We know from our customers that publishing a consultation report with the right level of digestible information for respondents can be a challenge. Consultation feedback reports can run from a single page through to hundreds. The length, flow and set-up will often vary on a per-consultation basis, making it difficult to completely standardise the approach. For anyone struggling with putting a good consultation report together, here are 10 examples from our customers demonstrating 10 things that it could be useful to include:
1. Clarity on where the consultation was publicised
Letting respondents know where and how the consultation was publicised can help reassure them that the whole exercise wasn’t a ‘non-consultation’.
For instance, Transport for London (TfL) ran a consultation on the designs for a new public square in Elephant & Castle. As part of this, they created handy, visually-appealing leaflets and consultation posters clearly stating when the consultation was due to close. TfL included images of these in the appendix of their final feedback report.Including example consultation promotion material at the end of your consultation report like this can help readers understand how and where the consultation was publicised.
2. Provide a clear overview of who responded in which method
Who has responded to your consultation and in which format? Breaking down consultation responses by response mechanism or format can provide helpful context of where responses came from.
For example, in their Bakerloo line extension consultation, Transport for London provided an overview of the response types and associated percentage make-up of the full data set. Presenting this information in a tabular format helps ensure that the key headline statistics are clear to the reader.
3. Report back on any associated consultation events in your report
As part of their Tewkesbury Borough Plan summary report, Tewkesbury Borough Council used billboards to provide a visual display of priorities being consulted on. They then included reference to these consultation boards in their final report.
Associated events can act as part of your evidence base for your consultation report. By including photos from these events within the report, respondents who didn’t attend in person can still see that they happened and what role they played.
NB: if the information is used towards the case, do remember to write a transcript of the key points, as people’s handwriting and photos alone can be hard to read.
4. Include infographics and maps which are easy to read
Including as much contextual information as possible is important to ensure that your respondents engage with the topic at hand. Transport for London are really well-versed in including helpful infographics – both in their consultations but also in feedback reports. For example, they included a map showing where responses came from as part of their river crossings consultation feedback report.
It’s also key to keep infographics and word clouds simple. For example, the Western Australia Department of Health (WA Health) included a useful word cloud on one of their questions in the ‘Your Say on Cancer in WA’ consultation. Using word clouds to feed back on key qualitative data can help bring the themes to life.
5. Quote your respondents to make the report more personal
Providing some of the stand-out suggestions in response to consultation questions can show that respondent feedback has been directly taken into account. WA Health successfully did this following their ‘Your Say on Cancer in WA’ consultation.
6. Be as transparent as possible about where this info has come from
It’s useful for respondents to know what and who fed into a consultation’s overall findings. You can provide helpful transparency about the consultation process itself by including things like:
a. Respondent list
Some organisations choose to include a list of respondents in an appendix of a report (providing the respondents have consented to this), making it clear who has responded to the consultation. Citizen Space also includes the option to publish responses online, again with respondents’ consent. The Scottish Government uses response publishing on a regular basis, for example, and have used this feature in order to publish responses on consultations of national interest such as the Scottish National Tree consultation.
b. Respondent by type
Sometimes it can be helpful to identify different groups of respondents – for example, organisations vs private individuals. As part of their feedback report on standardising tobacco packaging, the Department of Health published a clear overview of campaign responses and how these participants felt about the issue at hand.
c. The questions we asked
For transparency and context, it’s also worth publishing the questions asked in the original consultation. This can be achieved using Citizen Space’s ‘print survey’ feature and including the resulting PDF as an attachment on the consultation overview page.
7. Provide context from other countries’ research
To provide context and an evidence base for a consultation, it’s useful to link back to any previous consultations on the topic – and, where possible, to research from other countries. The UK Department of Health, for example, referenced research from Australia in their Tobacco Packaging consultation summary report. Including a consultation ‘evidence base’ helps ensure the outcomes and decision based on the report hold more weight.
8. Update your Citizen Space consultation record to complete the feedback loop
It’s always useful to keep the consultation overview page up to date, so that respondents can see your progress. Ideally, as soon as your feedback report is ready, upload it as an attachment via the Citizen Space ‘publish results’ feature so that participants can access it. A bit like Transport for London did with their design for a new public square for Elephant and Castle consultation.
If you know it’s going to be some time before a final report is available, at least provide an interim update saying as much on the consultation overview page.
9. Be prepared to outsource when needed
Some high profile consultations can generate a lot of qualitative (free text) responses, which can be time-consuming to analyse and to report on in a concise way. Both HS2 and BBC Trust spoke about the importance of creating a ‘data journey’ at the beginning of a consultation during the 2015 user group to deal with high volumes of responses. WA Health called on support from a local university to produce the infographics for their ‘your say in cancer in WA’ consultation.
10. Create a template for reports
In order to ensure that reports look consistent and in line with brand guidelines, it’s useful to establish at the very least a basic consultation report template with key headlines. You can also include some standard titles such as “Purpose of this consultation” and “Background to consultation”, helping give a clear structure. For a good example of strong visual identity applied consistently, see Defra’s feedback reports.
Reporting is a really important part of the consultation process, and one at which we want our customers to excel. All of these ideas are simple things which can be incorporated to make reports as useful to respondents as possible. Of course, there’s still plenty of room for innovation here. For example, has anyone considered using audio feedback via SoundCloud? Or video/live streaming of feedback events via Periscope? We’re always eager to see new ways our customers will improve their practice and processes, so if you’re reading this and are keen to ‘disrupt’ reporting, get in touch!