The policy domain is “Land Use- focussing on its future use for employment”. For the initial piloting, ahead of the main consultations on the overall change of the use of land in the Borough which are still to be launched, Barnsley looked at the most prominent planning application passing through the system at the time of the trials. As there were no large industrial or commercial applications being processed at the time, this in fact was for a large housing application on a “green-field site” in the Royston area of Barnsley, selected for its potential in terms of generating interest amongst the public, both for and against proposals made, and being also of political interest.
Essentially the first piloting was concerned with the implementation of the previous land-use policy, as a planning application for housing went through the system. The pilot sought to familiarise the planning and communication teams with the implementation of the FUPOL tools and to consider the input from the citizens as complimentary to their existing methods at this stage.
It was also an exercise in building confidence and familiarity, not just with officers, but also with the politicians who will drive the creation of the new “Land–use Policy”. The individual aspects of FUPOL were as important as their collective power at this stage of the learning process.
Clearly, the timing of the testing had to coincide with the plan being taken to a committee for determination. Activities started in September 2013 with an awareness campaign. It was found imperative to have political support from the very beginning, given the sensitivity of both “information gathering” and of the actual planning application, and whilst any views from citizens could be treated as if they had arrived via the traditional methods, the main purpose was to test the system. It is certainly not beneficial to projects such as FUPOL, to have to take place in the climate of mistrust created by the numerous “breach of privacy” scandals prominent in the British press and so much effort will need to go into allaying these fears ahead of the main trials, when the focus will indeed change from the technology to the citizen’s opinions.
Activities were carried out according to the training manuals with access being provided through a Facebook page and a blog, with a good cross-section of information sources ranging from press to radio and the variety of social media in order to provide the raw material capable of being analysed and made of value to the communicators and disseminators. The emphasis at this stage being to familiarise the campaign team with the tools and to show they work, rather than on their actual contribution to the policy making and implementation processes at this stage of the project. Communication plans were created and rehearsed and a feed-back process through interview, focus groups and questionnaires helped us evaluate this preliminary testing phase. It would be fair to say that there was enthusiasm all round and that the expectations for FUPOL in the real trials to follow are very high.
The most important feedback given did not relate to the FUPOL process as a whole, but to technical and design improvements when the tools were put in the hands of those expected to utilise them on a day-to-day basis and who are familiar with existing ways of carrying out policy making and communications in the Land Planning process.
Examples of this kind of dialogue with the designers during the first phase included:
- Feedback being given on issues such as the time-scales related to when a topic is deemed to be hot, patterns in various media where a topic may be hot at any time, locations where it is hot and what are the patterns occurring, drilling down into sub-sets of data etc.
- Suggestions for improving the campaign “dashboard”
- Issues concerning import and export of data.