The team at Copper have waited with bated breath for the today’s first tranche of the UK’s 2021 census data. Why the anticipation? Data underpins our approach and the latest population statistics will impact all of our work, from economic development in the UK’s towns and cities to the size, scale and composition of the communities we engage with in support of some the UK’s largest infrastructure projects.  

The 2021 Census – Two Hundred Years of Change 

Apart from being a core data source for Copper, UK census data is essential for understanding the population, monitoring and predicting change and for planning and delivering key services. Whatever way you look at it, the development of UK infrastructure and UK census data are deeply entwined.  

The first census took place in 1801 and counted a total population of 8.9 million across England and Wales, which is only slightly more than the population of London (8.8 million) according to the latest census figures.  

Today, the population for England and Wales the largest it has ever been, standing at 59,597,300 people (which is an increase of 6.3% over the last decade), and the latest figures show pockets of huge population growth in London including 22.1% percentage increase in population of Tower Hamlets, which is the biggest increase across England and Wales.  

While population statistics continue to change with the passage of time, the design, methodology and implementation of the census has changed with the times too – which is something we can learn from in infrastructure.  

Data collection of this size and scale is seldom easy, and the 2021 census was set against a backdrop not seen for a century. Faced with the challenge of balancing data collection with public health and safety, the 2021 census became the first of its kind– the UK’s inaugural digital-first census.  

Participants were encouraged to respond online using mobile phones, laptops, PCs and tablets. To facilitate this support the Office of National Statistics offered extensive user assistance including online support, help by email, social media, text message and a webchat facility.  

Aside from data collection, the 2021 census was also strong on equality, diversity and inclusion, something that Copper champions both internally and externally.  

The 2021 census included new voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for people aged 16 years and over, and it was the first census to count same-sex marriages and same-sex civil partnerships (following the introduction of new legislation in 2014 and 2019).   

The 2021 Census – More Than Statistics 

So apart from being the most accurate source of data, which will shape projections and predictions of the UK for a decade – what else can we learn from the 2021 census?  

Digital-first, not digital only  

We’re proud to have paved the way in delivering the UK’s first compliant digital-first consultation for the London Resort. Since then, we’ve seen a move across our industry to put greater emphasis on digital consultation, but we’re cautious that this approach doesn’t replace townhalls, relationship building and other important tools within the consultation arsenal.  

Amid the drive to provide digital access to consultation materials, there are things we can do better to improve the digital-first consultation experience. Using a combination of data and digital we can differentiate elements of the consultation process including:  

  • the way in which we collect consultation data; 
  • the type of content we produce; and  
  • the way in which we deliver content.  

By working in this way, we can increase participation and engagement and still deliver compliant consultation 

EDI(II) – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Infrastructure 

Equality, diversity and inclusion is integral to Copper’s way of working and company culture. We have modified our questionnaires so that they are more inclusive of gender and identity, and we think about how we can be more diverse and inclusive in the content we produce for various audiences. 

The latest census data will provide a new benchmark to measure from regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and we must use this data to inform our strategies and content for the audiences we engage with.  

Final Thoughts 

Considering the amount of data we produce as an industry, we still haven’t quite tapped into utilising the potential that data holds for projects we support through comms and engagement, now and in the future. Despite lagging behind other industries in our use and application of data, we know there’s an appetite and ambition to catch-up – and we’re excited to work with partners and clients to move our industry forward. 

Alongside voter registration data and party membership files, census data is one of fundamental datasets that drives targeting and voter outreach in election campaigns and referenda. In many instances, the projects we work on take the form of mini-referenda with pockets of support and opposition, and often the majority undecided or uninformed.  

By combining census data and other datasets (like the data we collect as part of the consultation process or through other research activities) we can create additional layers of insight which will contribute to a greater understanding of the audiences we engage with now, and help us identify patterns for the projects of the future.

Challenge

The Towns Fund is at the heart of the government’s ambition to levelling up places which have historically lacked investment and opportunity, enabling economic growth and regeneration. To support towns with securing and delivering the Town Deals, The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) appointed a delivery partner. It also represented a new way of working for government that of itself would help inform the shape of future funding delivery models and programmes.

The Towns Fund Delivery Partner is a consortium of six private sector organisations working as one with each fulfilling distinct strategic functions and bringing specialist expertise. Arup as consortium lead and with a multi-disciplinary role across the programme and service delivery, was supported by: Nichols Group leading on management and operations; Copper Consultancy as communications and engagement lead; FutureGov, learning and experience, governance and leadership lead; Grant Thornton, funding and investment, monitoring and evaluation, data insight lead; and Savills providing specialist place-based expertise.

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Insight

Putting the town’s needs first was key. Based upon a town-centric and continuous learning approach to understand towns’ challenges, what they needed and when, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner was able to design and refine the support it offered as the programme progressed. It delivered advice and support at a range of levels that aimed to add value rather than duplicating resources already available to towns.

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Overall Strategy

Working alongside the Towns Fund central team and Cities and Local Growth Unit Area Leads, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner was committed to the principle of co-design and co-working with Government. The Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s insights gleaned through its bottom-up approach, helped DLUHC develop its guidelines and requirements, identify the level and type of support provided to help towns that needed it most, and allowed for continuous improvement in delivery. A Total Towns Outcomes Framework questionnaire also gained understanding of towns’ longer-term priorities and desired outcomes.

Copper-Specific Support

We have been an integral member of the Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s strategic leadership group as lead advisor on its programme communications, working alongside the consortium team to deliver timely communication about the Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s services and support to towns. An ongoing commitment to understanding and anticipating both towns’ diverse needs and priorities, and in interpreting DLUHC’s requirements of towns in securing and delivering Town Deals, has been a necessity to manage a complex programme where towns are at different stages on the journey. We established and led the Communications and Messaging Working Group to facilitate a joint approach between the TFDP and DLUHC over the duration of Towns Fund Delivery Partner’s involvement in the Towns Fund.

Our expertise in effective community and stakeholder engagement, market positioning, brand development and use of social and other media has been drawn upon heavily by towns, firstly in developing their Town Investment Plans and then during early-stage Business Case development. This has been achieved through the creation of bespoke Towns Fund resources either as online guides, blogs and webinars or through one-to-one advice and coaching, Check and Challenge sessions and learning programmes such as Place Leadership and Making Connections Count.

Outcome

Between May 2020 and November 2021, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner helped towns across four cohorts to develop a vision for their towns, produce Town Investment Plans to secure Town Deal offers and provided early-stage support to develop Business Cases for agreed projects. At its height, the Towns Fund Delivery Partner had over 260 team members representing 13 disciplines and 16 topic areas across the breadth of the country.

Worth more than £2.4 billion, all 101 towns that were selected for the programme received their Town Deal offers, paving the way for the delivery of nearly 800 projects across England.

Challenge

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is part of the Government’s strategy to keep the lights on in the UK. National Grid is building a high-voltage grid connection for the project, between Bridgwater and Seabank near Avonmouth. In 2009, we were tasked to develop and deliver a consultation strategy to support the Development Consent Order application. We have been retained ever since, taking this major project from planning through to construction. The project is in construction, and we continue to support National Grid and its contractors. Our team also works to protect and enhance National Grid’s reputation to leave a positive legacy for the project.

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Insight

Hinkley Point C is a nationally significant infrastructure project and a major investment in the region’s electricity network. However there was significant local opposition to the proposals throughout the planning and development stages. This posed a risk to the project if it were to continue into the construction stage. We needed to switch the communications approach from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ and reposition the narrative to concentrate on the project’s benefits.

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Strategy

We worked closely with National Grid’s team to identify and promote positive stories about the project. We used this as the foundation to develop and implement a sustainable programme of project communications to meet the formal requirements of the Development Consent Order.

To minimise the risks of project delays, opposition and criticism we provide clear and timely information to stakeholders about the work in their area too, and quickly respond to any concerns. We devised procedures to inform and update local communities and other stakeholders about construction work and the steps National Grid and its contractors take to reduce local impact. We also put processes in place to monitor the mood of local communities, allowing us to identify and respond rapidly to any emerging issues.

Amplify

Since construction started, we have communicated with more than 10,000 households. We also maintain and regular update a project website, making it the ‘go to’ place for stakeholders to learn the latest information. We have established positive relationships with local community groups and parish councils and use these links to help spread information as widely as possible. Should there be any concerns amongst the public, a responsive 24-hour contact centre service enables the local community to get a swift response.

Outcome

Despite the highly disruptive nature of the work, there is widespread public acceptance of the project. A minimal number of complaints have been received and no issues have been escalated by local residents or community stakeholders to the media or their elected members. These successes have given National Grid the confidence to reposition the project narrative going forward. In the future, communications and engagement will place an even greater emphasis on the positive impact and benefits National Grid will bring to the area over the next five years and beyond.

Challenge

Long-standing client CK Delta (data specialist and part of CK Hutchison Holdings) wanted to enhance its reputation as a data insight specialist in target sectors, in particular trade media publications and third-party organisations. It wanted to build on its corporate reputation to increase engagement with thought leaders and opinion formers to drive future business growth.

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Insight

While CK Delta has a portfolio spanning retail, utilities, tourism, energy and transport sectors, it wanted to increase its profile among senior corporate decision-makers and industry leaders. CK Delta needed to establish meaningful engagement with opportunities that shifted perception from supplier to industry leader and influencer.

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Strategy

We proposed a three-phased approach to deliver the most impactful engagement: Listen and learn, strategise and plan, and deliver. By utilising market data, competitor analysis and target audience mapping, we built a communications programme with an in-depth understanding of CK Delta’s business at its core. From this, three workstreams comprising Insight, Expertise and Influence were delivered to maximise the campaign’s coverage and influence.

Amplify

Our Insight workstream concentrated on showcasing CK Delta’s in-depth knowledge through a series of specialist white papers and reports, positioning CK Delta as the go-to commentator on a series of issues. The Expertise workstream focused on PR via trade press and LinkedIn. At the same time, the Influence workstream maintained the momentum of the campaign through a series of webinars, roundtables and events that brought together key targets.

Outcome

The campaign significantly boosted brand recognition for CK Delta, placing the company at the forefront of industry discussion. We actively created opportunities for the leadership team to engage with key clients and prospects, and they continue to receive invitations to participate in industry events. CK Delta’s presence in key trade titles has increased considerably, as has its business growth target results. We are retained by CK Delta on an ongoing basis to deliver corporate and B2B communications.