For a while now PlanTech projects have been making steady progress e.g. digital front/back-offices, validation systems, evidence bases and recently PAS team completed an ‘Alpha’ project on digital data standards for local plans with colleagues at Dxw. Having had our digital appetites whetted, we’re giving ourselves a bit of room to use what we’ve learned so far to explore what might be around the corner for “digital local plans” (a ‘Beta’ project maybe?) and whether we should (or could) do something to help.
Starting in the right place
As a starting point we are asking ourselves whether we know (or even have some nouns to describe) what a digital local plan is, what it’s made of and how it might be packaged. There is no shortage of those that agree that a digital plan is a good idea and plenty of people including ourselves “imagining if it did this…” or wondering “wouldn’t it be great if it did that…”. but there aren’t that many clear articulations out there of what is a “digital local plan”? Who it is for? and How is it better? It needs to have a clear purpose and benefits and once we understand this, we can begin to establish the steps involved in actually making one.
The near future
We’ve found it quite easy to wave our arms around and imagine the bright shiny future – but digital plan utopia is probably 10 years away. We want to understand what the near future looks like and involves – what should we start doing now and over the next 3 years as we move from PDF files to… ? How are we going to use and access a digital plan – controlling land use using data may fit naturally and ultimately onto some kind of map but local plans are about much more e.g. where do things like the “vision” etc. live, and how, practically, do we shift from 5 year plan reviews to working with a plan that is ‘living’ and dynamic?
A practical, pragmatic approach
During August we’re bringing a few people together to start to build a consensus. We have a suspicion that the “sprint method” that we are all starting to become comfortable with – the post it notes, the discovery / alpha / beta, the “user experience” and even the slack channel – means we may not spend enough time on thinking and talking. Some services are deep and haven’t been really thought about for decades.
Our starting point therefore is to bring together some practical and pragmatic people and have a chat. We want to kick around some difficult questions with a small group we trust and see what happens. And, perhaps, when we know how local government understands the domain and its own needs, we can expand the circle out. For now this is all quite low-key, and if it has legs it will ultimately be something we do in public.