How to run an effective Dialogue App with some help from the Forestry Commission

Forestry Commission England has successfully used its Dialogue App to consult with stakeholders on a diverse range of topics. Here we look at the discussion held about Friston Forest to gather ideas and comments about the way bike trails are accommodated within the forest. Here are some top tips from the Friston team’s experience;

Keep the information online and in one place

Before using Dialogue App, Forestry Commission England would promote consultations via a poster and email address, with drop-in sessions being held for any significant consultations. Being able to move this process online has enabled Forestry Commission England to create a single information source which can be boxed off and heralded as a primarily web-based activity. Furthermore, the discussion – including most importantly the key outcomes- can be accessed and referenced by any stakeholder, as and when needed.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 15.45.33Establish a process and promote it

In terms of promotion, stakeholders were directed to a single overview page on Forestry Commission England’s main site, with all key content for the discussion and the consultation process held on this page; http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fristonforest. Additional promotional materials, including posters and press service, were provided for key stakeholders to review prior to being published, ensuring they were consulted on the key text before going to print. Once up and running, the Friston Forest discussion team continually reviewed how the Dialogue App was being promoted, often considering what more they could be doing to further involvement.

To ensure the full consultation process was clear from the outset for key internal staff, the project team created a timeline for the discussions in the form of a Gantt chart. By running a discussion for a set 5 week period, key promotional activity and staff involvement could be planned for in advance.

Take moderation seriously

Moderation is a key part of any successful Dialogue App discussion. With clear content and expectations given to users from the beginning, the Friston Forest team only needed to act 3-4 times on inappropriate comments. In total, 43 ideas and 213 comments were contributed from 71 individual user accounts. In order to anticipate a higher volume of ideas flowing through, 5 of the team took it in turns to be the key moderator on the Dialogue App for a week each – all moderating under a consistent name on behalf of Forestry Commission England. Update meetings on a weekly basis gave moderators the chance to hand over to each other, ensuring they were moderating consistently.

Think about your outcomes and then shout about what you’ve achieved

As an organisation responsible for multiple sites and infrastructure across the country, Forestry Commission England are hoping to continue using their Dialogue App as a key consultation tool to help decide how to sustainably manage other sites. Key outcomes from these discussions can then be added to the discussion overview page to ensure stakeholders have a hub for discussion outcomes and feedback.

Share what you’ve learnt with colleagues running the next discussion

One of the key project managers involved in the Friston Forest discussion also took an advisory role for another successful discussion, which sourced ideas on how dogs could be better managed in Jeskyns Community Woodland to ensure everyone can continue to enjoy the space.

Working across two discussions enabled this lead to share key learnings for both teams. Both discussions had, for example, two key milestones – one in the middle and one at the end, with natural highs and lows in activity. Another key learning was to involve the policy officer (who would be in charge of implementing the decision) in the community moderation; this gives them the chance to comment and feed back directly on users’ ideas and comments in a manner which acknowledges them, and also identifies how they will be acted upon.

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