Lucy Rumble, Strategic Consultation and Engagement Lead at Warwickshire County Council, runs a tight ship when it comes to the organisation’s consultation and engagement activity. It’s not just her – there are others on the team – but she is one of a handful of all-access-pass holders and is closely involved with consultations run on Warwickshire’s Citizen Space site from start to finish.
I interviewed her on a sunny afternoon and we chatted about Warwickshire’s five-year council plan, feeding back to the public, and using Citizen Space in new and creative ways.
When we spoke, their Council Plan engagement had just closed. They ran an online survey on Citizen Space, as well as a series of ‘roadshows’ where people could go and speak to elected members in person.
“We wanted to do quite a high-level engagement. The council has identified a set of objectives to inform our five-year plan, so this was about sense-checking whether these objectives resonated with residents and other Warwickshire stakeholders, understanding people’s priorities, and putting forward some broad financial information.
“We don’t really know what the world’s going to look like financially over the course of the 5-year plan so we were really just asking questions. We know that we have a strong financial base as a local authority so we were asking questions like; ‘if we had more money where do you think we should be spending it? And if we have less, where do you think there are less significant priorities?”
Then, while they were planning the engagement, Warwickshire County Council declared a climate emergency.
“We haven’t got a specific objective around the environment, because we felt it should inform all of our objectives. So we wanted to ask people some very open questions around climate and what they felt that we should be doing as an organisation, in terms of our own carbon footprint, and perhaps what we could be doing to help other people who are residents and businesses in Warwickshire. We had something like 5000 comments on this with lots of really useful and thought provoking suggestions.”
Overall, they got a high response rate, with high levels of engagement both online and at the roadshows. “To the online survey, we have had about 1200 responses, so I would say it’s one of the largest responses we’ve had to a general survey as opposed to an issue-based one.”
As well as helping to increase their response rate, Citizen Space has facilitated improvements in other ways: one of these is feeding back to citizens promptly and effectively with the help of the ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ feature.
Clear, effective feedback
“Before we moved on to Citizen Space we identified a real issue, which was that we weren’t feeding back to the public consistently,” she says. “I started with the council about the same time as we procured Citizen Space so it was quite timely, and part of my role includes making sure that what the public have told us is reported, as it should be, to our members, and that the decisions that are made on the back of that are fed back to people who took part. So that’s really how we manage to make it work, because I’m involved end-to-end with anything that is a formal consultation.”
As mentioned, Lucy is one of just a few central admins of Warwickshire’s site. But for those others that have full site access, uptake of the feedback process has been pretty seamless.
“Our colleagues in schools have their own admin access as they run a high turnover of statutory consultations around changes to do with schools. They don’t go through the same corporate process as other consultations, but they understand that when you put [a consultation] up you have to close the loop. ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ [or WAYSWD hereafter] is such a clear, intuitive way of doing it that it’s just habitual for them to use it on their own consultations as well. Even with…engagement activities that don’t have to go through that formal process, site users can see the value; I think there is a will to feed back to people anyway. We have a template [for feedback] that people know, and it’s just something that they expect now. And they’re starting to use that template as part of their own internal reporting mechanism. WAYSWD is starting to be used as terminology!”
(I tell her we call it ‘was-ee-wod’ in the interest of saving syllables.)
I can tell that Lucy believes giving feedback to citizens who have taken the time to share their views is simply the Right Thing to Do. It sounds like her colleagues all feel the same – it’s become an automatic part of their consultation process. And they do it very well: feedback is posted on WAYSWD, as mentioned, but also on the overview page of the closed consultation in question. They often feed back within 6-8 weeks, which is a pretty quick turnaround in relative terms.
So what does she think the value is of feeding back in such a way?
“It’s really important. We’ve got analytics running on the site so we can see what sort of page views are happening monthly, and it’s really evident that people keep coming back. Sometimes they do go to the WAYSWD entire section, but people are actually more frequently going back to a specific consultation and following up what’s happened. So we can see from our analytics that people want that closing of the loop. But aside from anything, we should be doing that if people have given their time. Where we’ve asked them for their feedback it’s really important that we can explain what’s happened with it, or if something hasn’t happened very quickly, why, and what the process is. It’s not just important for those that have been involved but also for other people looking back to find out what happened surrounding a certain issue. Hopefully the more that we can do that the more we can evidence to people that the process of engaging with us is a really good robust system.”
We’ve always emphasised the importance of letting respondents know what the outcome of a decision was. I’m not sure if the act of responding to a consultation can ever be described as enjoyable, but receiving updates on the outcomes certainly makes respondents’ time feel valued. It also increases trust in an organisation as it demonstrates they’re willing to be accountable for their decisions. I ask Lucy if she thinks Warwickshire’s feedback processes encourage citizens to come back and share their views again.
“That’s the hope, in terms of our overall strategic approach of building trust and building that two-way dialogue. Over time we’ll be able to tell, but our levels of engagement are increasing cumulatively and we’re certainly seeing the number of people who are subscribing to our consultation and engagement alerts is increasing month on month. So there is a growing interest, and I think the feedback is part of that.”
New use cases for Citizen Space
Warwickshire don’t run a huge amount of public consultations, averaging at about two per month. When Lucy and I spoke, however, I was interested to learn about the ways in which they use Citizen Space privately.
“Publicly, it’s a couple of consultations a month. However, we use it for a relatively large number of private surveys and also we use it increasingly for data collection, for a number of subject areas,” Lucy says. I ask her what she means by that.
“Well, we had a number of things – for example, our audit of case files within our social work area – that had previously been done in a paper-based format. Citizen Space offers really good data security, and when you’re working with remote teams and trying to share and collect information [you need a safe way of doing that as it’s sensitive information.]
“We started a conversation to see if [using Citizen Space] would be a better way of doing that, so we piloted it and we’ve been doing it for about a year in both children’s and adults’ social care, and various other quality-assurance data collection exercises. When monitoring and auditing we basically need to ask somebody questions, some of which are optional and some of which are required, and using that basic format is proving really useful.”
I tell her I’ve not heard of that specific use case for Citizen Space before.
“No, I know, and I remember ringing the account managers up and saying look, we’re thinking of using it for this, is this OK? But effectively it’s just a private survey, it’s just that we’re not necessarily asking for opinions, we’re asking for data.”
One of the great things about Delib’s customers is that we’re constantly surprised by the different ways in which they use our tools. We design them to perform a certain function, but once they’re in the hands of an organisation it’s really up to them how the tools are used. Private data collection is another use case that we can add to Citizen Space’s lexicon, alongside things like private staff engagement, feedback forms, event registration, and even voting.
My time talking to Lucy is coming to a close, so I ask her my final question: what one thing about Citizen Space does she think provides most value to Warwickshire CC?
“Gosh, that’s the big question!” She says, and pauses. “I think….from my perspective [as a central admin], it’s a very user-friendly interface, so when we roll it out to the few other users, people can it pick up easily. I would say too that the biggest thing is the confidence to know that actually it is going to be accessible. It’s really important for me, because in terms of people being able to access it through a whole range of devices and using assisted software, it meets all of those requirements without me having to worry about it. It really does make a difference. Certainly we’re aware that people are accessing it from a whole range of devices in a range of ways across a range of age groups.”
It was a pleasure speaking to Lucy and hearing more about how she works. We bang on about the importance of feeding back and closing the loop quite a lot, so it was great to hear her talk about how that’s become standard procedure at Warwickshire. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear about the new use case they’ve discovered for Citizen Space. I look forward to seeing how they use their site in the future.
If you’d like to learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.