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Why aren’t proptech tools being tested on local citizens?

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Last month the government’s Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities held an event in collaboration with Tech UK and the UK Proptech Association to bring organisations developing products and services to support community engagement in planning. The “Digital Planning and Citizen Engagement Innovation Showcase” brought together over 130 delegates from across the tech industry and local government.

According to the DLUHC, “it was a great opportunity for suppliers to showcase how their digital

tools can be used to improve community engagement and broaden the range of voices represented in planning, and for local authorities to gain a better understanding of the innovation that exists by hearing first-hand relevant case studies. In the ninety-minute session we had 8 suppliers pitch how their digital tools can be used by local authorities to improve engagement and incentivise communities to positively engage in planning conversations, providing relevant case studies to bring it all to life”.

Butt where were the local citizens, who ultimately are the reason these products exist in the first place?

Most proptech organisations have been established to supply LPAs, developers and property investors with innovative, user-friendly tools to engage citizens and local communities, and in that sense they are aiming to improve on a history of poor practice in community engagement.

But if I were developing a product or service aimed at a particular group of end users – wouldn’t I want to get input from that end user to optimise the efficacy and benefit from that product?

Or do we have different perceptions of end user?

This week the Digital Task Force for Planning launched its report A Digital Future Planning: Spatial Planning Reimagined. It placed emphasis on a “people-centric process” :

“In light of the transition to a circular economy and based on the fourth Industrial revolution’s focus on redesigning systems, the approach proposed here seeks a transformative digitalisation of spatial planning – a people-centric process which is enabled by digital technologies. It will generate better engagement in the plan-making process, enhance efficiency and optimise the value of data, and it will allow stakeholders, planners, designers, and policymakers to think intelligently through an evidence-based decision-making process. Participation using digital technologies for communication are central to its transformation”

To its credit the task force has engaged a range of stakeholders in designing its plan, as portrayed in this busy but rich visual:

I embrace the potential of digital tools for community engagement – it’s the design and testing process I’d like to see become more inclusive and reflective of real lives. I reached out to a few proptech companies this week about this. VU City and Placechangers recognise the importance of community input. While the former aims to make its 3D visualisation tools available to community groups, the latter actively works with local people to design some of its products.

The founder of Built ID told me "If you know anyone interested in being part of our R&D process, please let us know so we can be in touch ahead of our next user testing phase! I have some new product ideas in the pipeline I’d love feedback on".

these are encouraging signs. Would any of these proptech organisations be willing to hold an event with representatives from local communities to hear their views and experience with the planning process?

Perhaps Tech UK, UK Proptech and the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities will hold another event for community groups and resident associations to trial digital community engagement tools - maybe call it Engage to Engage?

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

February 8 2002


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