A fine example of a first consultation from the Canal & River Trust

The Canal & River Trust recently took the plunge into the world of Citizen Space for their public engagement activity. In the blink of an eye, they had set up their first Citizen Space consultation, asking the public for their views on planned improvements to 16 miles of London towpaths.

We asked Dick Vincent from the Trust a few questions:

Delib: How did the Canal & River Trust previously do consultation?

Dick: We didn’t have a standard system, but usually used Survey Monkey.

Delib: Why did you start using Citizen Space?

Dick: We looked at what was available and this was the one we liked best. Knowing that your servers are based in the UK was a big plus point.

Delib: What do you like about Citizen Space so far?

Dick: It’s easy to use and solid. Survey Monkey is like a Swiss army knife, but Citizen Space is more like a scalpel. Have you ever done an appendectomy with a Swiss army knife? It never goes well!

Delib: Has the Delib team been helpful?

Dick: Beyond compare. Amazingly so. They helped us pull off our plans in record time … it was a real joy. We had a really tight deadline (4 weeks!) so we didn’t even have time to do the proper training. Thankfully, it’s a pretty easy system to use and after a couple of hours of truly expert tuition via a web link with Alexis we could just ‘bash it out’, and then she did some last minute checks that made all the difference.  

A great first consultation

To return the praise, here are five things we really like about their ‘Better Towpaths for Everyone’ consultation.

1) Accessible language

Screenshot of an easy to read front page

Firstly, the Canal & River Trust have pulled off what can sometimes be a difficult feat – making a consultation readble and engaging. We liked the use of a video on the first page, and we expect respondents have smiled at their admission that: “Some might think that a great towpath is … well … a great towpath.”

They’ve avoided jargon and given concrete examples wherever possible too:

“… there are some small things you can suggest that will make all the difference. For example, you might know of a great place we could put in a new wheeling ramp or even a bench.”

2) Use of further info

Screenshot of a closed further info sectionScreenshot of an expanded futher info section with an embedded video

The Trust have made extensive use of Citizen Space’s ‘further info’ feature. This means you can include more background information about a particular topic or question that neatly concertinas away unless people choose to read it.

Using this feature is a great bonus because it means you don’t have to keep asking people to refer back to an earlier document to get more info on the current question – something that’s very offputting. It also means that nobody has to download big PDFs at the start of the consultation – instead, they can view the relevant part of the PDF embedded as they go along. This is especially important for mobile users.

Screenshot of an embedded pdf page in a further info section

The Canal & River Trust have done a great job of embedding PDF pages (and even videos) alongside the relevant questions, where they could have made the mistake of having a dozen planning and policy PDFs to download and refer back to.

3) Relevant sections

The Trust have made sure that not everybody has to trawl through all the sections of their large consultation – instead, they can just respond to the parts that concern or interest them.Screenshot of consultation section options

4) Events listings

The Canal & River Trust are making the most of their Citizen Space as an engagement platform by also running an events listing in the footer. Again, there’s optional further info to read about each event:

Screenshot of events section in the footer

5) Including other opportunities to engage

A consultation like this is a great time to engage further with an audience that’s already interested in the place or topic but may never have heard of your organisation before.

Throughout this consultation, the Canal & River Trust have seized the opportunity to tell respondents a little more about the Trust and flag up other ways they can get involved.

Screenshot of get involved section

All in all, we’re pretty impressed with this first Citizen Space consultation! And we even learnt the meaning of the word “gongoozling”.

A gongoozler is an old English word for a person who enjoys watching activity on the canals