There’s some big questions when you’re trying to work with people. Are you getting their view, because that might change what you do? That’s consultation. Or are you telling people what’s happening and looking to explain a decision? That’s engagement – and they’re different things, so you’d better get your head round that from the start.
There’s big questions about your consultation methods. How can you be sure that the evidence you’ve got tells the whole truth? Are the numbers of responses enough to be truly representative? Is it truly enough to stand outside an office on a Tuesday and say that the information you got from stopping passers-by in the street was enough to be able to say what the residents of a particular area actually think? Or did you maybe get the views of those people whose circumstances led them to be on that particular street, at that particular time, and in a good enough mood to be prepared to stop and help out the person wielding the clipboard.
Say you go for the quick and easy online survey – and you’ve got lots of responses. Woo hoo, get the bunting out! But again is there any evidence that people who fill in a survey online are any more representative of the views of the general population than people who’ve agreed to be stopped in the street to speak to you?
And there are big questions about questions. Seriously. Did you ask questions in a way that influenced the responses? Did you ask questions where folk who are short of time and attention actually understood what you were asking?
The answers to these questions lie in blending consultation approaches and methods to get a stronger level of insight – a professional evaluation approach honed over years of working in community engagement, first in business, and then in the public sector for NHS Lothian and Midlothian Council. At the latter I’ve run budget consultations, consultations on new secondary schools – with associated closures of smaller facilities- and worked with the community of Gorebridge on the development of a £2.2m new community complex and regeneration project.