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The Paradox of measuring Community Impact

Several discussions during last week’s Restitch Summit centred on the “ecosystem” of community regeneration, exploring those systems and organisations that are part of the regeneration process but are not in the primary categories of “developer” or “Local Authority”. Education came up a lot, along with the arts and health care, and together made for some highly thought-provoking exchanges amongst panellists and participants.

It made me think about how so often community groups focus on the developer and LA in their quest for better engagement, and we are so often disappointed in both process and outcome. Should we be looking to the “ecosystem” for our solutions to better community engagement and ultimately community impact?

So I considered three parts of the ecosystem that have recently attracted my attention, and thought about to what extent they could or do bring community voices into their design and implementation on regeneration projects.

First is Proptech and Plantech, which describe the development and implementation of digital tools applied to property and planning, respectively.

In a quest to learn more about how these new tools could empower and benefit local communities in their engagement with developers and LPAs alike, I sought to attend an event called Proptech Companies and Navigating Pubic Sector Procurement” put on in March by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, TechUK and the UK Proptech Association. I was told it was aimed at proptech companies and LPAs.

When I raised this to the UK Proptech Association, asking why community groups were not represented, Iwas told to keep in touch as they were working on something in the future. I await further notice.

Several plantech organisations have been supportive of my inquiries and I hope to see these pioneers doing something wonderful at the community level in future. If proptech and plantech tools are to benefit local communities going through redevelopment, they really must bring community voices into their design.

Second is ESG activity in the property sector. ESG refers to the Environmental, Social and Governance objectives of corporate investment and investors, and in property is often described as “place-based impact investing”

There are journals, websites, twitter groups and a multitude of media dedicated to sharing knowledge and ideas – but in my experience they don’t include community voices. As with proptech and plantech, I tried to attend an investor-led conference on PBII, but, again, was told it was aimed at investors.

I, along with many community-led organisations, would welcome an opportunity to understand the objectives of PBII and to contribute to models and approaches for its success in benefiting local communities. Some organisations are showing interest, so watch this space.

Third is the role of the Health Impact Assessment in major regeneration projects. At present and in practice this is the only opportunity for the NHS and social care providers to contribute to the process of regeneration. It rarely involves local residents or community groups representing local health needs or indeed health inequalities (eg older people, disabled etc) in its production or delivery.

Yet the HIA, particularly in this post-pandemic world where we are all conscious of our health, the social and environmental determinants of our health, the prevention of disease and health inequalities, should take centre stage in regeneration projects. And, at a time when the NHS is actively developing community-based health models such as ICNs , they present an opportunity for active, realtime community engagement

Each of these areas of activity – whose objective is to improve the impact on communities from regeneration – is crying out for community voices and experiences in their design, and engagement in their implementation.

And so, the paradox: how do you measure community impact, when you don’t know much about the community being impacted?

This paradox must be addressed, and we’re working on it bit by bit. Watch this space.

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

2 June 2022


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