We have one simple goal – to shape the cities and communities of Australia for a better future.

We collaborate – across our many service areas including planning, design, heritage, policy, valuations, transactions, economics and research, and most importantly with our clients.

Think of Urbis as a creative community of practise experts, working collaboratively to deliver fresh thinking and independent advice and guidance – all backed up by real, evidence-based solutions.

We are passionate about adopting a holistic perspective to unlock development potential, achieve sustainable outcomes and places or policies that work, making our cities and communities better.

Ray Haeren

Group Director – Urbis

You Talkin’ to Me?
Taking Engagement into the 21st Century

When I started as a planner there was still smoking in the workplace, pay packets (with cash rather than transfers) were common, Google and the internet was unknown and mobile phones were purely the realm of stockbrokers.  It was the early 90’s. 


As I reach 30 years in Urban and Regional Planning, I reflect on the many changes in our society and in particular the way that we interact and communicate. 


So many things have transformed society, however what is notable are the things that have not changed.  How we as planners engage with communities has not moved significantly over this period.  Although there are localities that have great models of engagement, the default is perhaps a community workshop with mandatory sign on site and advert in paper.   We need to do better. 


Disengaged, enraged and confused communities reacting to development proposals is a consistent theme around the country. There is an increasing focus on the need to better engage and inform the community – however the methodology for engagement needs to consider the uniqueness of that community, who and how we need to engage.


As part of recent work with the WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage there was an acknowledgement early in the process, that there is not a singular solution, and the drivers and context are critical.  In the development of the new Planning Engagement Toolkit our WA team has had the benefit of reviewing best practice nationally and engaging a broad range of professionals and stakeholders to identify options for decision makers, proponents and the community.  I would encourage you to review it:


Planning Engagement Toolkit for Western Australia


Improving the tools and the capability to engagement meaningfully is a critical step, however I feel there are other key factors which are linked to improved engagement and decision making:


  • Mutual trust and respect – this relates to open and accountable governance, however also the ability for advice to be given without fear/intimidation (planners are increasingly personalised targets).
  • Honesty about the ability to influence the outcome – we need to be overt if economic factors, policy or legalities are prevailing. If we are just informing people rather than engaging them lets be explicit.
  • Increased diversity of planners and decision makers – as a middle-aged white man I am probably covered, however getting a better representation of the community in planning roles and decision-making positions will assist.
  • Cultural awareness – As someone who has had the benefit of working with indigenous groups and Traditional Owners it amazes me the lack of understanding of culture and history in many organisations and this should form part of core curriculum.
  • Improved skills in negotiation, conflict management and communication – these are core components for all planners in my view and although professional engagement specialists will be required planning is a whole is about relationships and people.

Also I should be clear that this is not about being altruistic.  It makes good commercial sense to get engagement right.  My advice to clients as well as to peers and government is that early investment in quality engagement can result in better outcomes commercially and for the community now and of the future. 



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