Engagement in the digital age: practitioners’ perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for planning and environmental decision-making

Hafferty, Caitlin ORCID: 0000-0002-4512-1338 (2022) Engagement in the digital age: practitioners’ perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for planning and environmental decision-making. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire. doi:10.46289/MM76Y4T8

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13450 HAFFERTY Caitlin (2022) Engagement in the digital age _PhD Thesis.pdf - Accepted Version
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Effective engagement is crucial for making better quality decisions for more sustainable, equitable, and resilient outcomes. The involvement of members of the public and other stakeholder groups has been increasingly promoted in research, policy, and practice from local to international scales. However, whether engagement achieves its goals is highly variable between different social and institutional contexts. In the digital age, there are still many unanswered questions regarding the benefits of digital tools and their effectiveness at addressing the goals of engagement. These questions became increasingly urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic which placed technology-related disparities into the spotlight. This thesis explored practitioners’ perspectives of the challenges and opportunities for public and stakeholder engagement in the digital age, focusing on planning and environmental decision-making processes in the UK. The research was interdisciplinary, participatory and action-oriented, driven by an impact goal and co-produced with practitioners to produce relevant and useful outcomes for policy and practice. This approach was agile and adaptive in responding to the needs of potential users and beneficiaries of the research. The research followed a mixed-methods approach involving a survey questionnaire and in-depth interviews with practitioners in UK public, private, and third sectors organisations. The findings revealed a comprehensive range of technical and ethical debates around the use of digital tools for engagement and inclusion, digital literacy, power relations, social interaction and connection, trust and transparency, digital well-being, privacy and security, among other issues. Challenging attitudes of ‘digital by default’ and ‘digital first’, the findings demonstrated that there is no single digital, in-person, or hybrid approach which guarantees successful engagement in all situations. The research also responded to a gap in the evidence on the institutionalisation of engagement practices, delivering novel insights into the barriers and enablers for undertaking engagement across a range of different organisational settings from a practitioner perspective. This included considering a range of organisational constraints including available resources, skills and expertise, participant expectations, and practitioner agency. This research revealed that many of these issues are rooted in the cultures and governance structures of organisations and therefore may require a culture change to be successful in the long term. Overall, the findings support and contribute original and evidence-based insights to existing theories and frameworks understanding what works for engagement, including factors that are uniquely important for digital engagement. 10 thinking points for effective engagement in the digital age are suggested for policy and practice which can be used to enhance existing guidelines, models, and toolkits for effective engagement in an increasingly digitised world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Berry, Robertrberry@glos.ac.ukhttps://www.glos.ac.uk/staff/profile/robert-berry/
Short, Chriscshort@glos.ac.ukhttps://www.glos.ac.uk/staff/profile/chris-short/
Uncontrolled Keywords: Engagement; Digital engagement; Environmental decision-making
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > Countryside and Community Research Institute
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2023 13:25
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2023 15:02
URI: https://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/13450

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