Space is a powerful common language for stakeholders and professionals


Anna Rose is an architect and urban planner advising both private and public sector clients on spatially complex masterplanning projects, with a particular focus on the design of effective human behaviour patterns. She will be speaking at Engagement 2017 in our closing plenary; Engaging the Silent Majority: What more needs to be done?

Space – the first thought that comes into many minds after that is,’ the final frontier…’  

Space Syntax, where I have worked since 2002, specialises in using the language of space to describe the impact of buildings and places for the people who use them.

I often hear people describe places in terms of a set of externalities like physical size, cost, materiality, and intended uses. But I think about space very differently.

The space of the city is a theatre, a stage in which every day human activity is playing out. It enables the mixing and interaction between people, but it can also be powerful in keeping people apart from each other.

Because everyone is moving through space every day - we use streets, public spaces, cycle lanes and footpaths to do this as we go about our daily lives, almost everyone can relate to a conversation about space.

Without people moving through them, spaces aren’t places!

It stands to reason therefore, that people should be at the heart of designing how they move through space. Unlike inter-galactic space travel, this isn’t rocket science. People know that ease of movement and legibility is important, intuitively.

But making decisions based on intuition alone is unlikely to result in well-designed space that works for everyone. We know from 30 years of commercial practice that aggregated behaviour, based on observed movement patterns, is the most reliable source of evidence to underpin urban design decisions and build strong consensus with a wide range of stakeholders and professionals from a range of disciplines.

If people recognise their own experience in the analysis of a place, they are more likely to trust in the development modelling process. After all, each place has a unique identity and that’s a powerful thing.

At Space Syntax, we use robust and transparent evidence about how people use places, be it a building, development, neighbourhood or city. We overlay this with additional open data sets related to population, employment, urban form, access to amenities, to make what we call Integrated Urban Models.

The conversation then shifts from talking about ‘things’, like new buildings or playgrounds, to ‘outcomes’ everyone can relate to, like social inclusion, proximity to an attractive mix of amenities, healthy lifestyles, and education and employment opportunities.

Using space as a starting point for conversations about how a place works, means that everyone can contribute meaningfully – both through personal experience of moving around, and through professional expertise and insights from geo-spatial modelling of a wide range of relevant parameters.

The sort of space we deal with at Space Syntax might not be the final frontier, but it still gets everyone talking – blending intuition and practical knowledge of space and place, with structured, robust evidence from multiple disciplines.

Anna Rose is a Partner and Board Director at Space Syntax.

Addressing Our Housing Shortage: Activating the New Silent Majority

In 2015, Meeting Place Communications, working in partnership with Shelter, published a groundbreaking report into public attitudes to housebuilding. The report, entitled ‘Addressing our housing shortage: engaging the silent majority’, was based on a survey of 20,000 people carried out by YouGov. Participants were asked about their attitude to housebuilding in their local area, and about their attitudes to development-related issues, such as the impact on roads and the economy.

The headline results of the survey are clear: a majority of people are positive or neutral about homes being built in their local area. Supporters of local housebuilding were found to outnumber opponents by a ratio of 5:3, and just 11% of respondents were found to be strongly opposed to new homes. However, the study also found that opponents of housebuilding are more than twice as likely as supporters to get actively involved in the planning process.

The findings of the research presented a challenge for those who undertake public engagement in planning. Although a broad consensus of public support for new homes exists, it is clear that traditional consultation techniques are proving ineffective at engaging those most likely to support housebuilding. As a result, local planning debates are being dominated by a vocal, but unrepresentative, minority who oppose new homes.

Since 2015, MPC has worked to develop innovative and effective engagement techniques that help developers find and motivate support for their plans. Much of this activity has been informed by our 2015 research. The results of the survey have been matched with the ACORN demographic classification system to create a powerful tool which allows MPC to understand likely attitudes to new development in the areas surrounding the sites in which we work.

The demographic insights provided by our research have allowed us to identify and motivate support for a number of different planning applications. In some instances, supporters identified through research-informed engagement have spoken in support of applications at committee, delivering powerful messages to decision-makers.

Our research into public attitudes to housebuilding has proved invaluable in the consultations and campaigns we have devised over the last two years. However, we are now seeking to develop a more thorough understanding of how to engage groups most inclined to support housing and house building on a range of issues – from new homes, employment and transport projects right down to working with communities on existing developments to discuss change more effectively.

To build on our work with Shelter in 2015, we have carried out further research revisiting the key demographic data attained by ACORN together with quantitative surveys of UK residents as well as focus groups and surveys with previous consultees of Meeting Place Communications projects.

At Engagement 2017, we will be launching this new report in our plenary session entitled ‘Launch of a new Shelter Report: Activating the New Silent Majority’, where representatives from our partners Shelter, L&Q and Redrow will be speaking and taking part in the discussion throughout the day.

This article was written by Richard Parry, Account Manager at Meeting Place Communications.

Harnessing the power of stories: the ‘Trojan horse’ of engagement

Alice Sachrajda is an experienced researcher and evaluator specialising in creative research methods and digital communication, she will be speaking at Engagement 2017 in our session; ‘How to run an effective campaign: Lessons from politics and the voluntary sector’

What’s the best way to persuade others of your point of view? That’s the question academics, politicians, activists and many other change-makers are grappling with in our increasingly interconnected world. At a time when we are saturated on a daily basis with endless information and data, the question of how we carry out effective and persuasive engagement is becoming increasingly salient.

I worked for many years in academia, legal and policy environments, and I used to rely on straightforward methods of persuasion to make my case: facts, evidence-based data, well-marshalled arguments and rebuttal. But, after many years working on the complex policy area of immigration, I have come to recognise that whilst these can sometimes be effective forms of communication, they are not the only kind. And, what is more, they are not always the most appropriate when communicating on emotive and socially complex issues like identity and immigration. Indeed, persuading with facts and data can have the negative effect of polarising an issue, rather than winning people over. Instead, when we want to engage others with our message, we need to think about a range of communication strategies, encompassing creativity and emotion, as much as rationality and logic.

Aristotle acknowledged this with his teaching about the three fundamental pillars of persuasion. Recognising the power and interplay of each of these pillars is an important starting point when thinking about the ways we can inspire and engage others.  These are: Logos – i.e. grounding our arguments with logic, data and evidence; Ethos – i.e. instilling credibility and authenticity; and Pathos – i.e. creating emotional resonance with empathy and creativity.

There is a tendency, amongst academics and policy-makers in particular, to focus on the ‘logos’ and ‘ethos’ pillars. There is a safety and comfort in relying on the statistics and data that bolster our case and the rational basis of our argument. But there is often a reticence to engage using pathos. Perhaps it’s a feeling that it will feel too contrived or clichéd, or that it’s too far outside our comfort zone when seeking to persuade. But, used effectively, storytelling and pathos-driven narratives can be the Trojan horse of engagement. As human beings we are playful, curious, complex and creative. When we engage using narratives and values, we are able to connect on a deeper level and persuade others using intangible feelings of association and emotional resonance.

An example of pathos being used to great and powerful effect is illustrated by the approach of the Anthony Nolan Trust. The trust is a national charity pairing people who require bone marrow or stem cell transplants. Between 2015 and 2016 the Anthony Nolan Trust changed their approach on social media from functional, data-driven posts, to a communication strategy that incorporated first person, authentic storytelling. The transformation was dramatic, elevating their ‘likes’ from 50,000 to 80,000 and increasing post shares from the hundreds to the thousands. As a result, their profile and reach has increased significantly, which in turn is furthering their message and their cause. The very human way in which they are communicating is evoking a combination of ethos and pathos to powerful effect.

There is a common temptation to persuade others of our arguments using predominantly ‘evidence-based data’.  Statistics and data are undoubtedly important tools of engagement; they can jar us and help to demonstrate impact. What is more, coming from a credible source it can seem like a winning combination. But, without making us feel emotionally connected these forms of persuasion often lack interest and appeal. We would do well to also remember the magic of stories and weaving of narratives that evoke empathy as powerful tools of engagement. As Maya Angelou reminds us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Alice Sachrajda is a creative researcher and storyteller: @alicesachrajda