On December 14th 2005 The Council agreed that:-
- The Council should have a co-ordinated approach to consultation and market research based on agreed corporate standards
- Training and on-going support should be provided to service staff to develop competency in planning, commissioning and evaluating consultation /market research
- Standard corporate tools and approaches should be developed and used (unless an exceptional case to vary from this is demonstrated)
- Feedback should be given to consultees on the outcomes of any consultation, and the impact on Council policy and/or service delivery
- Results of market research/ consultation should be made available for information to all areas of the Council, with adherence to FOI and the DPA.
… to ensure that consultation and market research activity is efficient, effective and courteous
A review was undertaken to inform the strategy and ensure that it is relevant and reflects the needs of the authority, service areas and residents. The review included meetings with officers, focus groups with residents, questions in Voicebox, and an appeal in Council News. Officers from all parts of the Council were invited to help shape the review and strategy through a steering group.
Additionally, ‘Improving Consultation’ was a theme picked out by the Culture Development programme through its slice workshops with staff, members, union representatives and partners.
It is impossible to calculate the cost of market research and consultation activities but there is evidence of inefficiencies arising from a lack of co-ordination:
- Where officers are unable to identify whether any existing data could be used in place of undertaking new research
- When consultations are undertaken with the same stakeholders, sometimes on similar subjects, at the same time
- When consultations and surveys are not fit for purpose and fail to generate useful submissions or data
- When consultations are designed to fulfil specific short term objectives and lack a long term corporate perspective
The Council’s approach to consultation needs to adapt to meet the efficiency aspirations developed in the Gershon report. To achieve this we will need an organised and co-ordinated approach that increases efficiency through reducing duplication and waste. The Council also needs to ensure that it is prepared to act on the findings of the research or consultation so that it is not wasted.
Additionally, the strategy will aim to implement a more corporate outlook to improve comparability and consistency of results so data can be more widely and more frequently used.
There are two main aspects to effective consultation; firstly, that of effectively undertaking a consultation project and secondly; effectively acting on the findings.
The organisation can and does conduct effective consultations. However, there have been high profile examples (identified by both the local press and the CPA) where we have not been as effective as we should be.
Some of the criticism is a result of a lack of skills or experience of individual officers, or the amount of time or resources available to them. However, in the instance of responding to residents’ priorities for the area, this is a corporate responsibility and a lack of a sophisticated measure means that we are open to justified criticism from the CPA.
We need to improve effectiveness by ensuring that the necessary skills, support and resources are available. Consultations also need to fit within an overall framework- so input can be used for corporate and service level purposes.
In addition, we should aim to achieve a structured and integrated role for market research within decision making to ensure customer focus, maximise resources and increase take-up and relevance of services, (as recommended by Laria and the LGA).
There is no evidence to suggest that contact that we have with residents when carrying out consultations is not polite and friendly, although it can be hard to select appropriate methodologies for consulting with some groups (particularly the so called ‘hard-to-reach’ groups).
The key issue is having the courtesy to listen and act, or to show that we are listening and acting. There was some evidence in focus groups that the public feel that the Council is not interested in what the public wants. Some respondents suggested that consultation is ‘lip service’ and that the Council sets its own priorities, undertakes unpopular projects and makes unpopular decisions regardless of what the public thinks. This sort of criticism is common in the public sector but is not always justified.
The review confirmed that officers sometimes struggle in the area of ‘expectation management’, in particular being clear about what we are consulting on, and then feeding back. This is important because raising expectations, which are then not realised, will negatively impact on the reputation of the Council.
To address this, officers should always ensure that their chosen method is suitable for the target audience, that consultees are properly thanked, and that they understand the extent to which their views will be / have been / can be taken in to account.
Public awareness of the Council’s genuine aspiration to reflect the public’s wishes needs to be raised, as does the publics’ understanding that the Council must take in to account a range of other issues when making decisions. This will increase awareness of the organisation as a ‘listening council’ which will increase overall satisfaction.
Performance Indicators will be introduced, and once a baseline is established, targets will be set. Performance indicators may include:
- % of people who feel that the Council takes notice of it’s residents views
- % of people surveyed who feel that the Council is ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ at involving the public in decision making processes
- % consultation exercises which directly influenced a decision, shaped policy, or service delivery
- % of consultation exercises done as a joint exercise between departments or partners
- % of consultation exercises where results were fed-back to consultees / the public