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Top Tips for Consultation and Engagement
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Top Tips for Consultation and Engagement

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Objective have worked with a number of public policy and engagement specialists to come up with ideas for improving online engagement in the public sector. With contributions from ‘ engagement giants’ …

Objective have worked with a number of public policy and engagement specialists to come up with ideas for improving online engagement in the public sector. With contributions from ‘ engagement giants’ across UK Councils, Government Agencies, Social Media companies and our own Consultation and Policy consultants we hoped that it provided you with some useful tips. Get in touch for more information about best practice consultation and engagement

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  • 1. TOP TIPS FOR ONLINE CONSULTATION & ENGAGEMENT
  • 2. A COMPENDIUM OF HINTS AND TIPS FOR ONLINE CONSULTATION AND ENGAGEMENT Here, at Objective HQ, we’re a bit geeky about public policy and engagement. Sure, we provide software that is used for collaboration and engagement by around 6,000 public servants in almost 200 public sector agencies so we do have a commercial interest! But actually we just think it’s a really cool thing to be interested in and we love working with others who share our interest and care about helping to build a better world through high quality public services. It’s that sociability, that constant drive to work intelligently with others who share our obsession that makes us geeks – and keeps us from straying down the path of nerdiness. And it’s with this sociability in mind that we’ve worked with other public policy & engagement types to come up with a few ideas for improving online engagement in the public sector. With contributions from ‘giants’ from UK Councils, Government Agencies, Social Media companies and our own Consultation and Policy consultants we hope that it will prove to be a useful starting point for discussion.
  • 3. The old adage ‘proper planning prevents piss poor performance’ certainly applies to community engagement activity. You’ll get the best results from your engagement process if you plan it properly. Here at Slough we have a developed the following 8 staged checklist to help staff get the most out of running their local community engagement activities: 1. SET YOUR OBJECTIVES • Do you understand the context for your engagement activities and what’s driving them? • Do you understand where your engagement activity sits within the Councils policy/planning cycles? 2. SET PROJECT PARAMETERS • Have you identified all of the goals, outputs and outcomes you want to achieve? 3. UNDERSTAND YOUR COMMUNITY • Have you undertaken enough research to understand the communities you need to engage with? • Are you clear what you need to know and from whom? • What level of engagement do you need to use with each groups? 4. SET UP YOUR ENGAGEMENT ACTIVITIES • Have you chosen the right engagement methods/techniques to reach the groups you need to engage with? 5. IDENTIFYING AND MANAGING RISK • Have you developed plans to deal with all of the risks associated with carrying out your engagement activities? 6. PUBLICITY • Do you have a social media strategy and or communication plan to advertise your activities to the groups you need to work with? 7. LAUNCH 8. CLOSE, ANALYSE AND FEEDBACK • Are you clear what methods and criteria you will use to evaluate your engagement activities and feedback to residents?
  • 4. One ‘problem’ that many practitioners get hung up on is how to drive prospective consultees to their online or offline engagement projects. In a social media context, many (most) Councils or Government Agencies have social media followings in the hundreds, or low thousands, but rarely of the soft of scale to provide any real confidence in reaching the wider public through social media channels. But there’s another way of thinking about this: fish where the fish are! In any given area there will a wide range of groups and agencies that have a much wider network of social media followers, and you can usefully consider how to promote your key engagement messages through those networks. In one recent example of a local authority that we are working with, the corporate facebook and twitter network of just under 5,000 likers/followers (many of which may be duplicates) but their wider partnership organisations (police, fire & rescue, college, newspaper, football club) had almost 110,000 follow/likes between them. Again, many of these will be duplicates, but even so... Getting these partner organisations to retweet or like Council engagement messages could potentially increase the network of consultees from 5,000 to 110,000 with no need for additional resources or budgets. Now that’s got to be something worth considering! So when you’re mapping your stakeholders for a particular engagement process, try asking yourself not how to bring those people to you – but where do these people meet and engage already and how best can we tune our message to that audience and place?
  • 5. Information overload means that people are hungry for original and engaging content. More effort and resource needs to be factored into producing this kind of content when seeking to engage people online. People need to start thinking of themselves as micro TV and Radio stations. Their programme of engagement or consultation will need a schedule of videos, podcasts, infographics, images and surveys etc. You don’t need to break the bank doing this kind of thing either. But occasionally it may be worth investing in something special - if the issue is big enough.
  • 6. Similar to the ‘Fish where the Fish are’ idea (idea 2) - don’t expect people to come to you unless you are willing to put some effort in to building your networks in the first place. In the age of social media people are hanging around (online) all over the place. You need to find them and then get involved in their networks on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr (and the list goes on.) So long as you share a common interest and speak to them in a genuine and transparent way they will invite you in. So spend more time hanging around in other people’s networks and when the time is right invite them to join yours. This way you can connect people to your social media assets and to your own website or engagement tools.
  • 7. A big part of running a successful consultation, either informal or formal, is down to the questions we ask. The challenge is to ask the right questions. Some of the biggest pitfalls that organisations experience can nearly always be avoided by making sure you always agree your business objectives first before you write your questions. By investing time in this activity upfront can mean the difference between a well run consultation and spending time and resources on re-running a consultation with the right questions! Here are five top DOs and DON’Ts.
  • 8. It may be surprising at first glance to realise that of the dozens of judicial reviews mounted by campaigning groups and others against public consultations in recent years, no case has been decided primarily on the acceptability (or otherwise) of online engagement. Yet one of the constant complaints is that over-reliance on digital data gathering discriminates against the ‘digitally disenfranchised’. The new Government Consultation Principles is accompanied by a policy of ‘digital by default’. So what can consultors do to avoid challenge? The key requirement is to adhere to the 2010 Equalities Act, and this means avoiding a consultation plan that discriminates against the categories of people protected by the legislation. So, for example if your consultation needs to hear the views of, say, older frail residents of care homes, a legal challenge might succeed. Wise consultors will ensure that online engagement is accompanied by those traditional methods that are most suitable for the target stakeholder groups. These different channels need to complement, reinforce and complement each other. Both need to use questions that are relevant to those parts of the consultation narrative that is open to influence, though the dynamics of dialogue can differ in detail. In short, ensure that consultees have plenty of choice so that their views can be heard and they are not disadvantaged by the use of a medium they cannot access.
  • 9. ABOUT OBJECTIVE At Objective we pride ourselves on being leaders in enabling best practice consultation and engagement. We’re already working with around 180 local councils in the UK as well as a number of central government departments and executive agencies on everything from small local consultation projects to fullblown corporate engagement platforms. We work with our customers to implement our established and proven online consultation solution, uEngage, to enable them to reap the benefits of meaningful citizen and stakeholder engagement. If you are interested in finding out more about our multichannel, web-based engagement platform, you can visit our website or get in touch for a discussion or demo today. MORE INFORMATION WWW.THEYSAIDYOUDID.CO.UK +44 1628 640 460 INFO@OBJECTIVE.CO.UK