The Case for Playful Engagement

Considered, well-designed community engagement is important, not just for social value and a more equitable society, but also makes better economic sense (in the long run).

As has been stated, building houses is an easy area for conflict. It is a jump to a binary dialogue and developers can easily be cast as aggressors with local residents the victims. This makes initial sense, since building new housing is usually about changing a landscape- removing a green area, but even when building on brownfield eyesores, new people bring upheaval, for many, a rise in population equals a stretching of resources. 

But any new project- particularly one that affects many people on a range of levels is an opportunity. Things will be different and one must be sensitive and transparent about negative consequences but if done well, a new development can be a catalyst for positive change. Positive impact is possible, But it takes effort, money and energy. Planning processes can dilute CIL money and social value into separate pots of money and resources that need to be allocated. If one can approach a project in a more holistic way and codesign with affected people one can get a project that has a positive impact for years to come and creates community assets. 

Effective community consultation should start as early as possible. 

It should include everyone who is affected. And work needs to be done here to understand who those people are and how to reach them. 

Tick box consultations are a complete waste of time. If you’re not going to do it properly, value participants’ input and have room for change, then don’t do it. Give the money you’ve allocated to a local grassroots organisation and avoid profit led decisions that have a wide negative impact. 

Find ways to actively engage participants. That’s the opposite of passive. Invite, give permission, get involved, do, play. It’s great to show what’s possible but  if the message is ‘this is happening, you can have a, b or c’, then it’s hardly empowering. 


Tips for quality engagement, the Play Disrupt way


  • Seek out stakeholders/public groups
  • Identify barriers and tailor design to overcome them
    • Permission
  • Be visible
  • Be inclusive in your engagement team. How can you respectfully employ from within the community?
  • Offer a wide range of ways to participate (access/personal preference/choice)
  • Actively engage (rather than passively)
    • Where possible do before say, explore rather than watch
    • Create opportunities for strangers to problem-solve together
  • Respect participants 
    • Create value for the participant- if possible show how this fits and where and what
    • Show empathy
    • Listen
  • Really consider the questions you are asking. Where possible avoid binary headlines as they lead to conflict. What’s the root of the binary question? What comes before the two options? Can you open up the problem to the public with enough steer to get productive answers?
  • Get in early- build relationships as soon as possible
    • Ensure there is room for influence
  • Value social value!
    • If it’s a tick box don’t bother. If it doesn’t come out in your wash, you will be leaving a muddy footprint behind.

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