Govlaunch Podcast

Camden puts community first with major digital place-based engagement project

Episode Summary

Today we hear how Camden UK is addressing digital place-making engagement, making it easier to reach residents during the pandemic, and how they intend to share this tech-forward approach with others.

Episode Notes

The Borough of Camden in the U.K. recently received funding from the central government as part of the COVID-19 Challenge to address the impact of the pandemic on public engagement in planning and place-making.

Today, I sit down with Jonathan McClue and Kirsty Paul to talk about the project, what inspired them to be one of the first local authorities in the UK to take this approach, and what’s next for the innovative borough of Camden. Read more...

More info: 

Featured government: Borough of Camden, UK

Episode guests: 

Jonathan McClue, Principal Planning Officer at London Borough of Camden
Kirsty Paul, Developments Plan Manager at London Borough of Camden

Visit for more stories and examples of local government innovation.

Episode Transcription

Lindsay: (00:05)

Welcome to the Govlaunch Podcast. Govlaunch is the wiki for local government innovation and on this podcast we’re sharing the stories of local government innovators and their efforts to build smarter governments. I’m Lindsay Pica-Alfano, co-founder of Govlaunch and your host.

The Borough of Camden in the U.K. recently received funding from the central government as part of the COVID-19 Challenge to address the impact of the pandemic on public engagement in planning and place-making.

Today, I sit down with Jonathan McClue and Kirsty Paul to talk about the project, what inspired them to be one of the first local authorities in the U.K. to take this approach, and what’s next for the innovative borough of Camden. So let’s now hear from Jono and Kirsty in Camden.

Thank you both for joining me today. I'd like to quickly have each of you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your role. Jonathan, we'll start with you. 

Jono: (1:01)

Thank you, Lindsay. My name is Jonathan McClue and you can call me Jono if that’s easier. My job title is Principal Planning Officer and I work at Camden Council. So I’m responsible for major developments in Camden. And so as part of this digital engagement project I’ve been helping out Kirsty and others on the team and my main role for the moment is kind of heading up the comms so I’ll set up a number of platforms on YouTube and LinkedIn, and also on Twitter. And so that’s all for me for now, thank you. 

Kirsty: (1:33)

And I'm Kirsty Paul.  I'm the Development Plans Manager at Camden Council. I’m basically one of the lead officers preparing our local plan. So our local plan is kind of like how the area is going to develop and change over the next 15, 20 years. One of my main roles, since I joined Camden, has been around site allocations. So we're currently building a document that identifies sites for around 10,000 new homes in the borough. Um, and that's a mix of kind of like council owned sites, some sites that are market owned and the majority is sort of like regeneration based because obviously, Camden is a London Borough. So a lot of our stuff isn't like green open land. It's about just making the sites that we've already got work a lot harder.

Lindsay: (02:16)

So Camden was recently awarded funding from the central government as part of the COVID-19 Challenge. Tell me a bit more about this project. 

Kirsty: (02:24)

So essentially what the project is about is kind of like two strands. So it's all around digital place-based engagement. And one strand is around kind of like creating a playbook for community engagement, basically demonstrating to other local authorities, how you can go about communicating with communities and other stakeholders through digital platforms and just giving them some real sort of like advice and guidance around that. Um, and the second part is around kind of creating a digital planning notice, which is sort of like something that would, would help people be aware of, of what's happening in a location in terms of new development proposals and those kinds of things. 

So yeah, the project kind of came out of the blue a little bit for us. I mean, we get lots of, um, there's lots of grants potentially becoming available, and this is something that we'd been wanting to, certainly the community engagement side, something we'd been wanting to progress for a long time. Um, and then when the funding part became available, it was, yeah, we bid for it and then were thankfully very successful, um, along with our partners as well that we're working with who are Middlesbrough Council, which is to the North of England.

Jono: (03:32)

I’ve always been involved in loads of digital projects and we've always had a focus on engagement and empowering our residents and also the community and developers helping them out and counselors. So when COVID came along, we really decided that we're, you know, we recognize we already innovate a lot digitally and we need to do more. So we started to basically write down and capture these things and it's about sharing that with others. So we want to have open transparent data and kind of share it around the rest of Britain and even potentially in the world if we can.

Lindsay: (04:03)

Taking a quick step back, can you define for me ‘digital place-based engagement’? 


Um, yeah, so I suppose, from our perspective, um, if you think about it, there's a big relationship between people that their health outcomes, their economic outcomes, their social outcomes and the places that they live, the places they work and the places they visit. So for us really kind of like taking that story of place and bringing it into an engagement channel is just kind of what, what this is. It's about looking at how people respond and react to their places and trying to get them to interact with that a bit more.

So place-based engagement in our context is essentially more around kind of development planning, but could also be around how we use open spaces. It could be about events, it could be about housing. So there's lots of different things that could potentially fall within that place based engagement. But the key factor is that it is all about place and a person's relationship with that place. And being able to get them to sort of communicate what their key viewpoints are around that.

Lindsay: (05:05)

We love this concept of a playbook, you know, at Govaunch we’re all about how do we get information in front of more local governments and shared in an easy to digest way. And then part of this project is developing a playbook for other local authorities, as you mentioned. In order to prepare this playbook, you've done a lot of research on what tools you have in place today to engage with the community. Can you walk me through what that process has looked like and what you've learned so far?

Kirsty: (05:31)

So I think the first, the first thing to say about that is, is actually, it's kind of around the word playbook. So we had to do a lot of research as to what a playbook was. We tend to use, um, toolkit, um, a lot more in the U.K. Um, but actually playbook is kind of the buzzword of the moment. So once we got people to understand that a playbook is essentially a toolkit for local authoritaries, it was quite easy to engage with partners and other organizations in this. But essentially what we did was we had a very hard critical look at what we were already doing as an authority. So we looked at some of the, um, digital tools and processes that we were using internally. We spoke with some of our key partners. We did a similar sort of like assessment with their stuff.

And kind of what we're doing now is we're doing an analysis of looking through the pros and cons of each of those tools. Um, but the key thing to mention really from our perspective is, is not just about the playbook. Isn't just about how people do consultation. It's about what they do with the information once they get it. So actually one of the big benefits of doing things digitally and potentially using these digital tools is the fact that you can turn that information that you're collecting into data and use it, um, a lot more holistically across different services to really sort of help build that picture of what a community wants and needs are. Um, and also sort of as well, looking at how that then that information can be used by other services either internally or even external stakeholders to try and help shape future strategies, um, programs, development plans, um, and actual developments that are happening on the ground.

Lindsay: (07:12)

Fantastic. Um, you had mentioned a digital planning notice as well as part of this project. How are planning notices issued in Camden today and what do you envision for the more digital version?

Jono: (07:23)

So, I mean, typically site notices have always been a physical thing, which is limited to kind of name for a piece of paper, which is tied by a string or zip tied to lampposts or railings. Camden then takes it one step further than this kind of approach where we have a QR code, so people can with their phone or their mobile device such as a tablet can scan that code and we'll take you to the kind of the page where that's linked to that. So it could be a site notice for a planning application, it will take you to the documents. Or it could be for a public consultation events, and I'll take you to that part of the website. So we feel like this needs to go further. So we're talking about, we were working with a development partner and I think the key for us is user testing and kind of building up a new site notice that is based on the user experience rather than what we think has a planning authority will work. That's about 20 links with a digital planning notice. So as there a way that we can geotag or geographically, people can come across with kind of a digital online site notice and that can take them somewhere else. And then the side of the physical site notice knows itself. How does that develop? How's it more eye catching and how is it more user friendly? So once you interact with that, have once you scan it, instead of taking you to a page of a whole list of documents and PDFs, you have to click they can take you to some other - It can open the door to a world of being engaged and involved. And it's, it's about getting that. And I mean, we're more, more about data and getting that open transparent rather than sharing documents.

And there's a lot going on in the planning industry at the moment, I'll show some acronyms at you there's BOPS and there's RIPA. So, BOPS is ‘Back Office Planning System’, and that's just about making everything about data. So if I'm a developer or a resident or anybody looking at a planning application, and I want to know certain things about the scheme, I've got to dig through all the documents and then once I’m in the documents, find out. So is there a way of pulling out that information to make it easier for everyone? That's kind of the ethos on BOPS.  And then RIPA is ‘Reducing Invalid Planning Applications.’ So still people need to send pending applications to local authorities and they need it to be sifted through to make sure all the right documents are there and they're to scale and everything else. So this kind of system is essentially creating a machine or a robot that would automatically look at an application and tell or not whether it's spell it, which will cut out lots of the admin, which obviously being working planning is about adding value, not having technical time taken away from you. 

So we want to be, I mean, in summary one, this digital site notice to be more public facing them to be a doorway into a rich, uh, environment. Uh, so I think that's all, I mean, I don't know exactly what it's going to look like yet. Its a new thing, we're going to develop it, but we want it to be based on people's experiences with that. So it's an exciting time, I think. And we're hoping that we'll come up with something to kind of revolutionize the system.

Kirsty: (10:07)

I was gonna, what I was going to say was also as well, the thing to point out is this, the site notice is something that we use up and down England and Wales, the UK, but there's no kind of like standardized format for them at the moment. So they all look slightly different dependent upon where you are. So it's really one of the things we're trying to look at through this process is how we can deliver something that is scalable, that would work across the UK and try and develop some form of like consistent platform for users and stakeholders to interact with. What we're hoping to do is have a prototype that's worked up with around sort of like eight to 10 weeks. Um, we've got a program of user testing that we'll be doing throughout that development process. But the idea is to try and have that prototype in place within sort of like two, two and a half months. 

Lindsay: (10:56)

Wow. Yeah, that would be great. What are our efforts has Camden made pre or post COVID that you feel really highlight the focus you all have put on digital services?

Jono: (11:07)

So I'll start off just talking about from our service from development management, we've already got quite a lot of things in place. So I mean, traditionally, everything was paper people sent in paper applications and a few years ago we went electronic, so everything is submitted digitally to us. So it's done online now through the, what we call the planning portal. So there's no sending in hard copies. Yes. You used to have to send in four copies of each plan and document. So that's gone away. And then with decision notices, when something's approved, rather than stamp all the plans and send a physical letter signed by the chief executive, we send a digital one. We brought in what's called electronic alerts. And so that's replaced sending letters to residents. So instead of letters, we've got site notices, we advertise in local press. We have what's called a weekly list, which is on our website. It lists all the applications by area, but also people can sign up through the electronic alerts based on their address. And so they'll get alerted whenever there's a new application, whenever a decision is made and when there's an appeal. 

So planning committees have now gone remote and so have all the other committees. So as the planning authority, we actually were the first committee at Camden to go remote and we use Microsoft Teams to kind of conduct the meetings and then the others have followed suit. We have set up citizens' assembly. And we've been conducting this on Zoom where we have maintains and presentations, and then we go into breakout groups and we have facilitators. So we're engaging hands on with residents. We’ve also got something called a development management forum, which, uh, developers will kind of present their scheme. And it'll be a question and answer session with the community can ask questions of the developer and, and us as the local planning authority. So because we can no longer go to town halls or community centers we’ve now switched that to a remote platform. And we've started integrating live question feeds, which come up on the website and we've also got live polls. So we're trying to make it interactive. 

Kirsty: (13:02)

So in terms of kind of like from a plan-making perspective, one of the things that we do is we have, we sort of produce like draft consultation documents. And then normally we, in normal times we would go out to the public. We put information in libraries, we put some PDFs on our website. Um, and we kind of like have that as our digital interface. Luckily we'd already started shifting towards more of a digital platform when we were working on our site allocations consultation, which was taking place in February, March this year, and actually just as the, the country, as the UK went into lockdown. We were still out to consultation with this document because of our digital platform, we were able to continue on with the consultation. We did extend the period slightly just to allow for the people getting used to new ways of working or working from new places.

But essentially it didn't then disrupt our consultation in the same way that if we'd only been reliant upon traditional methods. In terms of the digital side of things, I mean, there's a lot of concern, I think not just in Camden, but sort of like across the UK and wider around the idea around the digital divide. And I don't think for any second that digital engagement can completely replace those more traditional forms, but certainly there is a benefit to them supplementing them. Um, and the ability then to kind of potentially attract like a whole new range of people who wouldn't traditionally have engaged with planning matters for one reason or another, and the commonplace tool that we've been using, which is kind of like a map based discussion tool, but it also has some elements around it as well, which is just kind of almost like presenting documents in a more kind of digital quick capture format, meant that we were able to engage with more people.

We also are able to access some really good analytics that sit behind it. So for example, with that consultation, we know that over 1500 people viewed the consultation platform, and we know that the response rate for people who had meaningfully engaged with the material, which means that they'd spent a considerable amount of time looking at more than one page within the site was averaging like 65%. Um, and then the number of people who commented was something like, I think our average around sort of like 17% and then the rest were kind of less engaged, but the bounce back rate was only something like 6%. So we know that for the most part, the communities that had interacted on that platform were informed, and then some felt the need to engage further with it through placing a comment. What's really interesting in a planning context is a lot of the time what we get is negative responses back from communities.

There's very, um, it's very unlikely that we would have people that would just be writing in to support something. They're normally writing in because they either want to challenge a particular aspect of it, or there's something that they want to see improved and that can then disproportionately weight the comments that we get back. So what was really good through that tool was being able to demonstrate the fact that actually, you know, what 60% of people viewed the material and had no comments. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're completely supportive of it, but it does mean that they don't necessarily kind of like in agreement with it or they're ambivalent around it, which is actually again, really helpful for us because we wouldn't have had that data otherwise, or we would have had, would have been the sort of 17, 20% of comments that we received, which most of them have sort of an element of sort of like constructive criticism or a negative kind of connotation to some of them as well.

So it was really good to try and get that balance. But the other thing we've found is through Commonplace, we were actually because it is so quick capture and convenient and easy for people and they can do it on the mobile. They could do it on the computer. We were actually capturing positive comments as well, which is something that, again, traditionally, we don't really see in planning policy because most people would be reading through the PDF document that you've gone to a library. And then they've sent us a very detailed email setting out what their key concerns were and how those potentially could be rectified. So being able to make it much more light touch, much more accessible, much more open to those sort of different people, I think really, really helped, um, through that. And that's something that we would love to sort of try and expand on something that we're working on that platform and other platforms to see how we can continue to engage with communities and try and broaden our outreach as well and reach people who haven't traditionally engaged with planning locally.

Lindsay: (17:45)

That's great. And you already touched on this a bit, but what are your hopes for the impact this project will have on your community as a whole?

Kirsty: (17:53)

I mean, I'm what one would refer to as being a bit of a planner hack. So I like, I love my profession. I love what I do. Um, and when I went to university, a lot of people thought I was studying party planning because they hadn't realized that town planning was an actual thing. And what I would love is for this to actually kind of make planning a bit more normal for people to talk about. Um, so through like the playbook and trying to sort of suggest all these different platforms, extending the outreach, but also making people sort of think a bit more about their environment and actually want to get involved in these consultations.

And I think the thing is, is that I would really love for the types of consultations we're doing in Camden to move much more away informing and very basic level of engagement to something where actually, you know, what the communities are really taking ownership over their own future. They're really getting engaged with it in a way that they haven't done before. And we're looking kind of at a different sort of like models, almost like the coproduction of documents, because we've got a really, really active and engaged population and not just from the usual suspects, but from a whole host of different types of people. I really, really want to make sort of planning accessible for everybody and really try and energize communities to take ownership of their future.

Lindsay: (19:13)

That's great and interesting too at Govlaunch, what we've noticed is we're getting engagement from folks that are even outside of local government, um, because we're so focused on innovation and how local governments can be cutting edge. And this is sort of switching people's mindsets who think government is very slow and archaic, and there's a lot of hurdles, keeping governments from being able to innovate and innovate quickly. But that isn't to say it can't be done and you, and a lot of other local authorities are demonstrating that day in and day out.

Jono: (19:46)

Yeah. We're hoping that this doesn't just benefit the communities as well. And by the private sector and developers can have some comfort because if we have data that's open and transparent, then they can knock it aside before they even purchase it. They know from these open data sources what the communities are, what the impacts are. So they're kind of empowered from the beginning and more informed decisions can be made. So I think it's cause you're right. I can not just benefit the communities and that government, but others. And as Camden, we always see ourselves as being innovative. But yeah, we want to be a great place and we want to attract lots of talent to come work for us, but it's also about spreading ideas. 

Kirsty: (20:23)

It's really encouraging as well because I mean, I think there is that kind of perception that, you know, not just local authorities can be sort of a little bit archaic, but the planning system in general can be quite archaic and outdated. And there's a lot of innovation that's happening in this space. MHCLG, which is the ministry of housing community and local government, which is like a governmental department have been really kind of instrumental in championing some of these projects. And we're really, really lucky that we've got the funding for. Cause like I said, it was something that we were very keen to work on, but it wouldn't be possible without this funding stream being made available.

Lindsay: (20:56)

If you were to give one piece of advice to another local authority looking to move toward more digital placemaking engagement, what would it be? 

Kirsty: (21:05)

It's really, really difficult one because I mean, there's lots of different sort of tools and stuff out there, but I, I think that the key, the key thing that I would say is not to be put off by the issues around kind of like the digital divide and let that stop you because we have seen much greater participation through using digital tools in a more complimentary way. So I think my key thing would be, is just to sort of just to put something out there, basically not to get too concerned about what it is, but just to try and make information as accessible as possible and as quick and convenient as possible to give people a say. The main thing is, is just to sort of move away from that kind of hard copy. Putting a PDF on a website, a PDF on a website is not digital engagement. You need to really look at how you can make it more interactive. 

Lindsay: (21:56)

Well, and I think one of the takeaways from today from our conversation too, is that you're getting a lot more engagement from the community using more digital platforms and digital tools. And yes, we can all agree that these brick and mortar services will continue to have a place in local government long after this pandemic. But I think we would all agree that there's enormous benefits from communities who are leveraging technology in ways that they haven't before to engage with their local government.

Jono: (22:27)

I think so that, and obviously it's difficult times at the moment during a pandemic, some people were feeling a bit disenfranchised and feeling that they can't have an impact on developments and things that are happening. So it's a challenge as well. Like we're doing all these new things, but we've got to kind of bring people along on the journey and make sure people are empowered and being listened to. So times are really challenging. And to be honest, you can't really always replace the face to face. Personally. I found it difficult, not having meetings with architects and looking at a model and, and going through things in person, I think has been quite a hard transition that we we've done our best, um, and will continue to, and hopefully one day in the near future, we can go back to normality and have face to face meetings as well as what we're doing digitally.

Kirsty: (23:10)

Yeah. I think it's about, it's about a new normal though. I mean, there's, I think the digital stuff and kind of having the pandemic happen as almost kind of like forced us to do this this directional change something, things that, you know, that we were maybe a little bit nervous about doing before, but I think going forward is going to be having a look at how we achieve that balance. I don't think any of the digital stuff that we've been using is going to be put in a drawer. It's going to continue to be used, but it will be used to sort of like to supplement those more traditional forms of engagement and really, really help us to kind of broaden participation and make sure that the views that we're getting in around kind of place based consultation is much more representative of the communities that are going to be impacted.

Lindsay: (23:51)

Yeah, we couldn't agree more. And we've talked with a lot of local governments around the world at this point and everybody is saying the same thing. This is a great opportunity. It gets city council behind the use of more digital tools, um, and leveraging technology in ways that was a little scary before, um, which can bring a lot of efficiency, but to your point, Jono, it's, it makes it tough, um, for certain types of meetings. So it's a balance.  We're getting closer to figuring out what the new normal will be after all of this. So changing gears a bit now, do you have time for a few more quick questions? What outside sources do you use for inspiration or education?

Kirsty: (24:33)

Um, lots of, lots of different things. So, I mean, like I said, MHCLG have been leading on, on several different sort of plan tech, um, kind of, um, projects. It's been really, really useful to see some of their blogs and their notes that they've been developing online. Um, I've been to a couple of show and tells that they've done. We're also really lucky in the UK that we have, um, kind of, um, different types of bodies that are helping with town planning. And certainly during the pandemic, a lot of the, um, the educational resources have moved online. So it makes it a lot easier to attend, um, trainings and different kinds of, sort of like webinars and podcasts. But there's just so much inspiration out of that. I mean the Royal town planning Institute have published a lot of stuff recently. We've got a London planning offices group that we can draw inspiration from, but I think that, the biggest thing is just talking to other local authorities, um, and people in similar situations because you learn so much more through that shared experience than you do through just sort of like reading things. So I think, you know, kind of like the podcasts listening, um, kind of getting more interactivity, it was really helps with that.

Lindsay: (25:27)

Yeah, definitely. There's a lot of regionally focused groups. Getting this information to other local governments, um, in other countries is really important too. Local authorities across the world are facing the same challenges. So how do we get everybody communicating a little bit more in a more digital way? Uh, what is one gov tech product you'd highly recommend and why?

Jono: (25:50)

I think I was going to pick up on a VuCity a little bit and then Kirsty was going to talk a bit about Commonplace. VuCity is a product, I think, which has really helped the industry. I think in the future on larger schemes, we're not going to get a submission of hundreds of drawings with kind of 2D elevations and plans and sections anymore. How are we going to get this 3D digital model that we've kind of plug in and look at. And already our meetings, we spend lot so much time looking at townscape views and on a digital model. So VuCity is really good because you can plot, you know, London on there, you can plop Camden and you can kind of put buildings on, which have planning permission or are currently being built.

And then you can put a new proposal in and you can look at that proposal from any angle. So I think these studies are something that's really handy for us. I know historic England have got a subscription to it and they're using it. And so that's helping them as a national body for heritage issues. And Camden has used it as well so we can input data into it and interrogate things ourselves. So for me, I think the city is as great as that's going to kind of accelerate industry, especially for us. 

Kirsty: (26:56)

From my perspective, I mean, it's Commonplace is the tool that we're using in Camden, but there are other tools that do similar. Um, it's that kind of like that heat map, quick capture consultation tool that works really, really well on, on a mobile platform. That's, map-based you drop a pin, you write what your comments are. I mean, it's really handy for kind of like the future planning stuff, but also in terms of sort of awareness around what's happening on the ground now as an information tool, but those kinds of pin drop, um, heatmap tip tools, um, I think often tastic, um, and I would certainly encourage people to look at using them or how they could utilize them. 

Lindsay: (27:33)

Great. Do you go have any other standout innovation happening in another local authority that you want to share?

Jono: (27:40)

Sure. I mean, in the United Kingdom, there's a lot at the moment. I know in American, I know you've spoken to friends in Australia, New Zealand and other countries as well, but talking from the UK, I mean the greater London authority, they're doing lots of things at the moment. They're really encouraging other local authorities to be more innovative and digital. And at the moment they're working on a viability open source product. So all viability is put in the system and shared, which is a great thing. I mean, viability used to be very much protected and it was sensitive information, but now that all has to be public. So I think that's great, but also just appointed their first ever chief digital officer. And if he's out there listening, please accept my Twitter invite.

And, um, Suffolk are behind the kind of back office planning system or the BOPS I was talking about before, and I told about the RIPA. So the reducing invalid planning applications, there's lots of local authorities and involved in that. And of course the MHCLG, the ministry of housing and communities and local government, they gave us the funding and hopefully they give us more on a permanent basis. Cause we'd love to keep innovating. We're actually partnered with Middlesborough. We're really grateful for her helping us out. And that's all, but I mean, as I said, there's so much happening and there's so many local authorities out there doing, doing wonderful things and there's lots of funding out there. So it's a good time to be in the industry, as I said,

Lindsay: (29:00)

Yeah, well, we couldn't agree more. I mean, we're seeing all the innovation happening in projects and then it on Govlaunch. So the UK is doing a lot of really neat stuff. Um, what's something you've tried that didn't work?

Kirsty: (29:13)

So, um, I'm, it's not necessarily something I've tried at Camden, but at another authority we had a digital engagement platform, but it never, again, it never kind of went far enough. What we ended up doing was you were supposed to write the document within this platform and I'm being very careful not to share the name of the platform because lots of local authorities still use it. Um, but you would write kind of like a document within the platform. And then you've got very, very limited kind of like editing capabilities in terms of the user interface and how it would look as a document. But the idea was is that people would go online and then they would be able to comment paragraph by paragraph. But because it was such a clumsy system, it made it really, really difficult for people to engage with.

So most of the time we just ended up uploading PDF documents and then people would write in emails and then we would have to sort of take all of the content out of the emails and put it into this horrible clunky system. And it just didn't quite work. So I know we've already kind of like done the advice bit, but the other thing is to look at all the different tools and options that are out there and, you know, make sure that you pick the one that, that fits what your needs are best. I think it's just because lots of people have used this tool. It kind of became, um, yeah, kind of like standard and lots of authorities did it and it was quite upsetting actually, when I'd moved from one authority to another and I joined and they were like, yeah, we've got this brand new consultation tool. It's X. And I was like, Oh dear, I'm going to have to do this again. Okay.

Lindsay: (30:44)

Yeah. And this is really unfortunate that this happens so frequently you end up with these big enterprise players that have really become adopted across local governments, maybe for features that they claim they have, that they don't really have. And what's also unfortunate is the onboarding process for a lot of these tools is so long and it's so cumbersome as you know, with procurement rules to even get going with a new technology that you're, it's kind of like, you're, you're in too deep and can't get out. So I've talked with a lot of local governments that have, um, have very similar experiences. And so trying to disrupt that by looking at some of these new startups with better technology that are more nimble and easier to implement and in a lot of cases much more cost-effective, uh, we're trying to raise some awareness around that as well. 

So what's something that excites you about the future of Camden?

Jono: (31:41)

Well there’s so much Lindsay, I don't know where to start. But what excites me the most I think is that I feel like we're kind of ahead the end of the curve already. We've got some wonderful things in the knowledge quarters, like with the home of Google and the Francis Crick Institute and the British library, but because we're really progressive and we've got quite a rebellious social spirit. I mean, we've got the suffragettes originated here and we've got we’re always ahead of the social movement. But with the changes to the planning white pipe at the moment, central governments are trying to push things to be more kind of master plan led and more digital.

And I feel like we're well equipped and we've got so many big things in the pipeline we've got used to them, which is one of the biggest things happening in London and some other really big regeneration schemes. So what excites me about the future is all the things we have coming and all the changes, and I've been to be part of the change and to share with others. And I think that's key as we want to work with as many people as we can. So to make Camden and the rest of the UK better, basically.

Kirsty: (32:38)

I think Jono has pretty much just said it all. I mean the biggest thing for me and what surprised me, cause I've only been at Camden for like just over two years is just the incredible amount of talent and passion that we have in the organization. Um, and Camden is one of those places that's just exceptionally exciting to work for because it's constantly trying to sort of like drive change and strive for improvement and better. I mean, some of the work that we've been looking at in the last year around how you sort of capture more social value from planning and looking at sort of our approach to affordable workspace and even like points like around kind of, we have a mixed use policy, which is something which is very kind of progressive looking at how we can change the mix from areas that are traditionally more commercial led to introducing residential uses within them to make the areas much more vibrant, which at the time we got a lot of pushback on, but now as we're looking kind of into kind of like this post pandemic world places, all becoming more mixed and need that kind of vibrancy within them, that you would only get from having a local population.

So yeah, no, it's an incredibly exciting time to be working for Camden. And I'm really excited about what the future's going to hold for it as well as a borough and as an organization.

Lindsay: (33:52)

Well, fantastic. I want to thank you both for joining me today. We're looking forward to checking back in to see how this big project evolves and checking out your playbook once you've got it into production. So thanks again and wish you all the best.

Kirsty: (34:06)

Thanks Lindsay.

Jono: (34:07)

Thanks so much Lindsay.  And we look forward to sharing our hopefully very successful project with you.

Lindsay: (34:20)

We chose to highlight the work underway in Camden for a few reasons. We love the concept of creating a playbook for other local authorities as this compliments our mission at Govaunch, which is to create free resources for local governments so they can leverage each other's great work and stop reinventing the wheel. 

We also admire the steps they're taking to improve digital services and to better engage with the community, both pre and post COVID. 

And lastly, as you probably heard, they're passionate about their work and their community. This drives them to set ambitious goals and push for innovation in the planning department and beyond. We hope others can learn from their experience and hopefully take advantage of resources coming out of Canton in the future. 

I'm Lindsay Pica-Alfano and this podcast was produced by Govlaunch - the Wiki for local government innovation. You can subscribe to hear more stories like this, wherever you get your podcasts. If you're a local government innovator, we hope you'll help us on our mission to build the largest free resource for local governments globally. 

You can join to search and contribute to the wiki at Thanks for tuning in. We hope to see you next time on the Govaunch podcast.