RIBA issues new guidance on including more people in decision making on buildings and places

One of the regular, longstanding gripes of our publisher Mark Eltringham (there are many) is that architects don’t particularly like non-architect folk having any sort of opinion on what they do. You can read him banging on here (ten years ago!) and elsewhere about the problems architects have with muggles. Now the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has pulled a rabbit from the hat by publishing new guidance to ensure that stakeholder engagement is considered, when appropriate, at every stage of planning, designing and constructing buildings and places. It remains to be seen what the rank and file make of this and what it means by ‘when appropriate’.

The Engagement Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work is a free resource for built environment professionals, developed in collaboration with the Association of Collaborative Design (ACD), Sustrans and supported by the Landscape Institute.

Engagement is about actively involving stakeholders – individuals, organisations, special interest groups and communities – in decision-making processes that affect them. On building projects, engagement should take place during the lead up to planning applications, throughout the design process and should be maintained in the form of progress updates during the build. Engagement is also essential during the management and stewardship of completed buildings and places.

Research led by the ACD has revealed the pressing need for engagement to be integrated into the design process, rather than treated as an afterthought. The authors say this guide outlines best practice to integrate engagement into every stage of the design and construction process. Advocating a democratic and collaborative approach, it will help professionals bring everyone to the table at the right time to make projects inclusive, sustainable, and responsive to the diverse needs and strengths of neighbourhoods. Using this approach, engagement can be a key driver of positive change.

RIBA President Muyiwa Oki said: “Engagement isn’t just about ticking boxes – when done properly, it is a powerful tool for making our society better for everyone. Through listening, nurturing relationships, using open and respectful dialogue, and starting the process early, good engagement creates better project outcomes and makes our built environment more inclusive, sustainable, and relevant to the communities it serves. Local knowledge and participation are vital to ensure projects are climate resilient and make communities stronger. The Engagement Overlay will help RIBA members and other professionals to adopt a truly democratic and collaborative approach to designing and building.”

Lead author of the Engagement Overlay Sarah Jones-Morris FLI, who is Co-CEO at the Association of Collaborative Design said: “We are delighted to see the landmark Engagement Overlay published. It promises to raise engagement standards across the built environment sector, which will radically improve the places where we live, work and socialise. The most successful projects are collaborative, where contractors, designers, councils, and local people share their perspectives, resulting in better neighbourhoods. The Overlay strives to enable responsible decision-making and follow a clear process – a major accomplishment!”

Paul Ruffles, Principal Designer at Sustrans Scotland, said: “The Engagement Overlay is a valuable and understandable method of bringing engagement into design and construction processes. Projects where people have been embedded into the processes from the early stages have consistently demonstrated positive real-world results in terms of local involvement, awareness, empowerment, and support for projects. I recommend the use of the Engagement Overlay to fellow professionals working in the built environment.”