This guide is intended to help applicants develop their submission for the RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence. It is based on the past experiences of the Awards and aims to help you present your project in the best way for the judges.
1. Read and absorb the criteria and entry guidance
This goes without saying, but make sure you have understood what is required of you in terms of the entry process, the submission content and additional information.
Check you are entering the most suitable category for your project, and you meet the eligibility criteria. If you are entering the same project into more than one category make sure you tailor each submission to the category it is entered into.
2. This is an award for outstanding planning
This is an award to recognise planning excellence, so whilst your project may have excellent architectural or engineering merit for example (and by all means briefly reference these), please focus your submission on the planning elements. We aren't looking to reward everyday planning, or what is expected as normal service, we are looking for outstanding examples. Were there unusual problems that were addressed by the project? Was a difficult situation turned around by good planning? Was it a new or ground breaking way of handling a problem? Please ensure your submission showcases the value planning has had in this project and you provide strong evidence.
3. Remember the judges are human
A small panel of judges will be shortlisting and evaluating your entry. If you are shortlisted, your submission will be judged further and this will be in comparison to other projects.
The judges are professional planners but they are also human and very often busy! Therefore please think about the content of your submission – is it easy and straightforward to read, or does it contain too much jargon? Your submission might benefit from someone reading it who is not associated with the project to test you have got your messages across clearly.
At the shortlisting stage, judges can have up to 40 submissions to read and do this in their own time, so make it easy for them. Although this doesn't mean so brief that there is no detail as this can also make it difficult, make sure to use up your word limits if you can.
4. Answer all the criteria
Address all of the criteria clearly. Continually ask yourself 'how'. Don't use high level statements which can be bland, such as the "the project addressed climate change by reducing energy consumption". Instead, answer how it is reducing energy consumption by focusing on the relevant planning issues (there is no need to go into the technical data of PV output etc.) and how this was done. How did planning facilitated it / made it happen? Again, please ensure the submission shows the value of planning and provides good evidence.
5. Find the balance between brevity and rambling
There is a balance between ensuring your submission is brief that it gives too little detail and giving too much detail and becomes rambling. Please remember the judges' time is precious and you need to convince them that your submission is worthy, firstly of being a finalist and then to be a winner. You only have this opportunity to provide information to the judges; there are no site visits to provide supplementary information. Use your word limits wisely!
Be succinct but, as discussed in point 4, please ensure you have answered everything that the criteria needs you to. Give it to someone not linked to the project to read and see whether they understand what you are saying. It is very easy for someone involved in the project to fill the gaps with their knowledge when proofreading, without realising important information is missing.
6. Don't be afraid to say there were problems
Whilst occasionally everything goes smoothly, often there are problems that need to be overcome and these could be the very reason your project deserves to be acknowledged. There might be a partner involved with particular demands, the project might be dealing with a sensitive issue that neighbours don't like, finances might be withdrawn causing problems in delivery, there may be a change of personnel and an election outcome may change the democratic input. Any of these factors, and importantly how they are handled, might be the reason whether your project wins or not; don't shy away from them if they add value to your submission.
7. Are there any special circumstances?
The judging panel is made up of a wide range of planning professionals from different areas of the industry and they come from across the UK and Ireland. It is however a small panel of judges that review each category, so they cannot be expected to know everything about the operating context within which every submission is made. Please do highlight any special circumstances in which you have operated. They may not be 'special' or any different from the norm to you, but might be to a judge. It could be a whole range of issues like topographical, historical, cultural, or political (this is also particularly relevant to international submissions). Alternatively, it may be something specific to the national policy context in which you are operating; for example, projects in Wales may have dealt with challenges related to the Welsh language.
8. Respect your submission
The RTPI Planning Excellence Awards are prestigious awards. Equally you are taking the time to prepare a submission for a project you are undoubtedly proud of, so give yourself plenty of time to prepare your submission. Give time to proof read it and as previously mentioned ask someone else, not directly involved, to read it and check they were able to pick the points that you are trying to get across to the judges.
Whilst following these eight points won't guarantee that you will win, they will help give you the edge. Best of luck!