Last December, I decided that in order to help towns better understand the challenges they face there should be something that could be an easy reference document. 

This came about from completing day one of a #CreatingBetterTowns masterclass for the Local Government Association with 24 councils and from thinking back to my military days when as a young platoon commander I had a tactical aide-memoire that provided all the key information and considerations to do my job.

Without it, I would have been lost on many occasions, especially when situations called for quick responses. From these two encounters, the #CreatingBetterTowns aide-memoire was born. I see it as a document that will evolve and change based on how it is used and how towns change over time.

The aide-memoire aims to address key areas that people involved in towns should understand, think about or consider. There are 13 core sections.

One needs to have a very good understanding of how residents, visitors and workers use a town today and in 5, 10 or 15 years

The definition of what a town is and what the National Planning Policy Framework says about Town Centre First and what the sequential and impact tests actually are.

Decision making is critical and many towns and businesses do not understand where data lies or what data is versus information and evidence. From these, one is able to derive knowledge as an individual and wisdom as an organisation. The former three will increasingly be machine-driven and the latter two human-driven – combining the two is called augmented intelligence.

Base knowledge of a town is key as it is the starting point and by this one needs to have a very good understanding of how residents, visitors and workers use it today and how they might use it in 5, 10 or 15 years and beyond.

How you approach many things in life can often determine how successful you will be and as such considering your approach is key. The two key approaches I think should be considered are ‘seek to understand before being understood’ (from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and always looking at why you should do something rather than why you should not.

The place principle

Next up is being clear on what you are trying to achieve, which is broken down into the what, the why and who is required to do this? And how will you go about it and measure that change?

Tied into both of the above is the ‘place principle’ developed by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is a succinct summary of why collaboration is critical to success.

Like any business or organisation, a town should have a vision that engages the heart and spirit, executed through a strategy that covers the people, execution and structure required to deliver which then creates a plan with a number of objectives, each with its own set of milestones.

The physical space of a town determines its character. From how buildings are used to the public realm that people value

Clear and achievable objectives are critical to success and the aide-memoire covers a process for how to identify an objective, factors that influence the objective and ultimately how to select the best course of action to achieve that objective. It also covers the reality of what happens when things don’t go to plan – do you continue, challenge or cease? Throughout the process data underpins the execution through tracking change.

The final two related areas are on understanding what place marketing is and being clear about your unique proposition, and making sure it is aligned with the community. Reinforcing this is the increasingly important digital profile and footprint required to put you and keep you on the map.

The physical space of a town determines its character, which is another key consideration. From how buildings are used and the increasing need for more diverse building uses, to the public realm that people value, engage with and maintain.

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