This has been an often-repeated concern, but is becoming more common as budgets are cut and the impacts start to bite. It costs money to bring people together.
Critics frequently portray engagement as a waste of resources, asking ‘do people want to pay for talking shops or real services?’ This, however, is a false dichotomy. The costs of engagement are usually tiny compared to the overall cost of the service, and this small expense can play a vital risk management role, often ensuring that the service provided is of a high quality. True – people prefer to pay for services themselves rather than the process of getting them. However, as the pig with the straw house will concede, ultimately it is worth paying a bit more for a service (in this case, bricks) that actually work, than less for a service that fails to deliver.
Engagement may seem pricey, but this can be a false economy. We must ask ourselves what its expense is compared to. The costs of not engaging are far greater. For example, the Environment Agency has found that not engaging around vital flood improvements can lead to expensive delays and risks, leaving communities exposed to devastating flood damage for longer than necessary. 1 Engagement increases the likelihood of implementation on time and within budget. As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, moving slowly and methodically can result in better results than speeding ahead.
The costs of engagement are also often overstated. Recent evidence shows that engagement can be done cheaply and uncover cost savings. 2 For example, a few years ago practitioner Jeff Bishop looked at the experience of two cities in trying to implement controlled parking schemes and found that non-engagement came with significant costs in the form of delays and conflict. 3 Without considering the true costs of not engaging it is no wonder that engagement can seem expensive.
- 1Environment Agency, Current Magazine no.14, 2011. Available online at: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Research/Current14.pdf
- 2http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160702154447/ http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/evidence-counts-understanding-the-value-of-public-dialogue-3/
- 3J. Bishop, A Tale of Two Cities, 2006. Available online at: http://www.bdor.co.uk/publications/Tale%20of%20two%20cities.pdf