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Keeping Consultation Inclusive

17 May 2020

There is no doubt that Covid has brought the issue of community strength and cohesion to the forefront of public debate. It has viscerally revealed the importance of neighbourhoods from all perspectives. In the experience of Soundings, most people want to be involved. They want to feel connected.

For those of you who know us, you will recognise that at Soundings, we see community engagement as a process that has social value in its own right. We support and encourage inspired and enjoyable interactions with people from all walks of life, leading to valuable contributions, insights and outcomes. One of these outcomes is the formation of empowered communities.

Despite the enormous social challenges we have faced, coronavirus has shown us the power of the human spirit to manage adversity, adapt and find alternative ways of doing things. We have been inspired by the ways the communities we have the privilege of working with have continued to maintain supportive and communicative networks, against the odds. We have been moved by the determination people have shown to ensure that everyone within their communities continues to be given a voice.

Over the past two months of social isolation, what we have witnessed, both with those with whom we are currently working, and the countless local organisations and community groups we have come to know over the years, is that now more than ever people have a desire to come together and exchange thoughts and ideas about how our society, and the places we build together, can be better.

By now you will be well aware of the many ways we are able to keep virtually connected. Due to our need for social distancing, we have seen more emphasis than ever on using digital tools and platforms. Whilst we have all been enjoying the opportunity to test and employ new ways of working with people, here at Soundings, we have also recognised the critical need to ensure that digital tools are used conscientiously and that they are used to complement and support rather than replace human interaction.

What we have discovered, in fact, is that a creative interplay between digital and physical means of communication appears to be the most powerful way of ensuring we continue to facilitate valuable and meaningful exchanges, accessible to all, and full of promise, trust, relationships and systems of belief. Within this we recognise that our communities are rich and diverse, with people who need and want to communicate in different ways.

In discussion with community groups and individuals involved in consultation since lock down it has emerged that they value multiple means of sharing their thoughts, from a simple phone call and written letters to online workshops. The real appreciation, however, has been through the understanding that although their means of participation may have been different, everyone has been included and contributions have been valued equally. These most recent discussions with people and groups with whom we work and hold invaluable relationships, has inspired us to share a simple message:

Despite the challenges we believe we can and must continue to work to shared social values and to provide engagement and consultation that never swerves from a deep focus on people; their needs, desires and thoughts. The challenges make this more, not less important.

More than ever, we are working with a group of trusted digital specialists and industry leaders to ensure we continue to evolve platforms of all kinds for creative exchanges and participation helping us all to build better places together.

In our day to day work we will continue to:
More so than before, Covid has made us realise we have a responsibility to ensure consultation remains inclusive and harnesses the opportunity to champion social value in our communities.

Christina Norton, Founding Director
Soundings – Better Places Through Active Participation