Monday, February 06, 2006

Local involvement in planning

I’m no architect, but I do know a bit about the way that local government procure other services – once that involve a degree of creativity, usability and accessibility.

So when I saw the following paragraph on the website of an organisation called School Works, it rang a bell:

Issues with Current Procurement Methods
Designs for new school buildings are often created without reference to changes in education or wider society. In addition, funds for school buildings are often made available in a way which encourages schools to take the 'least cost' option for short-term gain.

Although the PFI process encourages the consideration of the lifecost of buildings, it can inhibit the involvement of school communities in the design process.We ask how funding regimes and procurement methods can be adapted to enable the creation of beautiful, functional schools.

I’d suggest that changing the procurement methods would not be enough though. Our real problem is that local government hasn’t learned how to communicate with people. It hasn’t developed the communications skills of the people who are expected to communicate and reflect upon their Council’s policies. And people that are unable to develop these skills are not given any incentive (carrot or stick) to improve those skills.

I know that my own Council (London Borough of Barnet) are in the middle of a massive school refurbishment programme. But, unless they can involve local people in the design of those schools, it will become yet another example of the current government's aimless keynesianism: Loads of public money spent / people put to work / money going around the economy, but little noticeable improvement in the quality of public services.

I don’t know anything about School Works as an organisation, but if their role is to partner Councils in carrying out communication projects like this until they learn to do it themselves, they can only be a good thing.

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