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How early is too early? How late is too late? Implications of Co-designing during Impact Assessment.

The challenge for engaging earlier, or doing authentic co-design, is reasonably well-known. It goes like this; an organisation will say ‘We don’t want to raise expectations before we know we have a project’. So, they do the necessary research, put together the business case, gain the necessary approvals and funds, and then they believe they will be ready to engage. Of course, by then, most of the important features of the project have been already ‘designed’ and engagement is, at best, a process of consulting on existing plans.


What can be done about this conundrum? Well, plenty can be done. It takes commitment, some boldness, openness, curiosity and a belief that co-design will add value. We don’t just believe it can be done, we have seen it done and facilitated such processes ourselves.


Let’s just take a look at the belief that co-designing early will unnecessarily raise expectations that may be dashed. We have found stakeholders and communities appreciate being told there is no guarantee of future funding. They appreciate hearing that the project team believes the project can only be improved by genuinely collaborating with those who have an interest, or who are potentially impacted, by a project right from the start.


We would argue that ‘not co-designing from the start’ is much riskier. Trying to market your excellent plans that have been developed without the involvement of key stakeholders and the community is perilous.  


There is a tendency for companies to play it safe by just collaborating internally. The often-expressed reasoning, that we don’t want to raise hopes, if often more about not feeling comfortable having those early conversations; of not wanting anyone, or any group, to ‘mess with our plans’.



There are many other frequently held assumptions that work against considering the potential of co-designing projects or solutions for tricky projects. We will be exploring many during a Masterclass we have scheduled between late July and September this year. This Masterclass will be focussing on using Co-design in Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment, where the question of how early to embed public participation via co-design is currently very topical.


For more information check out this outline! 


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