Great minds don’t all think alike

With 15% of the UK population classed as neurodivergent, Krystian Groom looks at some of the key challenges and opportunities for community engagement activities.

The starting point for all consultations is to define the communities to be consulted. Beyond the obvious questions of catchment areas and residents directly affected by the proposals, come the trickier issues of demography and special interests. It is simply best practice to ensure your communications address the hard to reach and open a dialogue with the diverse demographic and sectional groups that make up a ‘community’. 

That said, how many people reading this article would have included neurodiversity as a key thing to consider when planning a consultation?  How many people even know that over 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent or what neurodiversity means?

Neurodiversity reflects the diversity of all human brains. It includes people with dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and dyspraxia, amongst other neurological conditions. Being neurodivergent presents particular challenges and opportunities for community engagement activities. Contrary to popular belief, great minds don’t all think alike and when we plan community engagement events, we need to recognise this. Failure to address this can mean neurodivergent people – and their contribution – being excluded from the already overly-complicated and highly technical infrastructure planning process. 

Recognising the importance of engaging with this 15% of every community led BECG to lead a working group of planning professionals to deliver the Neurodiversity in Planning – Engagement Toolkit, launched in spring 2021. Alongside BECG, the working group included Jenny Offord (Neurodiversity in Planning), Jan Bessell (Strategic Planning Adviser, Pinsent Masons), Rebecca Skinner (Senior Development Manager, Mount Anvil) and Paul Kallee-Grover (Group Planning Director, Leith Planning Group). The group also sought input from an array of neurodivergent voices and neurodiversity experts such as Genius Within, in producing the toolkit.

The toolkit provides seven principles – 1. Involve neurodiverse voices, 2. Big picture first, 3. Show what matters, 4. Keep it clear, 5. User choice, 6. Be considerate, 7. Continue to adapt. These principles help us to make planning consultations accessible to a neurodiverse audience and allow the neurodivergent to influence and contribute to planning in a way that suits them, rather than what is easiest for industry professionals. 

The seven principles are designed to be simple, clear, and applicable in a wide range of circumstances. Our toolkit offers practical advice - from small changes which can have a huge impact for individual participation through to ideas to broadening access for all.  Hopefully, our toolkit will be the start of a conversation that will help to inform changes in planning and how we engage with all parts of a community. 

We’re pleased to say that the toolkit seems to be being generally well received across the industry and beyond. This includes the Planning Inspectorate and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government showing an interest in it.

We all know that in progressing a development consent order, we’re working within a legislative framework that sets standards for consultation and inclusion. This is all the more reason to specifically consider neurodiversity when planning and delivering your engagement for any infrastructure project.  

Download the toolkit from www.becg.com/neurodiversity.

BECG has organised a webinar on Tuesday 13 July at 10am to discuss the Neurodiversity in Planning Engagement Toolkit. Click here to register a free place.

Krystian Groom is an associate director at specialist communications consultancy for the built environment, BECG.