Young people don't need incentives to get involved in shaping built environment projects, they simply need it to be practical, straightforward and easy

Getting anyone under the age of 30 through the doors of a built environment public consultation event is notoriously difficult, not least because working-age people and young families simply don't have the time to dedicate to it. These events therefore tend to attract a disproportionate amount of people of retirement age that are naturally more resistant to change, often emboldened by an instinctive desire to protect the value of their most valuable asset – their home.

This skews the outcomes of consultation, makes developers sceptical of the process and discourages them to invite community involvement in the future. Not only does it become fruitless, but also counterproductive.

But this isn't because young people don't care – having their say on a proposal for new homes or transport improvements is simply not as high up on their list of priorities if they have a job or children, for example. Millennials are, more than ever, forced to think about the short term – 'how do I pay the bills?', 'how do I stop my kids from crying?', 'how do I pay the rent?', and aren't quite motivated enough to pack up the pushchair and dedicate an hour or so to visiting a village hall that they have never been to before and finding out what might pop-up on a development site round the corner in 3-5 years.

That's why offering cake, charity donations and free pens, or making participation more playful with post-it notes or toys, isn't going to increase levels of participation. In my experience, people care, but their involvement needs to fit in with their lifestyle and their long list of priorities that take up most of their time. That's not to say we should make participation mundane and all about the process, but we need to recognise the real barrier to involvement isn't apathy.

That's why we need to be thinking in terms of ease-of-use, rather than incentives, when thinking about how to involve younger, busier people in the built environment debate.

Written by Paul Erskine-Fox - Founder, Participatr

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