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Smart PanelTM

Citizens' Panels are widely acknowledged to be an effective means to discover stakeholder opinions while avoiding over-burdening either the local population with endless surveys and consultations or those who have to process, analyse and report the results - or, of course, local taxpayers with the costs.

We have created Smart PanelTM with three priorities in mind:

  1. To assemble a group of people representative of the population as a whole using statistically valid sampling;
  2. To use integrated engagement methods so as to save money on the 55% or so of panel members who elect to use electronic methods without excluding those who wish to use offline methods;
  3. To use a deliberative approach to engagement rather than merely "tick-box" surveys.

When should I use Smart PanelTM?

When you want genuinely representative responses

Not all consultation has to be representative. Sometimes you just want to collect lots of ideas or opinions; sometimes you need depth rather than breadth - the views of experts or of people who live in a particular place or who are concerned about a particular issue.

But when you need to know what a genuine cross-section of your local population really thinks about something, then a Panel is a very good option because you can control the membership, and you can ensure the process is not hijacked by special interest groups or by those with the loudest voices.

When you want more than just a quick opinion

Life is not getting any simpler. Most issues these days pose some difficult dilemmas: to spend money on one thing rather than another; how to deal with the growing volume of waste; whether one form of development is more sustainable than another.

A quick tick on a clipboard is no substitute for serious consideration of complex issues. A Panel, on the other hand, involving people who have agreed to give time and thought to such issues, and who are prepared to read some background information before responding, is much more likely to give you information of the quality you need to support your decision-making.

When you want a relationship as well as an answer

Panels involve a number of people who have freely agreed to give you some of their time several times a year. Because this is not just a one-off process, it becomes much more possible to build relationships with them. Why is this important? First, the more of a relationship you have with them, the higher response rates will be - and that in turn means a more accurate sense of what people are really thinking.

Secondly, we all know the temptation to tell the researcher with the clipboard what he or she wants to hear so that we can get away quickly. But most of us tend to be more honest with people we know value us and our thoughts. Because you have a relationship with Panel Members you can have more confidence in the honesty of their responses.

Finally, there are times you need smaller groups in a workshop or focus group to discuss issues in greater depth or detail. A Panel means you have immediate access to people you know, who can be chosen to be representative, and who will understand the importance of what you are doing.

The user experience

Online Panel Members log on to the secure website with the previously agreed username and password. They can read the background and supporting information before clicking start to go to the consultation task.

  • At the start page the Panel Member will find the task and clear instructions.
  • He or she may be invited to answer a series of questions by clicking a box, or comment on a document by completing text boxes. A vertical navigation bar allows them to jump to whichever section of the document they are interested in, or to navigate through the pages chronologically.
  • The Panel Member can respond at any time while the consultation site is live (usually 2-6 weeks) and can return to the site to add or edit their comments whenever they want.
  • They can request a copy of their submissions to be sent to them by email when they log off.
  • Reminder emails can be sent to Panel Members who have registered but not yet participated.
  • A telephone and e-mail support line is provided to any Panel Member needing help or further information while the consultation is live (see below).
  • At the end of the consultation, when all responses have been collated and analysed the website goes live again so that Panel Members and others can see the results.

Offline Panel Members have a similar experience. They receive the consultation task through the process and have the same amount of time to respond.

The task is clearly set out, and the sequence of questions or requests for comment is identical to that in the online process. The Panel Member responds to questions by ticking boxes or, in the case of a request for qualitative responses, by completing text boxes.

When they have completed the task they put the papers in the freepost envelope supplied and return it to us. We then scan or (if the writing is difficult) type their responses into pre-prepared electronic templates. These are merged into the database of online responses and can then be treated in exactly the same way.

Offline Panel Members receive a summary of responses and any other information supplied on the website when responses are displayed, by post.

For further details please contact us.

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