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What one organisation is doing to prevent too much consultation (08 Mar 09)

Who’s surveying who? Do you know? Is time and money being squandered on needless duplication? When you want to keep a handle on it all, this simple but effective use of the Internet may be one answer

I recently asked delegates to give us some help on a new course we are developing, How To Share Research Data.

You probably remember that I invited you to tell me your problems in this area and what you would want out of a course on the topic.

Judging by the replies I got one of the biggest problems facing people is how to prevent duplication of consultations. We are all so keen to find out from people what they think that we are in danger of consulting the public too often.

The problems this causes are obvious: falling response rates, a greater cost per respondent to collect the information and a growing weariness among the public with our efforts

That’s why a reply from Colleen Raymond with one solution caught my eye. What she describes is such an obvious thing to do that I worry that we might be teaching you to suck eggs.

If we are I do apologize, but if not, perhaps you could benefit by looking at what she and her colleagues have done to tackle the problem.

I’ll let Colleen take over now:

“Hi Rod,

In my field of work which is consultation with children and young people we used to have lots of problems with regards to knowing what was going on within each department

Also as I work for Pembrokeshire Children and Young Peoples Partnership we have information which needs to be shared with a range of partners outside of the council.

What we found was that people were doing consultation work and gathering information that was already available, so we started to have duplication of information.

One way we dealt with this was to conduct an audit to find out what everyone was doing and what information was available. From this we built something called a 'consultation portal' on our website.

This now hosts all our previous consultation work such as final reports, sample questionnaires and samples of workshops.

We then actively promoted the portal so that we could ensure that as much work as possible sits on it. If people are looking for information or planning a consultation they go and look at what information or statistics are already available on the portal.

This will tell them whether they need to consult or whether the information gathered answers their question.

The portal was built in house by our web team. You can see it by clicking here

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Comment by justine portsmouth city council — 10 Mar 09 at 15:27:42

Hi Rod, like Colleen from Pembrokeshire, I also had a problem with keeping up to date with what consultation is happening throughout Portsmouth City Council. I work in a central communications team and have responsibility for major surveys but also some of the "infrastructure" that supports people working throughout the council who need to consult local people.

Our solution, like Colleen's, was to develop our "Big List of Consultation", which (not surprisingly!) lists our consultation work. We publish this internally on our intranet site at the moment, but there's no reason why we couldn't put it on our public website too. Like Colleen, we enabled staff to update it themselves, so that the work is listed by the people doing it who are best able to "plug" the information in. It does take continual work to promote it though, at least in the early days, as otherwise it quickly becomes out of date and discredited. Our corporate standards for publication say that when planning a consultation project, people should start by looking at the Big List. This might avoid duplication, or, at the very least, makes for better focused and informed consultation (so often, the tendency is to keep commissioning new consultation, whereas we might already have what we need, or something similar, but lack the ability to find out about it), so the Big List helps us make better use of what we've already got, too. And of course, the Big List makes it easier to share the results of research with colleagues across the council.

Why not join the discussion!

Or even better still offer your own advice and tell us about things that others can learn from.

We moderate comments lightly so bear with us and we'll get your thoughts listed as soon as we can.

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What one organisation is doing to prevent too much consultation