One of the things that has frustrated me about the #GrenfellTower disaster is how construction companies have handled the sudden mass interest of the public and media. Deleting the pages of your website that prove your association with a project isn’t an adequate response in my opinion. It also demonstrates how little people with responsibility for communications in construction understand how the internet works.
The sad thing is, we have known that our attitude to the public involvement in construction has been inadequate for some time, and there is an alternative – in fact there are many alternative ways to handle community engagement and benefit from it.
Two years ago I made a series of videos with The B1M. This is one of them, which focused on the way the construction industry can engage with the public.
At the beginning of the video I described the very simplistic way in which construction companies currently use social media to broadcast their successes, and criticised them for not engaging with and learning from the public better. I then went on to describe just a few examples of tools and processes that make better use of technology to improve buildings and outcomes. Why won’t we use them?
The signs that the public are not satisfied with our attitude to consultation have also been around for some time. Soon after we made the video above, a development project in London was refused planning permission after a social media campaign. The prevailing response to this success from our industry was that this was outrageous! I beg to differ. Community involvement in the process of planning is to be applauded.
Now I recognise that this is inconvenient for us – it would be much easier if we could carry on building buildings and ignore or control the views of the public, direct them to visit our ‘consultation websites’ and corral them into a procedure that suits us.
But that isn’t going to happen, which is why I put together some ‘do’s and don’ts’ with regard to how architects can handle social media campaigns against development projects.
And now we have faced another huge challenge, the awful situation in North Kensington where scores of people have died. Why were we so inadequate in dealing with the effects of a crisis unfolding online?
The prevailing response from construction to public opinion is to hope that it will go away. That isn’t good enough – the Grenfell Tower disaster has proved it. How can we as an industry play our part in changing this?