How Co-Designing With Communities Can Produce Better Places to Live

We often talk a lot about participation in planning, and it takes many forms. But what about co-designing – the principle of working equally with citizens on the design of buildings and places? Co-designing with communities can be an invaluable tool for planners in a consultation, by facilitating a knowledge-sharing process.

Although there is not one defined principle of co-design, within the planning context it refers to the joint design of places and buildings by professionals and the people who will use them. The process usually utilises workshops, charettes and seminars. It is a participatory process that acknowledges that users – the members of the community – have a level of expertise drawn from experience that complements that of a trained professional planner.

Tools have been developed that can aid the process. In Scotland, every council in Scotland has used the RTPI’s Place Standard tool, which identifies key priorities in areas for communities. It was produced though a collaboration of Architecture + Design Scotland, NHS Health Scotland and the national government.

Similarly, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, places a legal duty on all public bodies to deliver sustainable development and to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Welsh citizens. Alongside its well-being goals, the act requires public sector service providers to work collaboratively with communities.

There is a window of opportunity to be had with co-designing. Many local authorities and other institutions are starting to consider processes that utilise co-design in creating public spaces. Although caution should be had when branding a process ‘participatory’ so it doesn’t come across as token, some local authorities are starting to explore innovative forms of co-design and are starting to accept the uncertainty risk that comes with them.

For the public sector the risk is in a loss of influence through a transfer of power from local authorities to local people. Such risk – of an imbalance of power either way – is perhaps magnified where participatory processes are not codified within planning systems.

Communities and neighbourhood planning groups are very keen to participate in co-design processes concerned with important planning applications in their locality. However, the current planning system [in England] does not legally require applicants to facilitate meaningful co-design work throughout the application process.

Angela Koch, Imagine Places.

How can ethical partnership help?

At ethical partnership our work is guided by our values, where we place a strong emphasis on the needs of the local community. We constantly engage with all stakeholders to ensure that our projects provide the best possible outcome for the local community, and welcome the RTPI’s emphasis that investing in place is a number one priority. 

As an environmentally-conscious organisation, we strive to ensure that our projects consider the biodiversity of the local area. Similarly, we try to maximise green spaces and understand the major role it has on mental health. For more information about the work we do, contact us and find out how we can help with your next planning project.

* indicates required field