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How to deliver effective public consultation (during lockdown and recovery)

New Normal:  something which was previously uncommon has become commonplace.

The big question is: “… is it normal to assume that we no longer need face-to-face public engagement?”. That is, no more public meetings; no more standing in shopping centres talking about service changes; no more drop-ins at community centres…

With the removal of many traditional ‘contact’ ways of involving partners, service users, the public and other stakeholders, comms people are thinking about how to implement engagement that respects physical (social) distancing rules.

Increasingly this has seen a move to online approaches to engagement, an approach we had all probably been adapting cautiously – which has now accelerated dramatically. Not least because we see from the daily briefings from Government that nothing will be changing soon and the need to change how we operate has been accelerated by the pandemic.

We have probably all seen an increase online videoconferencing, from Skype for Business/Teams to Zoom, Google Hangouts, House Party and WhatsApp during lockdown.

Zoom alone was downloaded 2.13 million times on the 23rd of March – the day of the UK’s lockdown (up from 56,000 two months earlier). This switch to a digital-led approach in our personal and professional worlds brings significant challenge to engagement and involvement.

This switch doesn’t exclude other no-contact methods such as postal surveys and telephone interviews, but it does require some new thinking.

A question for the future is:

“…are these behaviours now embedded or are they just an adjustment to extraordinary times, and what does this mean for those charged with engaging with the public to encourage their involvement in public service transformation?”

While much of the current ‘new’ is likely to become standard, there are statutory requirements to make sure that all the right people are consulted and involved in discussions and decision-making.

If we don’t carry out a full consultation on a contentious issue, there is a potential risk of challenge: we can’t just say we were unable to:

  1. Identify those most affected by the potential changes; and/or
  2. Contact and interact with them to enable them to participate in the process.

In other words, physical distancing is not an excuse to not engage. So, what can be done?

Here are a few top tips to meet public engagement requirements during lockdown, and for the ‘new normal’:

  • Undertaking a comprehensive stakeholder mapping exercise is crucial to ensure your digital approach reaches those most impacted by the changes…and developing a mitigating strategy to reach the digitally excluded.
  • Have a clear and simple description of the issues and proposals in formats appropriate for all – from those who want a summary to those who want all the technical detail.
  • Ensure a rigorous risk assessment so all statutory requirements are met.
  • Put a clear governance structure in place to ensure confidence in the digital led engagement.
  • Choose the right platform for you – there are lots of full-service online platforms that will do it all. If you don’t have the resources, there are free/low cost alternatives needing only the investment of time. Check your needs, budgets, and availability of time in making these decisions.

Finally:

  • A digital-led engagement programme requires the skills and experience of online practitioners who are able to develop relevant and attractive propositions and calls to action that will cut through the clutter in an increasingly cluttered online environment (getting people engaged, rather than watching another YouTube clip!). This could be in-house or from existing agencies or freelancers.

 

If you have any questions at all, we’re always happy to talk: rosie@kenyons.co.uk / 07944341749

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“…are these behaviours now embedded or are they just an adjustment to extraordinary times, and what does this mean for those charged with engaging with the public to encourage their involvement in public service transformation?”