A little more conversation, a little less broadcast please

How to take public consultation beyond the tick box


The content of this article will not be for everyone. There are still those who believe that the development process, whether for a new hotel or a whole village, should be done with as little consultation with the local community as possible. This won’t be for you.

At first glance, genuine community and stakeholder consultation, going beyond the statutory tick box can feel like an added complication in an already lengthy process. Too unruly, too time-consuming to manage. I’ve certainly heard that point of view on more than one occasion.

I would argue however, that failing to embrace the wealth of knowledge, ideas and energy that exists within local communities, is to miss a huge trick that can be to the detriment of a project. Quite apart from the fact it is also disrespectful.

Further to this I would go so far as to say that the failure to really listen, to really understand, to really work with communities from the word go, absolutely limits the potential of any new development, any new place, any new building, to be all it can be.

I find it remarkable that stakeholder and community consultation/engagement can still be pushed to the pile of ‘something we have to, rather than want to do’, when there is so much richness, so much creativity and so much brilliance to be found in stakeholders and local community.

It is even more remarkable when you consider that through genuine, responsive, engagement, communities can become empowered, enthused and even supportive, for the long run. Injecting new buildings and places with a vibrancy and life that can only come when people are part of shaping them.

Here I look briefly at the benefits of early, engaging and inclusive public consultation in development projects and at what I believe are the key ingredients for this. My 25 years experience in communications and engagement, most recently through my company Garner & Tonic, inform my thinking.


I should start with a positive.

There are many who do embrace genuine community consultation and engagement. They are commissioning and delivering compelling, stimulating engagement programmes for projects across the globe. Even better, as the benefits of taking this type of approach to consultation are more widely acknowledged, their numbers are increasing.

Those who do recognise and capture the benefits, do so largely because of three factors;

  • The potential of genuine engagement to build stronger, more consistent and more long-lasting public support around a project,
  • Its potential to deliver design and place-making that truly reflect local wants, needs and ideas, thus encouraging community pride and true sense of belonging,
  • Its potential, through co-creation, to draw on the wealth of knowledge and ideas that exist in communities, that can add to the expertise of the professional team and thus make the project the very best it can be.


Embracing this type of consultation/engagement process takes you way further than the traditional tick box. Reaching out to audiences beyond the usual suspects and engaging in ways that take the conversation out of traditional settings, into imaginative and rich spaces, designed to encourage positive and constructive dialogue and the sharing of ideas.

The secret to making this type of consultation process successful is for communication to be two way and to be consistent. Think a little more conversation, a little less broadcast.

It must also be inclusive, accessing all pockets of the community, with a mission to truly understand the local picture and all its ingredients.

To reach its potential, the consultation process must also be stimulating and memorable. A member of public involved in a consultation should not feel like it’s a drag or indeed a waste of time. Sadly this is not always the case.

Key to the success of any public consultation programme, will also be clear and well-coordinated internal communications, amongst the entire project team. Ignore this at your peril!

Without clear, informed and timely internal communications, it is nigh on impossible to get external communications right. This usually shows up as a general sense amongst those being ‘consulted’ that questions don’t get answered and that issues raised don’t get satisfactorily resolved.

The emerging feeling around the project as a whole can soon become one of fatigue, even anger, with a growing sense that the project team are out of touch and don’t actually care.

This can so easily be avoided through an internal communications strategy that joins up thinking, is based around project vision and values and sets out a clear protocol for receiving, working through and responding to consultee input.


In conclusion

Community consultation can be a relevant, rich conversation that brings communities and stakeholders right into the development process from the word go. It can also be a managed process, so that it produces outputs that are informative, timely and meaningful for all involved. The key is great communication, both externally and internally, coordinated planning of the programme and open, collaborative, creative thinking.


Early and consistent engagement will build a sense of belonging and ownership that will both empower and invigorate communities, creating resilience through connection and neighbourliness. It is, to my mind an essential ingredient in creating future fit buildings and places.


People give buildings a reason to exist. Without listening to people first, the reason for any new building or village to exist will forever be lacking. Without reason to exist soul is hard to come by.




The services Garner & Tonic offer


  • Design and delivery of a complete stakeholder and community engagement programme


  • Stakeholder identification, mapping and liaison, to give you a clear understanding of the influencers and power-holders within the local and wider community and a clear strategy for approaching and engaging with them


  • Early intelligence gathering to bring understanding of the make up of the community and their headline wants, needs, challenges and concerns. This will inform both tone of voice and content of consultation materials ongoing as well as consultation approach and programme


  • Encourage diversity of thinking by creating opportunities to learn from those who have experience and expertise beyond the project team, in specific sectors, such as sustainability, resilience and regenerative thinking


  • Act as a bridge between developer/Council/client and the community, building relationships and identifying community ambassadors as relationships progress


  • Plan and deliver vibrant, compelling and inspiring communication and engagement activities, fitting of audience and focused on generating meaningful outputs


  • Draw out and present data and information gleaned from questionnaires, surveys, feedback forms and conversations to usefully inform the design process


  • Create community engagement spaces, real and virtual, that exist for the duration of the project and potentially beyond


  • Work with the wider project team to produce audience specific content for use in project materials for public consumption; project websites, short films, brochures, display boards, social media, presentations, questionnaires, feedback forms. Helping you ‘translate’ the technical


  • Take on a Comms coordinating role to ensure that the entire project team, both internal and consultants are kept up to speed, are well briefed and on the same page. All signed up to the project vision and values. And clear as to lines of communication, internal and external


For further information email [email protected]













When you just can’t find the answer



Much to the bewilderment of my children, and admittedly some of my friends too, I have decided this Autumn, to continue a habit that really took hold over lock down – sea swimming.


I’m not doing this in response to the news that cold water swimming might help ward off dementia, although that would be a fantastic plus. I am infact doing it to aid my decision making.


I am prone to procrastination. I have, like we all do, good instincts and strong intuition, but when I find myself puzzling over a question, desperate for an answer, my default position is to go into my head.


What is particularly interesting about this is that I know, with absolute certainty that I make the best decisions, from my gut. Yet still I go on this frustrating, brain squeezing merry-go-round of trying to think myself to a solution.


I’m not saying thinking is bad. Thinking is wonderful. But it is the type of thinking, specifically where I am thinking from that makes all the difference.


Thinking purely in my head, without feeling into my body, without opening my heart, is as limiting as it is circular. It can feel forced, I become absolutely fixed on trying to find an outcome and the more I try, the further away I move from the answers that feel right.


Decisions made this way, whilst often serving to answer the need for urgency that starts to surround the question, frequently result in u-turns later on. Because we haven’t drawn on all our resources to make the decision. We’ve tried to use our brain alone.


Thinking, when grounded in your body, trusting your instincts, letting yourself be free and curious as to what might arise, is a completely different kettle of fish. Here is where the secrets of your inner knowing lie. Because we all have that inner knowing, we already have the answers inside us.


But it’s not done with the head.


Whether it’s the coldness of the water, the openness of the sky above me, the glassiness of the surface of the waves, the cormorant that often joins me behind the breakers, when I’m in the sea, I can let the tendency towards forced thinking go. I can just swim and feel the water on my body and bask in the awesomeness of the natural world.


I don’t try to think, I don’t try to mull over, I just feel into. I feel the cold, I feel (or rather don’t) my feet and hands as they go numb, I feel the water as it touches the bits of my face and ears it reaches for the first time. I feel the wind. I am present to myself, fully embodied. And it is so precious to me, that I am now committed to making it part of my life.


When I am in this place I feel wholly in myself. I am grounded (albeit bobbing) and this feeling stays with me for several hours after I leave the water. A freshness to my thinking, tiredness lifted, remarkable stillness are an addictive reward.


And unless I have to be on the phone, or Zoom or meeting someone, I don’t try and engage my brain, I don’t go back to trying to force the answers. I allow myself to listen, to observe, to stay open and often, at some point when I am reading or writing or driving or eating, the answer will come. Often it’s in a way that if I had been in my head, I would not have even noticed. Serendipitous happenings, those delicious moments where you feel that life has such meaning and such purpose that everything is lining up to tell you what to do.


In our busy lives we are often in our heads. We tend to defer to familiar ways of problem solving – trying to fix it, wanting to know the answer, coming from a need to satisfy our desire to set a goal and realise it.

But as someone who is looking to live a life where I make decisions that I can live by, driven by my values, by what is important to me, it is not the head, the desperate solution finding part of me, that holds the answers.


It’s my inner knowing, my intuition, that part of me that is not about ‘should’, that part that doesn’t shout, but is quietly persistent. That part of me that holds everything I know, even that which I know without knowing.

I can’t unlock it through my head. It just doesn’t work.


But being out in nature, sea swimming is like a key to a most important lock. So valuable I am prepared to brave storms and hail to try and keep going through the year.


Finding space to tap into your own intuition doesn’t necessarily require you to throw yourself in the sea, although some sort of practice that enables you to ‘be’ in your body is so worth finding. I find dancing with wild abandon (once again much to the horror of my children) can work equally well, especially if outdoors!


Being in spaces and environments where this type of thinking is explicitly encouraged, is another way to do it. Coaching, of the listening kind rather than the advising kind, can be great for this.  Check out what I can do to help you find that space at https://www.thebeautifulthinking.com/services


Interesting reading


Research suggests cold water swimming can ward off dementia



Being out in nature boosts health



Know your place



We’ve all felt it. That shame-tinged feeling that comes with being made to feel we have stepped beyond an imaginary line. Out of our box.

I have seen this tactic used by politicians to avoid answering a question, by teachers looking to control a child, by parents fed up of being challenged by unruly teens, in meetings to maintain the hierarchy.

Know your place they are saying. And by that they mean, understand the rules, this is how we do it. How could you not get that?

Why does it happen that way? Why are we so easy to shame into stepping back into a place that’s not of our own choosing, even if we know we were not looking to be rude, even when we know we are right to have asked the question or challenged the answer? Even when we know that what we bring is of value, that a fresh perspective will enhance thinking?

Collectively as a species we humans have over hundreds of years, particularly in the last 500 or so, increasingly lost the sense of knowing our true place in the world.

Disconnection from nature, separation from each other, disharmony between our inner and outer selves. So many of us consequently crave belonging and connection, many of us without even knowing why. And this lack of knowing, this lack of sense of self, makes us more uncertain of ourselves, less willing to trust our intuition, less confident in our own abilities. Easier to manipulate. Easier to shake. Easier to sell to.

As separation of humans from each other, from nature and between our inner and outer selves has intensified, so it has become easier for soul-less, bureaucratic, purely profit focused business practice and governance to rule.

Consequently as our collective ‘not knowing’ has grown, so we have seen our home, planet earth, put under such intense, unsustainable pressure that now we are talking about the real possibility of irreversible change and the 6th mass extinction. As Greta Thunberg now so famously said, our house is on fire.

It is clear that things must change and I believe we need to start small. With ourselves.

Whether we are a leader or a child still at school, everything we do, matters. We are connected to each other and to every living thing.

There is no longer time for us to turn a blind eye or walk away bruised and silenced. It’s never been more important to know who we are and to be steadfast in that knowing. How we feel about ourselves matters, how we react to things matters, what drives us matters, how we relate to everyone and every thing, matters.



So know your place. Take your place.

You are as important, as beautiful, as powerful, as deserving as the next human and your are, without a doubt an absolutely vital part of this awe inspiring, abundant, vibrant, interconnected world.

The more you bring your true, aware self into every situation you face, the better it is for you and I promise, the better it also is for the planet.

And it starts with our own work.


Doing your own work..

This is all about finding the right way for you to bring awareness to the choices you are making, the things you are doing, the stuff that triggers you, in ways that you can integrate into day to day life.

  1. Learn how to centre yourself. Simply slowing down your breathing or changing the pattern of your breaths will help you calm yourself even in the midst of chaos and stress, if you learn the ways that work best for you. Guided meditations or simple rituals can be powerful too. It depends what feels right for you.
  2. Take time each day, just a few minutes, to ground yourself. Literally feel your feet on the ground, ideally outside with bare feet. Grounding helps us to become more sure of ourselves and the decisions we make and to be more content with who we are. It also helps us to feel our place in the world, interconnected, part of the environment. Consistent yoga and mediation  practice can also help with grounding.
  3. When did you last consider your values? Which 3 or 4 central values are key to you living the life you want to live? The values that mean you get up in the morning? If they are incongruent with what you are spending your time doing, life is going to feel like an uphill struggle.
  4. Never underestimate your power as a consumer. Behind every purchase is a whole chain. Know the story of what you are buying.
  5. Find a channel for your stress. It may be power-walking, it may be yoga, it may be hitting the pads. Your body holds onto shit. Help it to let go.
  6. Be brave, step out of your comfort zone once a day. The more you challenge yourself, the less challenge from others will impact you.
  7. Get out in nature. Whether in your back garden looking at ants, sea swimming or walking for miles through wild countryside, there is nothing better to help you come to understand your true place on the planet than being part of it.
  8. Working with a life coach, a mentor, or a therapist. Everyone, individual or organisation could benefit from understanding themselves better. Check out my website The Beautiful Thinking to find out what I can offer https://www.thebeautifulthinking.com
  9. Leaders, business owners, if you haven’t already read it, Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux is a must read. Regenerative Leadership by Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm is inspiring too.
  10. Check out https://www.regenerators.co


Image: Andy Vu


Growth is good. Right?

Until a few days ago, swarming was an adjective I had only ever heard applied to flying insects. It would appear however it can also be applied to vehicles.  In central London last week a series of organised swarming events took place.  Deployed by a diverse and growing collective of activists, driven by a lack of action by the powers that be to speak up for the planet.


Under the name Extinction Rebellion, these people are united in their stance – It is time for the government to take clear, decisive action on climate change. Now.


Protesters were polite, explained why they were stopping traffic for 5 minute spells, even handed out muffins. Many spoke of needing to take action for their children, nephews and nieces, grandchildren. And it would appear that at least some of the drivers and passengers caught up in it all shared the concerns of protestors.


I am heartened, but not altogether surprised. 2018 has been a year when the environment, particularly the state of the marine environment hit the mainstream agenda. A new-found awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet simply by living the lives we live.


How does this new-found awareness manifest? More people bringing their own cups to coffee shops, their own bags to the supermarket, choosing not to purchase products that contain ingredients we have been told are damaging the environment. More people doing their bit. Making changes to how they live.


We are taking small steps, making changes, in the hope that together this will make a difference.

But to truly address the catastrophe that is around the corner, even if it is simply a case of accepting the inevitable with grace, it’s going to take something far, far more fundamental. We are going to have to change belief systems. The rules of life that we have all grown up with.


I have pondered this a lot lately. And I find myself repeatedly coming back to the word expectation. And to the very basic lessons all of us are taught at school.


Expectation, that we can have anything, from anywhere, at pretty much anytime – as long as we can pay for it one way or another.


And the basic learning that growth is good. As long as we continue to accumulate, as long as the economy continues to grow and GDP continues to rise, we are in a good place.


It is clear however, despite our widely held beliefs that all our expectations can be met, that the planet can no longer sustain us ‘taking’ at the rate we have done.


George Monbiot in his blog post of 19thNovember entitled Hopeless Realism https://www.monbiot.com/2018/11/19/hopeless-realism/says:


…”continued economic growth is incompatible with sustaining the Earth’s systems.. While 50 billion tonnes of resources used per year is roughly the limit the Earth’s systems can tolerate, the world is already consuming 70 billion tonnes.

Business as usual, at current rates of economic growth, will ensure that this rises to 180 billion tonnes by 2050. Maximum resource efficiency, coupled with massive carbon taxes and some pretty optimistic assumptions, would reduce this to 95 billion tonnes: still way beyond environmental limits. A study taking account of the rebound effect (efficiency leads to further resource use) raises the estimate to 132 billion tonnes. Green growth, as members of the Institute appear to accept, is physically impossible”.



An economist (Kate Raworth) whose work I very much admire, is known for amongst other things, developing an alternative to the traditional growth model of economics, which just so happens to be doughnut shaped.  Through her doughnut economics theory she outlines and proposes solutions to the most pertinent challenge that humans face in the 21stCentury. To ensure that every person has the resources they need to meet their human rights, whilst at the same time ensuring we live within the ecological means of the planet.


There has never been a better time to understand what she is saying.


As she says in her TED talk, which I would recommend watching immediately:


“We intuitively understand that when something tries to grow forever within a healthy, living, thriving system, it’s a threat to the health of the whole. So why would we imagine that our economies would be the one system that could buck this trend and succeed by growing forever?”




As a species we have come to equate success with attainment of stuff. We have come to believe that a thriving economic system is contingent on consumption and growth.


It has become the widely assumed case that to be a successful human is to achieve, to build empires and to attain wealth.

But that model of success is based on the assumption that the planet can withstand the ever growing demands we are putting on it.

It is an assumption that is wholly flawed.


We need to reassess what success as a human looks like.


If it about seeing a future for the species on this planet (some would question whether it is, but that’s a whole other blog), we need to adjust our expectations and change our way of living, big time and fast.

Photo credit: David Alberto Carmona Coto

Can we truly turn the tide?



The same week we hear that the UK Government is seeking views on proposals to ban plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds we also hear that for the first time micro plastics, that are so prolific in the environment, have been found in humans.


It’s hardly a surprise. These miniscule particles of plastic are everywhere and will continue to be indefinitely. That’s the nature of plastic. Longevity is one of its main selling points.


But it is the spotlight that has been shone upon the plastics situation, the graphic images of entangled sea life, of tropical island paradises awash with bottles and packets, of huge rafts of plastic covering giant swathes of the ocean, that has finally woken us up.


It has been interesting to observe this awakening. It’s not like the problem has only just arrived. It’s that the message has been communicated in a different way. In a way that speaks to far more people than the usual suspects. The plastic problem has gone mainstream.


My day to day life is full of small, often growing companies doing amazing things, creating brilliant products and putting the environment first as they do so. These small businesses, often run from a kitchen table, with a team of 2 or 3 are the innovators. They are looking for new, environmentally friendly ways to package their products, for ingredients that will replace damaging ones, for alternatives to non-recyclables and disposables. The vast majority do so on the tiniest budget, lucky to make any profit at all in the first few years. Their drive to do it the right way making the sacrifices worth it.


Meanwhile the big guys keep on going. The ones with the budget to innovate and research, to source alternatives, they keep churning out the quantity, business as usual. Spending thousands and thousands on clever marketing campaigns to demonstrate how they are playing their part in the latest environmental issue, rarely changing what they actually do at all. Pushed only to make changes when legislation dictates.


It is absurd that big or small, we all live on the same planet, our children, their children, their grandchildren will all share the same future. Yet despite making money enough to play an incredibly significant part in creating a positive version of the future for planet earth, the effort to stretch their minds, change practices, seems to be too much for the majority of the major players to do. It is shameful.


For us as consumers, the plastics campaign, which still has many, many more twists and turns ahead of it, is proof that raising awareness on a magnificent scale can bring about change in the mainstream. It is a lesson to all of us working in the sustainability and environment field that we need to tell the story in a way that speaks to all demographics. It is also a lesson to all of us that our power as consumers carries significant weight. But that we need to be aware of the problem before we can have any real impact. Living with our ears and eyes truly open to the world around us, asking questions even when sometimes its easier to turn a blind eye, is a big first step.



“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last…” The words of Vivienne Westwood



As a teenager in Cornwall in the late 80’s/early noughties it’s not an understatement to say that the high street fashion offering was limited. Tammy Girl, Dorothy Perkins, that was pretty much it.

With every teenage girl purchasing from the same very small pool, it was nigh impossible not to see someone wearing the same outfit as you when you went out. This really did matter a lot – to me at least.


By way of a solution I turned to what is now termed vintage clothing, by shopping on a Saturday in the local flea market in Truro, which was a brilliant place full of treasures. My best friend and I would trawl through the rails for fabrics and colours that caught our eyes, often cutting stuff up and attempting to sew things back together to make new creations. It was not uncommon for us to use safety pins to hold everything together. Staples if time was tight.


There was something about these one-off pieces that not only gave me a sense of identity at a time where it really truly mattered, but also instinctively felt more solid, more well-made, better quality. I found myself naturally drawn to silks, cottons and wools, repelled by synthetic fabrics. This has continued to be a ‘thing’ for me.


My love for clothes and how an outfit can make me feel has never gone away. Colour and fabric are as important to me as they ever were. And I still wake up some mornings piecing together an outfit in my head. The best friend that I used to shop with in my teens still does the same.  I also still have some of the finds from back in my teens – squirrelled away, just in case one day I might have the right occasion to wear a strip of gorgeous fabric attached to a wide elastic waist band by a dozen safety pins in the vague form of a skirt.


Over the years however as my love of clothes has continued, it has been joined by an increasing awareness of the issues within the fashion industry. Not just the way and the by whom clothes are made, or where fabrics are sourced, but the very nature of the industry, which is of course transitional and encourages us to continuously move our look on.


On an individual scale the fashion industry encourages many of us to change wardrobes with the season, even faster these days. High street shops seem to completely turn over their stock within weeks of a new line coming out, it is never ending. On a bigger scale this need to keep things moving creates situations such as the one which exposed Burberry as having burnt £28m of clothes and perfume last year. It subsequently emerged that Burberry is not alone. Both the luxury fashion houses and high street brands revealed that they destroy unsold stock – often burning items which have not been sold. Which as well as being a horrific waste of woman/man hours, fabric, water, energy etc, also has the potential to release all kinds of chemicals into the environment when they burn.


My partner will testify to the fact that I have a wardrobe that takes up one side of our bedroom. I choose not to have doors on it because I love the colours and textures so much. Every day I wake up to them and it seriously makes me happy. The vast majority of these clothes have been a couple of years in my ownership, many over a decade, some over 20 years. And some belonged to someone else first. I buy only items I love. And I fall in love rarely.


We are all consumers. Some of us have got it under better control than others (my partner) but many of us have a ‘weakness’ for consuming that we find hard to curb.


As we increasingly (hopefully) make wiser, greener, more sustainable choices around the food we eat, the products we clean our home with, the car we drive (or maybe don’t), the way we live, the clothes we buy, I don’t believe it always needs to be about giving up the things we love. We just need to do as Vivienne Westwood suggests, ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last’.


And the good news is that the choice is a world away from what it was for me in my teenage years. Even if ‘vintage’ now comes at a price!







Our virtual experience of the natural world

This morning I awoke from a dream with the image of a clutch of blue green speckled birds eggs snuggled in a well-woven nest, fresh in my mind. I was, right at that moment, the 8 year old me. The sense of wonder that comes with seeing such a thing so real that I held onto it tightly as I dozed.

My childhood was full of moments such as these – quietly magnificent encounters with the wild that without conscious effort connected me with the natural world. I believe these moments made me the person I am. Someone who still feels connected to and therefore cares strongly about the world around me.

As I lay in bed reflecting on what the dream ‘meant’ I didn’t come up with any profound answers. But what I did find myself wondering, is whether, as our lives and the lives of our children increasingly become lived through screens and virtual experiences of the world around us, how we create adults with a sense of caring for the planet.

It wasn’t until pretty recently that I first heard the term biophilia. Very loosely it means love of nature, the affinity of human beings for other life forms.

My childhood experiences gave it to me.

I believe it is one of the most valuable qualities a human can possess. Because without, it, without that sense that as humans we are just part of one big natural world, where is the will to look after it?

Every day I hear of a new product that has come on the market that will help solve one of the problems we as consumers have created – A reusable straw, a household cleaning product that doesn’t contain damaging chemicals, a new type of energy generating wind turbine, clothing made out of recycled plastic. I hear about campaigns to change how we behave, what we eat, how we package, how we travel.

I’m excited by what I see. Indeed it’s these very products, campaigns and brands that will be part of creating a positive version of the future. A version that is increasingly hard to believe in.

But I hope alongside this never-ending, powerful drive to consume even ‘friendly’ stuff, we also find time to take ourselves and our children back to nature. Because if consumers don’t care about the world, they won’t make the right choices. Especially in a world where money drives behaviour and where making the environmental choice is often still seen as the more expensive option.