Local plans

The planning process is complicated and dynamic. Local plans are a rich source of information, but the data used to produce that information isn’t easily extracted. Plans are published in a wide range of formats and aren’t always consistent in the types of information they include, or how they define or represent that information. This makes it difficult to collect, use and compare data across local plans and difficult for machines to read the data.

The Digital Land team at MHCLG carried out a discovery project on local plans during summer 2019. They spoke with representatives of the main user groups of local plans in order to better understand their needs from local plans and the obstacles to those needs being met. The discovery identified users’ problems with extracting data from local plans and opportunities for solving some of these.

dxw and the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) are now working on an alpha with MHCLG to test ideas for the better use of data held about, and within Local Plans.

The alpha phase is to test ideas and riskiest assumptions in order to establish that there is a service to be built (or not). Learning that approaches don’t work is as important as learning that they do. The value is only realised by repeating research and tests with real users.

What are we thinking about?

After an inception period to set the project up, we started our first two week delivery sprint just before the Easter break. In total, we’ll be working for 3 sprints (6 weeks) so we’ll be working at pace to make sure we deliver the project outputs. These outputs will include tested prototypes, a recommendation report, and importantly a clear understanding of whether data standards for local plans are a viable proposition.

Building on the work from discovery, the team has been carrying out some mapping of the plan making domain and has sketched out an example ‘index card’ for the policies held within local plans. We want to quickly test this approach with users in local authorities to see how well it matches their existing models (actual and mental).

We need to be clear about the scope of this work - we’re exploring approaches for applying structure to the data held about local plans. There will be many improvements that could be tested for the plan making process itself, but these are out of the immediate scope for this work.

What have we done in the last week?

  • We held our first sprint planning session. The goal for our first sprint is to Explore a way of explaining planning policies effectively - is there a common language amongst LPAs for plan making?
  • We’ve reviewed the discovery outputs in detail, as well as reviewing a set of published local plans on local authority websites
  • We ran a domain mapping workshop to explore the relationships between points of data in the plan making process

What are we planning to do next?

  • We’ll carry out some early testing of our thinking around an ‘index card’ with local authorities
  • The outputs of that testing will enable the prototyping of an exemplar web page to present information about an authority’s local development scheme/local plan. This prototyping means we can properly explore the possibilities around a common language
  • We’ll run testing of the prototype with users, using the feedback to inform what we design and test next

Who is on the team?

  • Debs Durojaiye (designer, dxw)
  • Samantha Opara (user researcher, dxw)
  • Alex Yedigaroff (transformation manager, dxw)
  • Richard Crawley (planning expert, PAS)
  • Stephen Barker (planning expert, PAS)
  • Paul Downey (service owner, MHCLG Digital Land)
  • Sarah Hunt (project lead, MHCLG planning)
  • Andrew Langley (MHCLG planning)
  • Natalie Record (MHCLG Digital Land)