Thinking beyond the survey: Cambridgeshire’s transport planning is mapping its future

Consult Cambs, the online consultation hub for the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), is thinking beyond the survey to add a whole new dimension to how community and stakeholders can set out ideas for their shared future.

At nearly 17,000 visitors and counting, Consult Cambs is bringing enjoyable, interactive and measurable opportunities to community engagement in the region. Debbie Goodland, Community Engagement Manager, Greater Cambridge Partnership, says ‘We had already used online surveys, but what we were after was something much more interactive, that users could have fun with and really say what they wanted and where.’

Unlocking the potential of online engagement tools

Before taking the conversation online, the region’s offline consultations offered ‘Planning For Real’ activities where the public was invited to contribute pins or post-it notes to an interactive map, revealing crucial local priorities and knowledge. However, the scope of these exercises was limited. Online surveys had been in use for a while, and the benefits were visible: they allowed the engagement team to work faster, reach more people, and measure engagement data effectively and with ease.   

Going digital took these opportunities out to a wider audience, especially to community members who would not usually attend offline engagement events. And, while the community engagement team initially focused on the potential of digital mapping tools, the media-rich possibilities of a dedicated online engagement portal soon became apparent.

Activating participation required moving beyond the survey toward making engagement more interactive and enjoyable for all involved.

Since the Greater Cambridge Partnership represents four key regional stakeholders across local councils, business, and academia, internal buy-in was key to selecting and enabling the platform. Speaking to stakeholders needs and interests, a clear picture emerged of what an online engagement platform would be required to do, and could do differently from social media. With EngagementHQ, the engagement team would be able to coordinate their efforts and tailor their tactics to better support projects and the community.

Among the numerous advantages that their dedicated online engagement platform continues to compared to those offered by social media, the team points out that the most significant is the easy collation of data.  Bringing all vital information together in a centralised place, the platform could be easily monitored and managed, giving the team better control over how projects went out into the community and how conversations could be evaluated. The platform enabled quality conversations, exchange of ideas, and feedback, far and free from the vulnerability of social media.

Bringing community mapping to life

Places, EngagementHQ’s mapping tool, remains a favourite for the team and the community. Making Space for People, a project that addressed community priorities around public spaces, walkways, cycleways, roads, and public transport routes, saw over 2,000 map comments and survey responses, and over 500 respondents. Participants dropped pins to identify issues and areas of focus for planners around infrastructure, accessibility, mobility, environmental issues, and community needs. Making Space for People speaks to the needs of the region’s City Access project, which seeks to transform the transport system.

The ongoing Cycle Parking Locations project speaks to the rising need for cycling parking in the urban centre. Cambridge has the highest volume of cycling in the UK, with cyclists accounting for nearly a third of traffic, and 32% of residents commuting to work this way. In response, the City has suggested over 200 new cycle parking places across 18 locations in the urban centre, illustrated in the project page with an interactive map for residents to have their say, offer feedback, point out alternatives, and exchange ideas.

What new and innovative possibilities are in store for Consult Cambs?

Tune in to our podcast to find out how tapping into interactive, media-rich digital engagement facilitates deeper engagement and makes consultations more enjoyable – and valuable.  

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