A Place For Words: Creative Consultation

Consultation is a tricky thing to get right. Why are we consulting? Who are we consulting? Are we actually prepared to listen to, and act on, what is said? And how on earth do you do it? If you ask people what they want, won't they all say contradictory things? How can you get people to describe something they haven't even thought about imagining yet? Creative consultation is becoming increasingly popular. Using the arts as a way in to discussing the possibilities of a place undergoing change can engage communities and individuals who are reluctant to respond to traditional consultation techniques. Writers have particular skills in communication, articulation and questioning that can facilitate genuine and useful consultation.

The aim of consultation is to get an accurate picture of people's relationship with and aspirations for a place which can inform the decision making process about how a place should be developed and changed. Writers are in some sense uniquely placed to do this:

  • Writers work in a medium that is familiar to all: even if people aren't literate, they still communicate orally through language.
  • A writer looks for what is not said. They are interested in character motivations and the causes and consequences of actions. They want to explore the complexities of people's responses to themselves, each other, and the places they inhabit. This interest is part of a writer's practice and is also key to successful consultation. Writers' own practice means they are well placed to ask questions and lead conversations to discover the complexities of people's relationship with a place.
  • Writers can articulate and find a form for the myriad of responses that will come from any consultation. They can turn messy, complicated issues into tight forms, dense with meaning and this – be it a poem, a series of postcards, even a ‘report’ – can become a powerful, transportable medium able to take the voices of the people directly affected by a process of regeneration to the people making the decisions about land use, housing density, public space, etc.

The following case studies used writers to consult with communities about places undergoing change:

Hackney Wick

Creative Consultation in Hackney Wick – Writer Paul Shepheard worked with a visual artist and a landscape architect to consult young people in Hackney Wick about a new public space.

Snug and Outdoor

Snug and Outdoor – Artist and design team, Snug and Outdoor, work with poet, Chris Meade, to consult young people about new playground designs.

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