PropTech Innovation Fund: how it's helped identify barriers to adoption of digital engagement tools and the role of government and partners to reduce them

Technology can play a vital role in enhancing community engagement and modernising the planning system. Through the PropTech Innovation Fund we are supporting the PropTech sector and Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to accelerate the adoption of digital tools. This work has already demonstrated how innovative approaches improve the planning process for communities and local authorities as well as helping to reduce officer time spent analysing consultation responses.  

Our research and funding have identified several barriers to LPA adoption of digital tools for planning consultations. A roundtable with PropTech companies, LPAs and public sector partners was held in late 2023 to provide assurance and challenge on DLUHC’s plan to help address specific challenges faced by all parties. 

The aims we have outlined below are part of our long-term commitment to support LPAs who are advocating for and adopting modern digital tools to modernise the housing and planning ecosystem. We will continue to keep under review our proposed interventions to ensure that they are delivering impactful outcomes for LPAs on our journey towards #DoingPlanningDifferently. 

What is the role of government and partners in supporting LPAs?

One framework for the role of government has been defined using an approach developed by Policy Lab. We found it helpful to look at the original framework, initially called ‘styles of government action’, which sets out levers that can be used to influence outcomes. Find out more about this in this 'Government as a system' toolkit blog post.

Through this framework, we have pinpointed the current role of government as a collaborator, steward and funder – shifting between 'framing and scaling' stages as needed. This approach ensures our role remains responsive, steering initiatives whilst fostering collaboration and providing financial support. We have also outlined the role of partners who we would encourage to work with us to help minimise barriers to adoption by LPAs. This includes PropTech companies and public bodies (such as the Planning Advisory Service, Homes England and the Royal Town Planning Institute). 

What barriers are affecting the widespread adoption of digital tools by LPAs?

Through Rounds 1-3 of the PropTech Innovation Fund, we have funded 65 pilots involving 47 different LPAs. This blog post outlines the top five barriers identified through our pilots and research. If these are addressed, we believe they will help enable the adoption of digital engagement tools at scale. 

Government’s role as a ‘collaborator’ –working with others to build evidence and develop ideas

Barrier: Lack of evidence to demonstrate a return on investment – most LPAs do not hold, or have access to, the right evidence to get senior buy-in for adopting digital consultation platforms and approaches to engagement. 

DLUHC will aim to: 

Continue to publish emerging evidence and outcomes of the PropTech Innovation Fund through case studies that demonstrate the benefits of using digital tools in planning (improved engagement cost and time efficiencies).   Publish emerging insights from pilots undertaken in Round 2 and 3 which focused on the use of AI and automation to fast-track the representation process in consultations.   

Partner involvement: 

Present, participate in and steer the agenda for national-level industry events to advocate on the need for change and demonstrate impact.   Fund and work with partners to continue to publish evidence of digital solutions and their impact and to inform and establish emerging best practice, standards and approaches. 

Barrier: Lack of digital capacity and skills across LPAs – LPAs in the PropTech Innovation Fund acknowledge a lack of internal technical knowledge and digital delivery experience as a barrier to delivering digital planning pilots. 

DLUHC will aim to: 

In addition to publishing emerging evidence and outcomes of the PropTech Innovation Fund, we will also publish lessons learnt from funded pilot projects.   Use results from DLUHC’s nationwide LPA skills survey to evolve guidance and explore using pilots in partnership with DLUHC’s Planning Skills Delivery Fund to target support for improved digital skills in LPAs. 

Partner involvement: 

Work with industry partners to convene a space or forum for LPAs to come together to share insights, best practice and lessons learnt.   Government’s role as a ‘steward’ – steering the sector by giving advice and sharing important information

Barrier: Lack of market awareness and product capabilities – most LPAs who have participated in the Fund are not aware of the market offering or which potential products would best fit the needs of their planning consultation. 

DLUHC will aim to: 

Support an industry partner to publish a list of national suppliers that offer digital products to highlight their product offerings, starting in the digital citizen engagement space. Explore whether a ‘state of the market’ report would be beneficial to LPAs to promote market awareness of a range of existing tools to help modernise the housing and planning ecosystem and help suppliers identify where there are public sector customers for their services. Continue to be supportive of creating an inclusive environment with our LPA partners (community of practice) who want to advocate for and adopt modern digital tools to modernise the planning system.   

Partner involvement:  

Test and agree this plan of action with the sector to generate buy-in that can build capacity and capability between LPAs and the PropTech sector.   Fund and work with partners to facilitate a forum for product discovery and testing between the PropTech sector and LPAs. 

Barrier: LPAs procuring PropTech SMEs – LPAs in the PropTech Innovation Fund acknowledged the various internal processes and approval mechanisms that are required to procure a new supplier. This includes trying to secure senior buy-in. 

DLUHC will aim to: 

Publish a digital engagement LPA toolkit that will support LPAs to overcome identified barriers to procurement and adoption of digital tools. This toolkit will consist of a variety of resources and best practice guidance to support local authorities adopting and effectively using digital tools for planning consultations.   Continue to explore how the Procurement Act 2023 will provide a beneficial framework through which SMEs will find it easier to have their services procured by local authorities.    As above, support an industry partner to publish a list of national suppliers that offer digital products to support with planning consultations. 

Partner involvement:  

Work with other relevant public bodies to identify barriers to procurement, to make it easier for SME PropTech companies to be procured by local authorities.  Government’s role as a ‘funder’ – stimulating or leading investment 

Barrier: Lack of market interoperability – LPAs struggle to access, integrate and publish planning data when required due to the lack of integrations between different suppliers. 

DLUHC will aim to: 

Support and continue to deliver funded interventions that will unlock and accelerate data interoperability across LPAs and supplier networks, as enabled through the PropTech Innovation Fund.  Leverage ongoing pilot work to establish Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) between PropTech suppliers, ensuring they are available nationally to any LPA users of that technology, incentivising legacy providers to work with emerging and disruptive technology solutions.   In collaboration with the sector, explore data standards that will enable long-term interoperability of data and ensure we remain on the right track to promote innovation and drive market growth.   Deliver planning data regulations as outlined in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023. 

Partner involvement: 

Ongoing sector collaboration, assurance and challenge provided to DLUHC to ensure we are prioritising resourcing and funding in the right areas where we can demonstrate immediate impact and drive the long-term sustainability of the sector.   

We recognise that this is not an exhaustive list of barriers. Some barriers have been excluded due to limitations on the government’s ability to reduce them, and some are outside the scope of the DLUHC Digital Planning programme. However, we are actively engaging with relevant stakeholders on enhancing our understanding of statutory consultees’ digital needs and barriers and fostering property developer willingness to use digital tools to embrace digital consultations. 

Looking ahead 

As mentioned, we have been developing a digital engagement LPA toolkit to support LPAs adoption of digital tools. This resource will cover basic principles and practical tips for effectively using PropTech for digital citizen engagement. Stay tuned for its release in the spring. 

As always, we welcome feedback from our stakeholders and encourage you to get involved in future showcases or events the team holds. They’re all advertised via our LinkedIn page and on our X account , or you can subscribe to our regular newsletter for news and updates.

seen at 14:34, 10 July in DLUHC Digital.
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