The Government is updating the UK population on daily basis about how to help prevent, delay and contain the spread of Coronavirus. Given the severity of the outbreak and news of tragic deaths, the natural question to ask is should we change our daily routines and when.
The economic consequences of asking people to self-isolate are significant and a big step for any government to make. But it may not even be this simple. Sarah Foges said in the Times that “the ‘me’ generation can’t be relied on to self-isolate so the government should be willing to take more draconian steps.”
Coronavirus is likely to impact many areas of life including the food we eat, how we travel, work and interact as a society.
Given the nature of a potential epidemic, the length of time that we will have to live with any changes is hard to predict. But it is prudent to plan for the longer term.
In the infrastructure sector, many programmes are dependent on being able to physically talk to people located near potential projects. It is widely expected by communities and developers that the public can meet the teams delivering the projects that will affect them, ask them questions and make their opinions known. How can projects continue to function in this manner, whilst not taking unnecessary risks?
The infrastructure industry needs to talk to the public more often and in a more meaningful way. It’s not only what is expected of us, it’s also important for projects as regular dialogue adds more certainty by removing barriers, building understanding and ensuring that local knowledge can help shape what we eventually build.
Following on from the December 2019 General Election, the public is expecting to see action in levelling up the economy. People expect the Government to deliver on their infrastructure revolution. But how can that happen if people are expected to avoid large gatherings and unnecessary contact?
Public exhibitions are a key part of consultation – however such meetings may not be a viable option in the future given the risk of infection. What will the alternative be? Technology can play a part. Consultation goes beyond just face time and should involve more FaceTime. This is true irrespective of the Coronavirus – using tech to speak to friends and family is normative in 2020.
The current climate, despite all of its difficulties and potential risks, has also raised questions enabling communications professionals to challenge the widespread belief that engaging consultation has to involve standing in village halls, while unrepresentative samples of local people trickle though? There will always be a place for face to face, but can’t we do more? It is important that we move with the times, especially as projects continue to seek to attract more young people and hard to reach groups to related events.
It is important to ensure that the economy is supported in this sensitive and uncertain time – to adapt to this, our sector is going to need to innovate quickly. Changes to the way that we consult the public may not end up being temporary, but instead act as the new normal when bringing the public into the conversation about infrastructure.