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Good Practices: Coventry City Council Take Billion Pound City Centre Planning Consultation to Facebook

Coventry City Council has recently unveiled its City Centre’s Masterplan to the local people of Coventry.  This billion pound project achieved its Final Masterplan following a massive consultation exercise with local people.  The council used various ways to ensure local people were involved in the project by raising awareness through the normal media channels;

1) Local press and media,
2) Online coverage (a consultation questionnaire was available on the Coventry City Council website, with links to the BBC website. There were also targeted e-mail invitations to key groups to engage in consultation),
3) Local publications (Coventry City Council and partner publications were used to raise the profile of the masterplanning process. Consultation questions with a freepost reply slip were available through Citivision, a magazine sent to every household in the city)
4) Presentations  (presentations were given to more than 1000 people at meetings and groups across the city.)

The Facebook effect…

Though what interests me here is the use of Facebook as another tool for consultation.  To tell you the truth, even I had not thought of this possibility. What a great idea! Mind you, Facebook in this case was used as another outlet to complement the reach out to customers for consultation and not as a single channel of engagement.

Its not just Facebook

This is an important point to make so local councils understand that online engagement does not replace offline engagement. They are like ‘two peas in a pod’.  One does not exist without the other. The conversation does not only exist offline in town halls, public meetings or shopping malls, the conversation is very much alive online as well. And it is because of this reason; online engagement channels such as social media should be fed into internal training and offered as an additional option for local councils to deliver their services in every area. It not only offers a wider range in audience but it could also be really cost effective and fitting for the times we are living in now.

Its about staff who are passionate, creative and are not afraid to innovate...

So Alison Hook (E-Communications Editor) at Coventry City Council certainly had the right idea when she decided to launch a Facebook  Group as another form of consultation for the council. The group created to get feedback from local people has 396 members and 48 wall posts with many constructive and positive feedbacks submitted by its members. Here is the link the Facebook Group .  See below are just some examples of the wall posts written. This first comment was written on 29th September 2008 and the latest comment is as recent as 28th February 2009.

Comments on the Wall

This is one by Alison responding to the questions on the wall which I feel is a core element for this type of channel of engagement to work.


I’m a fan of  what the council has done!

Following the success of gaining feedback from the public via Facebook, Alison setup Facebook Fan Page (to see difference between Facebook Group and Fan Page, see here) to unveil the Coventry City Centres Final Masterplan.  (Click here to see the fan page) It was essentially a press release (facebook version) that the public can actually respond to (doesn’t happen very often does it?)

I’m proud to live in Coventry….

Alison notified me that only after 2 days of setting up this fan page, it already had 64 fans! This fan page was only setup after the unveiling of the final masterplan on Friday (27th February 2009), last week. Now it has 78 fans with 12 wall posts and  a flickr display of the final masterplan. What grabbed my attention was some of the heartwarming messages they left on the wall in response to the consultation.

Wall posts

Was it good for you…?

So I consider this a successful and effective use of social media (facebook in specific) in a local council. Getting feedback is one thing but acknowledging what happened next is also just as important.  For instance in the press release  displayed on the fan page acknowledged two important pieces of information, what feedback was being fed back into the plans and what wasn’t. See below.

The feedback applied

Local people also had good ideas for other parts of the masterplan which has been changed to reflect what people had to say, including:

* Breaking the roof top green spaces in to smaller parcels – making them feel more like small parks and gardens. This means they will feel safer and more accessible
* Making the Coventry Arena more compact – so it has a better balance of public space and commercial space. The designers have brought the main event space back down to the precinct level and it now feels more intimate – but still with enough room for performances, street theatre and events
* Making the residential apartments lower in height and spreading them more evenly across the city centre. This means that we will be able to better protect the impressive views of the city’s three historic spires, it moves away from high rise towers that were shown before and integrates the residential accommodation far better within the city centre
* Breaking some of the bigger chunks of development down into smaller parcels so they can be built in a more organic and phased way. This means that over time it will be easier for them to adapt to changes in demand for city centres and will help us to avoid being where we are now with everything needing to be done at the same time

The overall amount of office space has been reduced – this is so there is no clash with the development planned at Friargate

Things that remained unchanged…

Key elements that remain unchanged from the first draft include:

* The Sherbourne River Walk
* The city wall gateway at Bull Yard
* Lower Precinct
* The buildings at the top of the upper precinct that wrap around on to Broadgate and were part of Donald Gibson’s original plan
* The redevelopment of Cathedral Lanes and the improved Broadgate

Also, not to forget… Coventry also used Flickr in this project. You can see the pictures here.

Thats all for now folks!

So, that concludes LGEO Research digging on online engagement for today. Stay tuned to more news and features of online engagement soon.

To Be Continued….

Hope this was useful! ?

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

4 comments

  1. I think you should look on page 12 here:

    http://cmis.coventry.gov.uk/CMISWebPublic/Binary.ashx?Document=13151

    Less than 20% of those who responded to the consultation were under 30.

    In the 2001 Census, 40% of the population of Coventry was under 30.

    If Facebook was a significant factor in people being part of the 834 responses, wouldn’t the under-30 group be more likely to be above 40% (i.e. weighted towards the younger users of Facebook), rather than the 20%, half of what the actual population of the city should be?

    Scott Redding’s last blog post..Nuclear Power? No Thanks!

    • Hi Scott,
      Thanks for your feedback. Though you make a good point, we must look at facebook as another channel for engagement. With all the cost put into other marketing channels, isn’t it worth testing and experimenting with a channel that is free and can create some level of awareness? Tools such as facebook are there to complement the current channels of engagement, not to replace them.

      It doesn’t take long to setup and you can generate feedback quite quickly. Say even if you managed to get 10 people to respond via facebook, isn’t it worth doing considering you wouldn’t have been able to reach them otherwise? And if you read the comments closely you’ll realize that the comments mostly come from those who are over 30 years old. So who’s to say only under 30s use facebook?

      I did a quick poll on twitter to see if over 30s use facebook and a fair amount of people do use it along with their parents who are about 60 years old. I myself have conducted several interviews with citizens over 30s and alot of them use facebook as well.

      So I personally feel, the verdicts not out just yet. So we should embrace its possibility for further engagement and not ignore it. Because by ignoring it, opportunity is lost and by trying, you would have lost nothing and possibly gained a few fans. 😉

  2. if you have time to set up a Facebook account or fan page, manage it effectively and maintain it with news, updates and comments all written in plain English, then great try it. I wouldn’t call it an effective public engagement tool as you can’t target audience effectively and gaining ‘fans’ means nothing in the real world unless those fans convert to sales or, in our world, voters or democratic participation.

    Facebook is a great addition to a brand marketing strategy albeit no longer cutting edge. As soon as councils get onboard promoting things like ‘planning strategies’ people switch off – there’s far too much noise out there for most under and over 30s to take proper notice.

    Face-to-face engagement, using creativity and properly targetting your audience is key to getting good representative participation and feedback. Promote it via Facebook or Twitter to show your boss your finger is on the pulse but I would never see social media as playing a leading role in this type of public engagement.

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