Understanding the community within the area of benefit of your organisation is an essential starting point to enable you to plan your services and activities for the future.
Consultations give communities a voice and an opportunity to influence enabling them to become creators instead of just consumers. Consultations help to develop local democracy and foster positive attitudes towards being active within the community and participation in wider society.
As well as having an influence in updating services and activities, consultations (if done well) can be a source of social and political education and lead to self development for individuals.
It is important to ensure that your consultation is not tokenistic and everyone involved should have should have buy in to this ethos.
Finally - Be realistic and honest about what difference the consultation outcomes will make and do not foster any unrealistic expectations that will not be achievable and ultimately lead to disappointment.
Before you start to finding out about the community there are some points to consider
What do you want to find out and how will you use the information? This is essential and you should identify your aims and objectives for your research to crystallise this thinking. Remember to make these SMART, for further information please refer to the project planning bite size unit.
The ladder below, adapted from the model developed by Sherry Arnstein (1969), should be considered when you are thinking about how you are going to approach involving the community in a consultation process. Your organisation needs to decide where they want to be on the ladder when they are undertaking a consultation process. The ideal will be towards the lower end of the ladder where the community are directly involved in decision making, addressing local issues or identifying what activities should take place in the future.
Ladder of Participation (after Arnstein)
InformationProviding information. (E.g. about the existence of a service, results of a decision). Tends to be one way communication
EducationExplaining or raising awareness of something - often in order to change attitudes/action. Tends to be one-way communication
ConsultationAsking opinions. This can include questionnaires asking for reactions to a particular decision, voting, market research, focus groups and debate.Can be two way communication (e.g. if participants are informed of the results) but final decisions are made by those who are doing the consulting.
InvolvementWhere more than just opinions are sought – participants may be part of the solution though taking action, endorsing something, etc.Communication must be two way, but responsibilities are not necessarily formally set out and relationships between participants may remain unclear.
PartnershipDirect involvement in decision making and action, with all parties having clear roles and responsibilities and powers – usually for a defined purpose/shared common goal.Two-way communication essential.
Devolved PowerEnabling communities to have the power in decision making, resources and control.There should also be clear lines of accountability and should involve two way communication.
Planning your consultation
Once you have decided which level of consultation is appropriate, you will need to think about the following. There are many ways to gather information and opinions from people. Don’t forget to check what you already know and carry out any desktop research. Has information been gathered by anyone else e.g. Census, NHS, Local Authority.
Choosing a method
There are a wide variety of methods you could use to gather information. Some of these are below, but there are a vast array on the internet. The methods shown in the monitoring and evaluation bite-size module will also allow you to ask simple questions
Methods you could use for consultation include:
|Questionnaires||Flexible method, but these must be accessible to all (i.e. different levels of literacy and appropriate language) Also do you need copies in different languages (will have cost implications)|
|Telephone interviews||How will you identify the participants? Ensure the interviews are well trained to reduce the problem of ‘interviewer’ bias|
|Face to face||Time consuming, but can give really good results especially with qualitative information. See notes above for issues|
|At events||Take your consultation to events that have already been planned in your area, or consult at one of your own events e.g. family fun day|
|Conferences||As above, but you could set up a conference to have discussions about your issues. You can also have workshops to focus discussions.|
|Online e.g. Survey Monkey, social media and blogs||Easy, free and quick method. Response is limited to participants who have accessibility to IT equipment and are computer literate.|
|Focus groups||See ‘Focus Group’ project toolkit for further details http://www3.hants.gov.uk/community-support-service/how-to-do.htm|
|Audio recording||A great way to gather information. This could take place over a chat and you then have the opportunity to review what you have.|
|Video, performance, poetry||If you are working with a small group of people over a longer time scale and looking at a specific issue this can be very powerful. The participants have real ownership of the process and the performance, poetry, video can be shared with a wide range of audiences.|
|Graffiti wall||The graffiti wall is a simple technique that enables you to collate lots of children's views on one topic or issue. Ask one question that covers what you want to find out, hang a giant piece of paper or material on to a wall and leave pens or paints for the children to use to write with. Give children and young people some time to think about their response before they actually come to the wall. The ideas grouped for further discussion either on the day or at a later date. http://www.sheffkids.co.uk/adultssite/pages/consultationtechniques.html|
|‘Big Brother Diary Room’||You could set up some form of booth at an event (or in a spare room) and ask people to step in and record their thoughts. It may be a good idea to base this around specific questions unless there is a good reason to gather information on a wide range of subjects. Simply add a camera and a chair and let people go in and record their own comments.|
|Drawings, photography||A simple question about likes and dislikes can create a wide range of pictures|
|Participatory consultations||There are a wide variety of these, but the basic principle is that you train local people to carry out the consultation. This breaks down barriers and gives the community real ownership of the process and outcomes.|
|Comment cards||Have cards available for people to comment on. This could be an ongoing process, or around a specific topic. Some people prefer to take the cards away and think about the comments before they fill them in and bring them back on their next visit.|
|Community Conversations||A facilitated conversation, not unlike a focus group, but less structured and the subject matter is often lead by the participants.|
|Community Visioning||There area a variety of techniques that could be used to enable groups to come together and consider what their ideal future would look like. This can then be built into an action plan to move towards it|
|User Panels||This is getting a group of people together who are a representative cross section of the people you want to consult. You can then use any of these methods to consult.|
|Planning for Real®||A process of creating a scaled map of your area and asking for comments. PfR is a registered trademark so you need to contact the Neighbourhood Initiative Foundation if you are thinking about this. They also have a kit for building design and conversions|
Who to consult
Your current users can give you insight into why they use your facilities, but make sure you get to all the users, not just the individuals you deal with directly.
To ensure that there is staff support and commitment to the process and any changes that might come out of the consultation
Consider who else you will need to consult, e.g. resource holders, other organisations and most importantly local people who don’t access your activities
You will need to consider what resources you need and have available for your consultation exercise. This is linked to the method of consultation you choose and might include things like printed materials, hire of equipment, postage costs, cost of a facilitator, hiring a venue and time. Remember to factor this into any grant application you make as funders will recognise this as good practice.
Results and Feedback
Consultation is not something that should be done for the sake of it. You need to make sure there is a clear mechanism for feeding the results if your consultation into the decision making process and how you will let those who participated in your consultation know the results. Being realistic there will not be many people who will want to read a whole report, so providing bullet points and summaries is probably the best way to feed back to most people. Full reports should always be available (either electronically or in paper form), but keep these to a minimum for individuals who need this more in depth information.
Methods to feedback could include:
- Posters/ banners
- PowerPoint presentations
- Press releases
- Summary letters
- Visual form e.g. drawing, art or photography
- Visual diagrams and summaries
- Production of drama or poetry etc
Evaluation of your consultation is important but does not have to be complex. Effective evaluation should tell you what worked and what didn’t work and why. The measurement of success should be made against the aims and objectives of the consultation project.
Questions that should be addressed might include
- Were the method(s) you used to consult appropriate and why?
- What didn’t work and why?
- What did work and why?
- What could we have done differently?
- Did you reach your objectives and where they the right ones’ in the first place?
- Did you consult with the right people, where there any groups you didn’t reach and if so why?
- Were the timescales realistic of did this create any problems?
- Did you get the information you wanted?
There are a range of evaluation methods in the monitoring and evaluation bite size module
What else to consider when planning your consultation
Take time to consider what are the barriers to participation for your community, especially people who do not usually take part in consultation processes.
These can be addressed by
- Accommodating different literacy levels and working in the language of participantsEnsuring all the information is accessible to everyone
- Choosing accessible and appropriate venues
- Providing practical resources like transport, crèche facilities, translation, signing
- Approaching excluded children and young people directly and through their communities
- Involving excluded children and young people in contacting others, in person or through the design of information and strategies for making contact
- Using a variety of methods of consultation
- Ensuring group ground rules cover equality of opportunity issues and that these are implemented
- Developing facilitating skills to enable those who are less confident and marginalised to participate fully in group
- Meeting regularly to build skills and confidence of the group of people your are consulting
- Look for ways to contact ‘hard to reach’ groups and individuals by networking with a wide variety of local organisations and front line workers.