Online consultations – how to get them right
I received an email today, from a local council contact, for me to respond to a consultation about an ongoing piece of work. This was to a web page, where I could download a 25-odd page document, and then an email and physical address where I could send my views. Some immediate problems with it sprung to mind:
- the barrier to entry – reading 25 pages on a screen is hard, so you have to print it out – it’s also quite a big ask in terms of time and attention
- it didn’t give me any questions to answer, or themes to comment on. Just ‘send us any comments’ – doesn’t frame the consultation well
- the method of responding isn’t very intuitive or user friendly
- the whole page had no images, just lots and lots of text
What made this worse was that the subject of the consultation was a digital one – ripe for doing something interesting online!
Luckily for me, we have Fraser Henderson on the team at Kind of Digital, who is a bit of an expert on consultation and played a big part in putting together the Digital Engagement Cookbook, as well as working on numerous other projects.
He’s also built his own knowledge base on consultation good practice, called HelpMeConsult, which is well worth checking out.
Here’s Fraser quick guide to doing online consultation well:
- Spell out a consultation “mandate” (what has been decided and what hasn’t/how results are analysed/timescales/etc)
- Make sure people give informed feedback by presenting background information in an easily digestible format. For example, use video or break questions into chunks.
- Use alerts – for when a consultation of interest is happening, is about to close or when the results are in.
- Allow conversations to form between participants, including debate about the outcome.
- Don’t just ask questions. Think about more interactive input types such as getting people to click or draw – it’s more compelling and a better use of the medium.
Those are Fraser’s tips – anything you would add?