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Chris Askew: “Community engagement in practice”

Chris Askew established his architecture practice in 2007, merging with Margaret Cavanna’s practice in 2104. The Practice has built a reputation for working with innovative businesses, community groups, charities and individuals with a particular emphasis on sustainable development.

Chris says:

“We work with a lot of community groups and charities, so engagement is at the heart of everything we do – listening to the voices of all those affected by a new development.

Our current projects include a renewable energy centre and converting unwanted office space into affordable housing – developments that many people will have a view on!

In fact you often find that people have strong views. Some, because of their background, will be able to articulate those views, while others won’t have that confidence: they will have an opinion but feel their views won’t be listened to, and so don’t engage.

The way views are sought can also skew results: loaded or closed questions will direct you towards an outcome; open-ended questions allow people to give a much broader range of views. Stand in the street at different times of day to ask questions and you’ll talk to very different groups of people. Not everyone is able to go online; especially those from poorer backgrounds and older people, so physically engaging will continue to be important.

To me engagement in planning can usefully follow the five stages I first came across when training for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education:

inform Consult Involve Collaborate Empower
Low level of public engagement ———-> Medium level of public engagement ———-> High level of public engagement

These recognise the increasing level of public engagement possible by using different engagement techniques and high levels of participation.

IMG_3238Engagement is a requirement in the planning process, but you need to go beyond just getting opinions – open-ended questions will always achieve that better than closed ones. And you can break down suspicions by demonstrating that it is an independent and transparent process.”

On Consulting You

“This is a great tool for developers, planners and architects, and plays an important part in helping steer a development successfully through the planning process. We think it is invaluable and have no hesitation in recommending it to our clients.

“Change is inevitable, and Consulting You can help ensure people have a say in how that change occurs.”

Pictured – Askew Cavanna Architects’ project with community group Abolish Empty Office Buildings in St George Bristol –more at