maximum value to those working in community planning. MADE have extensive networks in both the private and public sectors and will host the professional workshop at the end of the project to ensure maximum exposure of the technique. An accessible how-to guide will be produced and the web interface will be made freely available to any groups or individuals who wish to use it to help gather data in their area. This will ensure that, at a time of dramatic changes in policy on neighbourhood planning a range of different user groups seeking to improve the quality of life in people's neighbourhoods will know about and be able to access this technique.

Publications


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Jones P (2015) MapLocal: Use of Smartphones for Crowdsourced Planning in Planning Practice & Research
 
Description This project developed and piloted a smartphone app ('MapLocal') for use in neighbourhood planning. The app was designed to be tested two in neighbourhoods in Birmingham, Balsall Heath and the Jewellery Quarter, that were engaging with neighbourhood planning as part of the Government's localism agenda. A total of 50 people took part in the pilot. The application gave participants the chance to produce photographs, notes of preference, voice comments and boundary data, all of which were automatically tagged to their location within the neighbourhood using GPS ('sat-nav') technology. These materials were then uploaded to a collective map for the community. The pilot generated 626 audio clips and over 1000 photographs and proved to be a useful tool for undertaking the first stage of a community planning exercise.

The project had three key findings. The first is that using this type of technique can bring participation to people rather than requiring people to come to participation. This can significantly extend the range of people involved in these information-gathering exercises. Secondly, by enabling participants to collect materials while walking around their neighbourhood, richer and more experiential data is produced compared to sitting in a meeting or workshop. The third is that this type of holistic information from a broad set of participants can be used not only to inform neighbourhood plan-making but also for other consultation purposes (for example for historic conservation: the app has already been piloted by Worcestershire County Council) as well as prioritising local services at a time of budget cuts and/or moves towards co-production of shared services.
Exploitation Route They feed into a broader debate about how smartphone apps can be used to inform public service provision at the neighbourhood scale in an age of scaling back local authority responsibilities.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy
URL https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/16522669/MapLocalOldBuild/MapLocal%20Final%20Report%20Post%20AL%20PJ.pdf
 
Description The MapLocal app was trialled as part of a pilot scheme looking at ways of getting communities engaged with townscape/heritage in a project by Worcestershire Council Council Archives & Archaeology Service. It also stimulated a discussion among civil servants at DCLG about the best means to get communities engaged with neighbourhood governance and the role that smartphone apps could play in this.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Policy & public services
 
Description Townscape heritage pilot Worcestershire County Council referencing the MapLocal project
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://public.worcestershire.gov.uk/sites/archaeology/Reports/SWR22275.pdf
 
Description Association of American Geographers Annual Conference (Los Angeles) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference paper:
Jones P & Lorne C 'Crowdsourcing the local: post-political methods for neighbourhood planning?' Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, Los Angeles 9-13 April 2013.

Discussion stimulated on the idea of post-political planning
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.aag.org/galleries/conference-files/AAG2013Program.pdf
 
Description Community resilience workshop (Newcastle) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Phil Jones 'Community mapping and creative interventions' presented to the second workshop in a series exploring "The role of creative interventions in fostering connectivity and resilience in older people", Newcastle, 8 July 2014

Stimulated discussion with colleagues and service users.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description DCLG event (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Talk given at DCLG to an audience of civil servants:
Colin Lorne 'Localism, neighbourhood planning and co-production: The MapLocal Pilot'
Followed by a discussion.

The discussion was broadly in the context of Localism and attempts to dissolve power down to the neighbourhood level, initially relating to Neighbourhood Planning but then more broadly to other services and how the use of online/mobile tools such as MapLocal might be adopted to extend the range of different, often conflicting voices included in consultation/coproduction exercises.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Royal Geographical Society 2014 (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Conference presentation at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference:
Jones P, Layard A, Lorne C & Speed C 'Localism, neighbourhood planning and community control: the MapLocal pilot' Royal Geographical Society, London 28 August 2014

Discussion among colleagues/peers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://conference.rgs.org/AC2014/168
 
Description Seminar presentation (Dundee) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Phil Jones 'Mapping stories: communities and qualitative GIS' presented as part of the Space & Society Research Group event on Qualitative GIS, University of Dundee, 5 March 2014

Stimulated discussion among colleagues/postgraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://sdhi.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/qualitative-research-and-gis-seminar-5th-march/
 
Description Seminar presentation (Liverpool John Moores) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Phil Jones & Colin Lorne 'Exploring methods in community-led regeneration: the MapLocal project.' Liverpool John Moores University, 20 November 2012

Stimulated discussion among peers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Seminar presentation (Plymouth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Phil Jones 'Creatively exploring urban ambiances' invited talk at the School of Architecture, Plymouth University, 23 October 2014

Stimulated discussion among peers/postgraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://culturetheoryspace.org/phil-jones-creatively-exploring-urban-ambiances-thursday-23rd-october-...