Getting to grips with planning law and with neighbourhood planning … New books in our library

Anyone who reads our blog will know that our research team care about supporting the use of evidence in practice, whether that’s in social services, in housing, or in planning. And one of the unique resources we have to help do this is our very own library!

Created over forty years, there are more than 60,000 books and reports in the library collection, as well as hundreds of different journal titles. Our members can borrow any book from our collection via a postal loan service – offered free as part of the organisational membership subscription to our Idox Information Service.

While quick reads – such as the briefings written by our own team – will always be popular given the pressures on people’s time, there’s still a place for real books. Many organisations use membership of our service as a way to support their staff’s CPD – whether that’s informal personal development or supplementary support for staff doing formal courses or degrees.

Supporting professional CPD

We’re regularly adding new books to our collection and two that caught my eye recently are in the field of planning. We’ve a lot of members who work in planning across the UK, including the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) themselves, and as a profession, planners commit to maintain and develop their expertise through Continuing Professional Development.

Using our book loan service is one way that our members can access new publications and stay up-to-date with current thinking in their sector.

  • Localism and Neighbourhood Planning

Neighbourhood planning was one of the rights and powers introduced under the Localism Act of 2011, and was expected to offer ” a new way for communities to decide the future of the places where they live and work”. Six years on, a new book edited by Sue Bronhill and Quintin Bradley, reflects on whether neighbourhood planning has succeeded in increasing democratic engagement with the planning system.

In particular it examines how localism has played out in practice, especially given the legal and technical skills that are required in planning. As well as exploring the situation in England, the book also looks at how multi-level governance is being applied in the other parts of the UK and in countries such as Australia and France.

It raises interesting questions about whether neighbourhood planning has changed the institutional structure of planning and the power relations involved. It also asks whether an even more progressive form of localism within planning might emerge.

  • Essential Guide to Planning Law

With the planning systems and law devolved within the UK, a book which provides an overview of how practice differs in each nation is much needed. This book covers all the core areas, from development management, planning conditions, planning control and enforcement. It also addresses the planning arrangements in specialist areas such as minerals planning, waste planning and marine planning.

The book serves as a useful reminder of how and why planning decisions are made, and the legal frameworks that underpin planning practice.

The Idox Information Service

As Dr Mike Harris, Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, has said, it’s important that the planning profession is able to access and use evidence and research.

“Research and theory can help to lift the perspective of practitioners beyond the day-to-day demands of the job, to provoke reflection and discussion about the wider social purposes and values of planning. It can also help us better to defend planning from those who would seek to erode it further.”


Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Get more information on membership here or contact us to arrange a free trial of our service for your organisation.

Moving into the 21st century … the challenges and opportunities of digital culture

art gallery, kelvingrove glasgowBack in December, I attended the International Symposium on Evaluating Digital Cultural Resources at the newly refurbished Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.

The day provided an opportunity for researchers and professionals with an interest in culture and heritage in Scotland to come together to consider how digital technologies are transforming the sector. Key questions addressed included what digital culture means in practice, and how to demonstrate the benefits for both professionals and the public who experience culture and heritage in galleries, libraries, museums and other cultural spaces.

Whose ‘culture’ is it anyway?

A number of the studies presented during the day argued that making a collection ‘digital’ does not necessarily make it accessible. In some instances “preserving” collections by digitising them can actually make sources less accessible to members of the general public than if they had been kept in “hard copy” – raising the question of who exactly the material is being preserved for.

Is it for the benefit of researchers and archivists of the future? Or is the aim to present heritage and culture in a new way, preserving it, but in a way which makes it more engaging to the general public?

Questions were raised about public access, digital copyright, online availability, online cataloguing and digital databases – sometimes collections can remain as hidden as they had been before they were digitised, due to paywalls or complicated and over-elaborate online archives.

And it was clear throughout the day that delegates and speakers were wrestling with the notion of “ownership of digital cultural resources”. One example highlighted was that of Scotland’s Sounds, an audio archive of recordings which is held in the National Library of Scotland. These are resources captured in communities, donated by people and groups who want their local heritage to be preserved.

However, when it is held in a collection within a national institution, decisions about these resources are centralised with curators. They decide which elements of the collection should be exhibited and when. And they design the layout of the collection and the edited versions of recordings. Is the power of creation taken away from the original creators in this process? And does “going digital” actually make the resources, while preserving them, more inaccessible to local people who could be daunted by the prospect of visiting a national institution or may not be able to travel.

Researchers from the online archive database project ENUMERATE found that only 3-4% of digitised cultural heritage collections are available through Wikipedia (which is the world’s 7th most viewed website). What is the point, they asked, of investing in digitising if collections are as inaccessible as they were before?

This also ties in with the question of who the intended audience is. Publicly funded museums and galleries are increasingly asked about their “audience reach”. Digitising colections and making resources findable by anyone in the world may increase website visits and page hits but does this have the same value as engaging with targeted or local communities? It depends on the mission of the heritage organisation and what they view success to be.

Justifying spend and showing value

Project managers at the conference reported that they were facing a constant struggle to fund online developments. And in many cases, in the period of time from commissioning to implementation the technology and expectations moves on again.

Demonstrating value and impact are central to securing and reporting on how funds are spent in relation to digital collection projects. Funding bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund have a set of deliverable requirements which should be included in funding bids in order to exemplify good and sustainable use of funding, particularly in relation to digital projects. This includes creating resources which have a long life span (the favoured format is online PDF uploads, although they are trying inhouse to diversify their content); creating projects that will preserve heritage and benefit communities; and creating projects which have ambition and are easy to use, while also contributing to the organisation’s wider digital infrastructure and outcomes plan (which may also include interactive exhibitions and the provision of public Wi-Fi).

A unique opportunity to bring history and culture to life for new learners

When bidding for funding, cultural heritage organisations will often claim the project will support learning within their communities. However, many write this in their “digital strategy” without really knowing what it could or should mean in practice. How schools and other learners can engage with digital cultural projects is important not only to showing their value but to developing the collections in the future, making them representative or the interests and desires of their local communities.

Technology-enhanced learning was something which many delegates raised as one of the major potential benefits of digitising collections. In addition to the benefits for planners (particularly erosion and building management specialists) and the tourism industry (through virtual reality city tours which show what an area looked like hundreds of years ago) delegates stressed that one of the primary aims of digital collections was to make it easier for material to be used as a tool for learning. An example given at the conference was the REVISIT project which was run in Glasgow and focused on the British Empire Exhibition of 1938 which took place in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. The project created a 3D visualisation of over 100 buildings from the exhibition. The modellers worked from dozens of small-scale drawings, hundreds of photographs and many maps to recreate the 3D virtual Empire Exhibition as well as mapping roads, pathways and other transport systems in the area. These were then uploaded to an online repository, with accompanying text, where they could be viewed and “explored” using navigation tools.

bee-image

Image of the 3D recreation of the 1938 British Empire Exhibition, Glasgow

The aim of the project was to create a permanent resource for the exploration, research and public exhibition of the Empire Exhibition of 1938 in the context of Scottish and UK social and architectural history. Researchers used a variety of archived material, newspaper articles, photos and interviews with people who attended the exhibition to create the interactive map. They then invited local school children to use the resources to inform their learning on the topic through a series of guided workshop sessions and interactive group activities. The 3D maps were a learning resource but also a tool to generate discussion and questioning about the period and the exhibition itself.

Measuring the “impact of digital” in cultural spaces

One of the most interesting sessions of the day involved input from the V&A in London. It highlighted how mapping and analytics, as well as a more functional understanding of users and visitors to the museum, can be used to help during digital planning. The way that consumer research around digital cultural resources is done can help refine digital programmes in an efficient and cost effective way.

va-online-user-groups

Kati Price from the V&A led a discussion on the creation of new digital platforms and how important understanding user preference can be in design and functionality of digital resources in a museum setting. She highlighted their use of agile methods to test the usability and effectiveness of some of the new digital content produced by the V&A, including new audio guides. In terms of measuring outcomes in digital strategies, she stressed the importance of being flexible with your evaluation methods but also to consider what are you measuring, when in the process are you measuring it, and why and to what end are you measuring it.

Summing up

The day provided useful insight into the challenges and opportunities of digital for cultural and heritage organisations.

It highlighted the adaptability of cultural spaces to digital environments, and the value and benefit to collections of “going digital”. It also identified some potential directions for the future, such as 3D printing to create replicas and Virtual Reality platforms to create more immersive and interactive learning spaces.

It is clear, however, that if the cultural heritage sector is to make the most of what could potentially be game-changing technology, museums, libraries and other organisations need to work closely with communities to make sure they remain connected to their heritage and do not get left behind by this digital revolution.

Cultural spaces need to be mindful of potential exclusion and work to promote digital engagement, skills and education to allow people to access and contribute to the future growth of digital collections in Scotland and the UK.


Reading Room (an Idox company) is one of the UK’s leading digital agencies and has extensive experience working with museums and libraries on award-winning digital projects. Clients include the British Library, Arts Council England, The National Archives, and Durham Council (Durham at War archive). If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help your organisation with developing your digital strategy, contact info.uk@readingroom.com

Are you a managerial fox or a smart citizen? The books creating a buzz amongst our members

Number 95

Entrance to our Glasgow office – 95 Bothwell Street

One of the things that many people are surprised to find out is that we have a real library here in our Glasgow office. Created over forty years, there are more than 60,000 books and reports in the library collection, as well as a wide range of journals.

Our members can borrow any book from our collection via a postal loan service – offered free as part of the membership subscription to our Idox Information Service.

While the quick read – such as the briefings written by our own team – will always be popular given the pressures on people’s time, there’s still a place for real books. Many organisations use membership of our service as a way to support their staff’s CPD – whether that’s informal personal development or supplementary support for staff doing formal courses or degrees.

What’s hot at the moment

Some of our most popular books recently have been these ones:

  • Inside the Nudge Unit: how small changes can make a big difference

Behavioural insights, and how these can be used within policymaking in order to shape and improve outcomes, has always been popular as a search topic on our database. Now this book, written by David Halpern, who headed up Number 10’s ‘Nudge Unit’ or Behavioural Insights Team (now spun out as an independent company jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta and it’s employees) sheds light on how it works. The book explores how simple changes to language and communications have been shown to promote ‘desired behaviours’ – examples include reducing missed NHS appointments, increasing charitable giving or encouraging job seekers into work.

  • Smart citizens, smarter state: the technologies of expertise and the future of governing

We wrote on our blog about this book, by Beth Simone Noveck, which argues that government (at all scales) makes too little use of the skills and practical expertise of its employees and citizens. It sets out a vision for a new form of participatory democracy, which isn’t based on consultation exercises or occasional voting, but in harnessing the power of people’s knowledge and ‘know-how’.

  • The public sector fox

What are the twelve skills that managers need to thrive in the public sector? This book reveals all! From strategy, planning, finance, communication and people management to the skills of resilience, perspective and commitment – working (and succeeding) in the public sector requires an acceptance of the constraints and an understanding of the opportunities. This book offers something for managers at every level, which probably explains why it has been so popular with our members.

  • The urban section: an analytical tool for cities and streets

Our collection has a strong focus on the built environment and this book, aimed at architects and planners, looks at how well-designed streets are crucial for successful places. Although it was published in 2014, it continues to appeal to our users thanks to its mix of practical case studies and thought-provoking discussion. You can hear the author Robert Mantho, who teaches at Glasgow’s Mackintosh School of Architecture, discuss his ideas in this video.

  • The new rules of marketing and PR / Marketing for dummies

Finally, it’s clear that many of our users are having to get to grips with social media as part of their jobs, if the popularity of these two books from our library is anything to go by. Whether it’s marketing yourself via personal networks, or promoting the work of your organisation to a wider audience, many marketing approaches are becoming embedded into our daily working lives.

These two introductory texts give a good overview as well as practical advice for those who want to learn more about how things like blogs, online video, and good content can help you target your communications and understand your customers (or service users) – something that’s relevant for the public sector as well as for voluntary organisations and businesses.


Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Get more information on membership here or contact us to arrange a free trial of our service for your organisation.

Want to know about social work theory or neighbourhood planning? We’ve got the answers!

Subject coverage

By Heather Cameron

With the wealth of information available these days, it’s no wonder we hear the term information overload more and more. Whatever topic you are looking for information on, it can be difficult to find sources you you can rely on, with internet searches retrieving a lot of unreliable material. This is where services such as ours can be invaluable.

Helping you with information overload

The Idox Information Service database contains over 200,000 items with around 200 new items added every week, covering all aspects of public and social policy.

The material consists of research reports, articles from academic journals and industry magazines, policy, guidance, evaluations, case studies, good practice and grey literature. All are chosen and summarised by our research team, so you know that you are accessing reliable resources, many of which are not freely available on the internet.

Breadth of coverage

Popular searches recently carried out by our members have included the following topics, which demonstrate the breadth of our coverage:

  • Theories in social work
  • Child exploitation
  • Anti-discriminatory practice in social work
  • Neighbourhood planning
  • Place-based approaches
  • City deals
  • Smart cities
  • Wellbeing and work
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Planning for social inclusion
  • Wind farms and their impact
  • Green economy
  • Widening access to higher education
  • Joint working between universities and business
  • Social media
  • Marketing and branding
  • Performance management
  • Food banks

Our database has a wide range of material covering various aspects of these topics, including recently published work that keeps our members up-to-date.

Recent research

Members searching on any of these topics can be reassured that the latest research and commentary is included, as the database is updated daily.

For example, for the search on placed-based approaches, a recent article from Regions, The meta-approach to regional development: a re-appraisal of place-based thinking looks at the thinking which informs the practice of place-based approaches to local and regional development.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ recent report on whether worker well-being affects workplace performance could be of particular relevance for the search on well-being and work, as could Public Health England’s report on workplace interventions to improve health and well-being.

With all the media coverage around child exploitation cases in recent times, it’s not surprising that our members continue to search for recent information and good practice in this area. One of the most recent items on child exploitation we have added highlights lessons from Oxfordshire, where the council’s reputation has been raised to one of national exemplar in tackling child exploitation.

Searching on joint working between universities and businesses would reveal promising practice of employer-education engagement across London and the South East in a recent report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), as part of a study examining how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-businesses in particular work together with secondary schools and colleges. In addition, a recent UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report on university and employer collaboration outlines the ways in which universities and employers can form collaborative partnerships to develop higher level skills.

Search strategies

Of course, some of these topics will inevitably retrieve a lot of results, so using our advanced search option can help to narrow things down. For example, searching for “neighbourhood planning” in the title field will return 86 results compared to 277 results when searching in all fields:

Basic search

basic search

Advanced search

advanced searchIn comparison, searching for “neighbourhood planning” on Google returns rather more with around 260,000 results. I think it would be fair to say that it may take a long time to find the quality information required if you had to sift through all these!


 

Members of the Idox Information Service can conduct their own database searches, or can request a search by one of our Research Officers. 

Become a member of the Idox Information Service now, to access our database and current awareness ervices in the areas of public and social policy. Contact us for more details.