News and Comment

Raising the public voice in infrastructure decision making

Wednesday 17 June 2015


New policy paper proposes how best to engage concerning major infrastructure

Current decision-making and consultation processes have led to a widespread and deep-rooted lack of trust, eroding belief in the shared nature of infrastructure. The persistent absence of public acceptance is producing a planning system unable to respond coherently to the future needs of society.

‘Infrastructure and the Citizen’, a collection of four short essays by Consultation and Engagement specialists Dialogue by Design and UCL Transport Institute reveal whether depoliticising infrastructure, viewing it as a social contract, considering it as a special case for dialogue, or accepting it as shared with society would enhance or diminish the public voice in decision making.

Advancing the debate around public engagement practice that took place between participants and speakers at the ‘We Need to Talk About Infrastructure’ seminar co-hosted by the two organisations, the paper proposes:


  • Removing some of the politics out of infrastructure by creatively embedding the public within a new framework at a strategic level, ensuring that decisions are freed from the 5 year electoral cycle and rubber stamped by trusted, independent experts
  • Adopting the principles of sound engagement: engaging sincerely, proportionately, continuously and from early on; making the process enjoyable; providing real options; transferring some real power to citizens; providing feedback after decisions are made, to ensure that a ‘social contract’ is acceptable to citizens, developers and decision makers
  • The application of more dialogue based approaches within the formal statutory consultation process to marry both strategic and local concerns to promote the sense of a ‘social compromise’
  • Engaging both early in strategic planning processes and more specifically on the question of need in order to leverage the rights and obligations we have as members of society concerning the shared nature of infrastructure.


Diane Beddoes, Chief Executive, Dialogue by Design said:

“Many of the new infrastructure projects we run consultations for are contested by individuals, communities and sometimes stakeholders. Infrastructure projects of national significance have impacts – both positive and negative – on local people and communities that need to be heard and understood.  We believe that good engagement on new infrastructure projects can help to improve the quality of decision-making, reduce risk and ensure that the views of those affected are taken into consideration. If we are serious about infrastructure investment, then we must be equally serious about effective dialogue and consultation with opponents and proponents. We hope the key recommendations in this report are taken seriously”



Note to Editors

The ‘We Need to Talk About Infrastructure’ seminar was held on Monday 23rd March 2015 at NCVO, Society House, 8 All Saints Street, London N1 9RL. The debate was chaired by Jim Steer (Founder, Steer Davies Gleave), with speakers Professor Brian Collins (Professor of Engineering Policy and Director, International Centre for Infrastructure Futures (ICIF), UCL), Dr Jack Stilgoe (Lecturer in Social Studies of Science, UCL), Diane Beddoes (Chief Executive, Dialogue by Design) and Will Bridges (Lead Consents Officer, North West Coast Connections, National Grid).


About Dialogue by Design

Dialogue by Design designs and delivers bespoke public and stakeholder engagement and consultation services. Dialogue by Design specialises in handling consultations on contentious or technically complex issues and are experts at running consultations for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Dialogue by Design with sister company OPM comprises the OPM Group: an independent, employee-owned research organisation and consultancy.         



About UCL Transport Institute

The UCL Transport Institute has been set up to foster cross-disciplinary transport research and to increase the policy impact of that research.        



For further information please contact:

Lawrence Finkle


t: 0207 239 7800