A community or public consultation invites and gathers the opinions, suggestions and ideas of the people who are either potential users of your proposed services or activities, or the people in your community who will be affected in some way by them.
A community consultation can help to:-
clarify the need for any proposed activities /services
identify potential challenges and possible solutions
provide evidence to help you develop an action plan
gauge community support for your proposals
identify potential level of usage by the community
define the scope of your project
support a proposal or funding bid
Your group can also use a community consultation as part of ongoing monitoring and evaluation - to check that your services and activities are still meeting the needs of the community, and to identify areas for development.
The level of consultation you choose to carry out will depend on the project. It should be targeted at the people in the community who will use or be affected by the project. This will help you establish whether or not your proposal will meet objectives, and fulfill the needs of the community.
Funding bodies will want to see evidence that the community has been properly consulted. It is a good idea to check funder guidelines when planning your consultation exercise to ensure that the scope of the consultation will provide the evidence they require.
Planning a community consultation
Before you start, you need to be clear what your consultation is trying to achieve, who you need to include and how you are going to carry out the consultation.
Decide why you need to consult and what you want to achieve
Do you want people to:-
give you ideas and suggestions on a particular proposal
agree on information which will enable you to make a firm decision?
reach agreement on a design for a project?
This will help you think about the questions you ask and the method you use to involve people in the consultation.
Agree on who you should include (your target audience) and the scope of your consultation
Identifying who you want to gather feedback from will determine the target for your consultation. Ideally you want to invite and encourage response from a wide range of people, ensuring that a representative sample of the target community and their interests are included. Your priority should be to target the people in the community who will use or be affected by your project in any way.
Decide on how many people you need to involve. Will a small sample of the local community give you enough or a range of feedback? Will it be representative of wider opinion? Do you need to target a specific age group or people with particular interests or needs?
You might want to broaden your consultation to include everyone on the local electoral register and be more inclusive.
Finally, you may want to consider encouraging further participation from:-
local authority planning and council officials
representatives from other organisations and agencies relevant to your group’s aims and proposals
Choose an appropriate method
The way in which you choose to carry out a public consultation, i.e. the method, will depend on the type of issues you want to gather opinion on, your budget, the number of people you are targeting and the number of volunteers you have available to carry out the work.
Methods of consultation include:-
surveys - face to face (for example door to door); telephone; postal or online
focus groups and workshops – usually small groups of people
panels – usually larger groups of people recruited via self completion surveys or face-to-face interviews
public meetings – need to be well-planned and focused, ideally with an impartial and diplomatic facilitator who can encourage participation from all.
letters and leaflets - can explain the proposed project and rationale and should invite views
exhibition – with feedback forms to fill in
‘planning for real’ exercises
results from previous consultations
media for example, press release; radio interview
informal talking to people (not statistically reliable)
Advertising your consultation
Whichever method you choose, you need to ensure that people know about the consultation. Make use of as many available promotional opportunities as possible – phone the local paper, put up posters, email people, use text messages or a social media website – anything which involves the target population that you are trying to reach.
Once the consultation is complete and the results analysed, remember to publicise your findings and inform people as to what will happen next.