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Sue Bridge: The unacceptability of harassment and abuse of planners

For my last General Assembly as President of the RTPI I was keen to revisit one of the key themes of my presidential year: The unacceptability of harassment and abuse of planners.

During my inaugural speech in January 2023 I raised the issue of the difficult circumstances many planners were facing. Following that our membership magazine conducted a UK wide survey to assess the scale of the problem. What emerged was troubling to say the least. The vast majority of members clearly indicated the spread of misinformation on social media was making the situation intolerable.

Since then the RTPI has launched the It Takes Planners & … campaign and I urge you to show your support for the campaign through your own social media channels. There are materials available for you to do that on the website.

However, my other theme was a call to action. I asked that members do more to promote the positive impact their work has both after it has been delivered and while they were engaging with the public.

As such, for the final Great Debate with General Assembly I thought it was important to discuss these important issues.

The  Assembly heard from Simon Wicks, Deputy Editor of The Planner and Simon Creer, Director of Communications for RTPI. They took the opportunity to illustrate the reach of the campaign so far and the next steps for 2024. But they also took it further and shared with GA the importance of story-telling and communication in the work of planners.

Simon Creer talked through the importance of engaging on an emotional level with the communities we work with, appealing to their wants and desires to generate positive support for our work. He also highlighted the importance of clearly separating communication and consultation as a way of helping communities to understand the aims and objectives of individual projects.

Simon Wicks, gave us all an emotional example of the power of story-telling as a way to cut through the jargon and technical language that planning can often fall into. He also highlighted The Planner’s story-telling hub which has some examples of where this is being done in practice and some advice from professional communicators and story-tellers.

Following their presentations there was a lively series of table debates focusing on three major questions:

  • What can GA do to encourage more positive community engagement to reduce abuse and harassment?
  • What can individual planners do to better promote their work?
  • During which parts of the planning process could you use story-telling techniques?

Judging by the enthusiasm and level of debate from GA it was clear this was a subject and an issue that members are alive to and keen to understand how they can deploy it in their work.

Anything that planners can do to help the communities they work with better understand the work they do and the benefits they bring should be applauded. The two Simons will continue to work on this through the year providing more opportunities for planners to understand the value of story-telling and communications in a hope that it can begin to bring down the difficulties faced when engaging with the public.

In the meantime, and one of last calls as president is to ask that you take up the challenge of promoting the value of our profession and the work we deliver. There are templates available on the campaign pages which are easily editable and shareable. You can then use these to promote the projects you are most proud of and the positive impacts they have had.

It has been a truly rewarding experience leading the Great Debate series as part of General Assembly throughout the year. We have had the opportunity to tackle some of the most important issues facing planning with a talented group of planners leading their profession. We have debated strategic planning, the emergence of artificial intelligence, the future of the green belt and, of course, story-telling and communication.

These debates will be compiled into a report by the officers at RTPI and then made freely available to all of our members in due course.

Lastly, I would like to thank the General Assembly members for a fantastic year, which has been incredibly rewarding. It has been an honour to chair that group as part of my presidential year and I am sure Lindsay Richards who follows me as president will feel the same during her term in office.

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