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Getting stakeholder buy-in

Dean Aggett
15 September 2009

Once a winning design is selected, how can the wider consultation process ensure buy in while maintaining the qualities that helped the project win?

Dean Aggett

Dean Aggett

Selecting a winning design is a brief moment of celebration before the real work begins on turning ideas into reality. Dean Aggett suggests that thinking carefully about organisation and good communication can smooth the way during the post-competition consultation process. ‘All stakeholders need to know what’s happening, when it’s happening and why it is happening’.

Be clear about who is involved, the stages of the process and what they entail, what needs to be achieved along the way and how you’ll reach key decisions and outcomes. It is crucial to remember the aims and objectives of the competition, protect the special qualities of the winning design and hold on to the ‘golden thread’ that will make the project successful.

Dean Aggett is development manager with regeneration company Regenter. He project managed a Europan 8 scheme during his time at Oldham Rochdale Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder and is a member of the national steering group for Europan.

Dean Aggett's tips for making competitions work

1. record of your reasons for running a competition; this will be invaluable during consultation
2. involve stakeholders at every stage of the competition, the consultation and beyond
3. ensure main stakeholders have agreed on the competition brief to avoid disagreements later on
4. transparency, communication and celebrating progress reduces potential dissatisfaction
5. support the winning team during consultation, regardless of its previous experience.

Harness the debate

For anyone new to competitions, you could be forgiven for thinking that once a winning design has been chosen, it’s plain sailing to the completion of the project. ‘Selecting a winning design is not an end in itself, it’s just the start of a whole new process,’ advises Dean Aggett.

‘By their very nature, competitions always stir up plenty of debate. The skill in running a good competition and the consultation process afterwards is in harnessing that debate, and turning it into a positive force that ensures all interested parties are included and informed, that they can contribute comments and ideas and that the best possible outcome is achieved with a successful built project.’

Aggett is a firm believer in combining good organisation with good communication when managing the post-competition consultation process. ‘All stakeholders need to know what’s happening, when and why.’

Use inclusivity to build consensus

All interested parties should be included and informed, so that the best possible outcome is achieved.
Copyright Alys Tomlinson

Aggett suggests identifying all stakeholders and getting them involved early for the smoothest possible process. ‘In this country perhaps one thing we don’t do well is to get development partners involved early enough. As they will be critical to the final outcome, I’d like to see more developers included right at the start of the process, when the competition is being staged.’

For example, stakeholders for a housing scheme will include interested parties from housing associations, landowners, regeneration agencies, planners, councillors, local businesses and residents.

Aggett prizes clarity above all. ‘Throughout the consultation process it helps to be clear about why the design has won the competition, and make sure everyone understands and remembers the key attributes, because the design will be subjected to numerous influences and changes on its way through the process to planning, funding and eventual construction. Without being clear about the original aims, there is a danger of ideas becoming diluted or lost altogether.’

Be clear about the process

Aggett says the competition and consultation process must be transparent. ‘Plenty of stakeholders will be new to competitions and consultation, they need to know who is involved and what is expected. It’s a good idea to mark progress by setting goals at key stages of the consultation.’

Stakeholder meetings provide good opportunities to remind people of the aims and objectives of the scheme and to start the flow of comments. ‘It is important to provide a forum for debate so that different interests are taken into account.’ Project websites and regular newsletters can also provide a useful vehicle for comment and debate.

Manage expectations

There will be a very broad range  of stakeholders to consult, from local businesses to local residents.
Copyright Mark Ellis & Ashely Bingham, ICD

Aggett stresses the importance of providing a timescale for events. ‘The post-competition consultation process tends to be protracted. With so many groups involved, it takes time to work through every stage. In some cases this causes people to become disillusioned, but if a realistic timeframe is proposed at the start, then everyone knows what to expect and when. In fact, a large part of the skill in consultation is in managing expectations.’

Consultations inevitably mean changes to the winning design to meet specific needs and requirements of the site and users. ‘It’s rarely the case that the final build is an exact match with the competition-winning design,’ says Aggett. ‘But one of the parts of the process often overlooked is how the designers manage this change.’

Keep hold of the ‘golden thread’

If the competition winners are young and inexperienced they won’t have much experience of consultation.

‘One area which needs serious consideration is in providing more help and support for designers to ensure the best results. Winning is a wonderful experience, but there is the potential of a sense of anticlimax through the long consultation. My best advice for managing this complex process is always remember the aims and objectives of the competition, the key qualities of the winning design and keep hold of the golden thread.’

Further reading

More advice on delivering the winning scheme