Consultation is a very important part of your initial planning and preparation. No project will succeed without the help and support of the local community. If you are an existing group or have just formed, you will most likely have some idea of what it is you hope to achieve with your project. It's probably what brought you all together in the first place! Once you have set your aims though, you will need to gain support through consultation in order for your project to progress.
An easy mistake to make is to think you are consulting when in fact they are telling – announcing is not consulting. Consultation is as much about listening as talking. The project should be developed through consultation and not merely presented to the community as a fully formed piece of work.
The first part of your consultations will be finding out who your community is made up of.
Identify and manage your stakeholders
One of the difficulties of trying to understand what the local community wants and needs is the wide variety of different groups and opinions that will have a vested interest in the project’s outcome. It is therefore crucial that you have identified who the stakeholders are and how best to communicate with this target group. With full engagement from these groups in the project development you will find a collective vision that is understood, shared and supported in the community.
It is always useful to identify the demographic of the community affected by the project:
- Ethnic origin
- Income levels
- Existing user groups
- Potential partners and other organisations working in the area (schools, charities, the Local Authority, religious groups, local businesses etc.)
This can help you decide which methods of communication will be best employed to engage with the community. It will also give you a deeper understanding of the area, its needs and how best these may be addressed.
Methods of consultation
After identifying your stakeholders you will need to get out and talk with them. Consultation can happen in a variety of ways and some may be more suitable for one demographic than they would for another. For example, if your community is largely made up of older people, you might want to think wider that just online resources. Similarly, if your area has a broad mix of ethnicities you may need to think about language barriers and cultural sensitivities.
Think about what will get the most people involved so that you have an idea of the needs of the area which is truly representative of the people who live there.
Methods of encouraging community participation and consultation could include:
- Local newspapers are a good way to reach a lot of people
- Leaflets and flyers are a simple way to publicise your project
- A group website is useful as an online search is the first thing most people will do to find out information about anything these days
- Social media updates - Twitter and Facebook are a good way to have a two-way conversation with people
- Surveys and questionnaires (online and face-to-face)
- Open meetings (see our Meetings page for tips)
- Attend meetings of existing groups in the area - e.g. playgroups, religious groups, youth groups
Again try and use methods that will engage the highest number of people so your consultation is truly representative but also think of which methods are best for your community. You will probably need to use a mix of the methods above.
You can also read some more tips on communication tools here.
During consultations it's a good idea to be realistic about what you can achieve. Asking an open question about what people want can lead to a sense of disappointment when that proves impossible to do. When possible under promise and over deliver.
It's often better instead to ask more focused questions like 'we have funding for a slide and some swings, where is the best place to put them'. Where you are seeking ideas for more long term plans be clear that it is just relates to what we would like to do not necessarily what we can do. It's also time to be realistic about the likely timescales as often it may take some time for the project to start and it will encounter delays as it progresses.
It is very important to build trust with local residents as they may have been promised projects in the past that never happened. Consequently, actually delivering even a small part of you project early on can be a great way to show people that you mean business. Even just getting a new sign or replacing that broken bin can go a long way to winning people over.
Consultation is ongoing
Once the initial consultation period is over there will still be a need for further dialogue with the community. If you have consulted widely and with as many people as possible, this may be less of an issue but keep in mind that it may take just one resident or councillor to oppose your plans to bring the entire project to a grinding halt. Furthermore, consultation and community participation must be considered at every stage of the process. Central to representing people in your community is involving them in decisions. Use the network of connections you have built up to provide feedback and to keep everyone up-to-date.
The consultation period can benefit the project in multiple ways, it will bring in new skill-sets and viewpoints, help publicise the project to the wider community and will ensure that the target group are engaged at every stage of the process.
Initially it will also help to shape the project vision and ensure that the project continues to adhere to the original aims and objectives.
Some key points to bear in mind when starting the consultation process:
- Make sure the community is involved
- Identify and manage your stakeholders (Target Group)
- Consult widely
- Develop a sense of common purpose
- Have a plan but be prepared to change it
Go to the next section - Setting up your group
Go back to the Defining your project page.