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Planning for public involvement

Success depends on planning. Background work (holding meetings and discussing issues) is never a waste of time – it forms the foundations of your project. This early planning is all the more important when engaging with large urban populations where the social context is complex.

The key stages in planning are:

            1.         Set objectives.
            2.         Lay the groundwork.
            3.         Design the engagement.
            4.         Prepare a working plan and budget.
            5.         Implementation.
            6.         Bring the process to an end.

The Engagement planning framework document provides a summary guide to what might be included in these stages.

There will also be various points during this process where managers should plan to monitor and review the success or otherwise of an initiative.

Setting objectives
This is the most important task. Do your project objectives fit with policy objectives and link with those for local urban greenspace, regeneration, planning policy and social priorities? Agree the objectives with staff leading an initiative, with other partners and organisations and, if appropriate, with stakeholders. Establish why you need to involve the public and what you hope to achieve. Plan for sustainability and for contingencies – anticipate possible problems and keep the long-term objectives in view.

Laying the groundwork
Get to know more about an area and the context in which woodland and forest managers will be working. Don’t skimp on this even if the area is small and one you think you know – social situations, stakeholders, issues and local politics change all the time. In urban areas, large and mixed populations, a range of interests and areas of conflict make this stage all the more important. Consider the following:

  • What is the extent of the area you need to consult within? - Consider the immediate locality and the catchment area of visitors and potential visitors.
  • What is the history of the area? - Knowing about the economic and social history of a place helps you understand why people might be attached or connected with local landscapes.
  • Who lives in the area? Who are the stakeholders? - Check census records and other data provided through the UK Office of National Statistics or Scotland’s Census Results OnLine. Demographic information will give you an idea of the range of people and communities of interest that you’ll need to involve.
  • Who represents different social groups? - Contact the groups, organisations and networks that represent relevant stakeholders.
  • Are there potential conflicts? - Understanding the community make-up will also help to identify any potential conflicts that might arise between groups of people who might be involved in planned activities. For example, an urban regeneration site in the north-west of England became a no-man’s land for the public because it established a new and easy route between gang territories.
  • How best should stakeholders be contacted? - The contacts made and information collected identifying stakeholders should provide ideas on how best to do this. Available resources will affect the strategies you can use and will set limits for the scope of stakeholder inclusion.
  • What other projects or organisations are active in the local area? - Identify other organisations, networks and associations doing similar work (e.g. local access officers, Greenspace projects, local authority services). Find out what they are doing and if they can help you reach your target communities.

During the information-gathering stage be clear about why the information is being collected and what the objectives of potential activities are. Manage expectations from the beginning.

Designing the engagement
Start by thinking through:

  • the key stakeholders to involve;
  • the ways in which stakeholders may best be involved in the process, and the needs of different segments of society;
  • how might this change as their level of engagement changes;
  • what demand this may put on your resources.

Not all stakeholders will be equally important to the engagement process or the issues involved in a woodland or forestry project and actions. Stakeholder analysis takes the stakeholder mind-map one stage further by providing a framework to sort through which stakeholders are most important. Although there are a number of different techniques for doing this, Figure 1 illustrates a common way of grouping stakeholders and identifying what kind of actions to take. In this example, stakeholders are classified according to their importance and their power and influence. Stakeholder ‘importance’ means their importance to achieving the agreed objectives of the engagement process and woodland management issues (i.e. are they people or target groups foresters are aiming to benefit?). Stakeholder ‘power and influence’ means the power and influence people and organisations have to either support or disrupt the engagement process and the woodland management objectives.

Figure 1 - Example of a matrix to prioritise engagement actions with stakeholders

A simple public engagement planning chart can help you think through when best to include the different groups of stakeholders. Transfer each of the stakeholder groups identified in the brainstorming session and the analysis into the chart (Figure 2) to decide who should be involved, in what way, and at what stage in the process. Then consider the best way to communicate with each stakeholder at each stage (Figure 3).

Figure 2 - Identifying how to include stakeholder groups using a planning chart

Figure 3 - Identifying the best tools and techniques to include poeple - a partially completed example

Some of the detailed issues that may affect design and resource requirements are:

  • The venue – What is its availability, accessibility and cost? Does it have any religious associations that might preclude some groups from taking part? Might a venue display literature or advertising that could offend some groups?
  • Timing – Will weekend and evening work be required to fit in with community and stakeholder availability? Have you taken religious holidays and other important festivals into account? Have you considered how these could affect timings?
  • Methods of recruitment – Telephone, posters, advertising campaign, door-to-door leaflet drop, help from other organisations and agencies?
  • Mix of participants – Are you going to deal with communities and stakeholders that might require men and women to be involved as single-gender groups? Will older and younger people need different opportunities for engagement?
  • What additional materials might be needed? Facilitators, translations and translators?
  • How will you let participants know what happened or what was decided?
  • Have you accounted for a monitoring and evaluation system?

Preparing a working plan and budget
Once the design has been developed and agreed it needs to be translated into an action plan, with a worked budget, for a final check and agreement with the relevant stakeholders.

This involves putting into action the methods, techniques and actions included in the overall plan and speaking to people. Be positive and flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. A suitable lead-in time will be required to get meetings and other kinds of actions organised. The implementation should also include opportunities for monitoring and evaluating the processes and impacts.

Bringing the process to an end
Once all of the engagement and engagement events have taken place and the results have been assessed, celebrate achievements and inform people about what happens next. Evaluate the process, share experiences and learn more about what worked well, and what could be improved next time. Good engagement should be sustainable, and because groups will need to be used more than once, there is ideally no such thing as closure – just a lull between one engagement and the next.