How to ‘stop worrying’ about your plans and consultations

The Objective Keystone team was delighted to welcome Rebecca Burden, Principal Planner at Dover District Council and Peter Alexander, Senior Planning Technician at The Highland Council as guest speakers on a recent customer showcase webinar.


Sharing their experiences of plan creation and consultation, Rebecca and Peter covered just some of the ways to: make life easier with technology; produce better outcomes for staff and the public; and, in the words of Peter, ‘learn to stop worrying’.

Rebecca’s story of plan creation and consultation

With a new Dover District Local Plan in progress, Rebecca discussed the process of plan creation, highlighting three key strands of work:

  1. Brand development
    Creating a new brand and identity was a core area of focus for the Local Plan vision. The Council aimed to use the Plan to market the district in a new light and developed a new logo, guidelines, image library and website template to develop a consistent presence that reflected the distinctiveness of the area.

  2. Collaboration with trusted suppliers
    Having worked with Objective Keystone for ‘a long time when it came to consultations and document production’, the Council turned to Objective to create a new document template using the latest brand guidelines. The teams worked to develop a new consultation portal, making enhancements to improve the way users engage and access documents through Objective Keystone.

  3. Digital expansion
    Work on the new Council website started prior to the pandemic but proved invaluable given much of the document consultation happened during lockdowns. Rebecca noted that ‘having the website when we haven’t had traditional consultation methods has very much enabled us’. The website is designed to improve how people engage and interact with the Plan.

Rebecca also noted several conclusions and future ideas following the Local Plan work the Council has undertaken, including:

  • growing and developing the website as the Local Plan evolves;
  • using a hybrid of traditional and non-traditional consultation tools;
  • aspiring to embed GIS into the Local Plan via the website for better interaction and spatial content surfacing; and
  • embedding direct links to Objective Keystone to improve both access to the consultation portal and the user experience. A citizen will read policies on the website, click on the links and be directed straight to Objective Keystone to leave their comments.

Peter’s story of using tech for planning efficiencies

According to Peter, life before Objective was ‘dark and formless’, with three problematic areas of Development Plan process:

  1. Document production headaches – the team worked on different Word documents, resulting in different versions of the same file and content lost or unable to sync into one final version

  2. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) burdens – a massive database that no one could interact with

  3. Weighty undertaking of public consultation – all information was sent back to the Council resulting in huge quantities of physical and electronic communications that had to be read, typed up and linked back to the pdf

How did Objective Keystone resolve these common issues? Peter explained:

  1. Collaborative authoring – as one of the fundamentals of Objective Keystone, several planners can now edit content throughout a document in a standardised template and apportion tasks in the workflow management. Peter commented how this offers ‘much more rigorous project management’ and greatly improves the speed with which documents can be turned around

  2. SEA process automation – previously, SEA information was entered into forms in Microsoft Word. Utilising Objective Keystone form functionality to devise event-based consultations for the Council, each individual submission can be completed in a form and entered straight into the database. This has meant:
    1. much smaller margins for data input error;
    2. fewer gaps in the site information generated;
    3. an opportunity to run reports based on the database; and
    4. an easy way to link to the Council’s GIS database

  3. Consultee resource – new features and capabilities have resulted in huge time and resource savings in dealing with representations and has added value to the user experience too. For example, embedded media has greatly increased the volume and quality of the information the Council can covey to users

Dover District Council and The Highland Council are just two of hundreds of local government planning departments around the world that use Objective Keystone to facilitate collaborative authoring activities across their teams and with external stakeholders.

The system allows users to streamline the complete lifecycle of their planning documents from creation and review, through to adoption.

Find out more

To hear Rebecca and Peter’s comments first-hand, watch the on-demand recording of Lessons from the Planning Policy field.

You might also be interesting in joining our upcoming system demo, Objective Keystone for Planning. Simply register here.