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:
- To assemble a group of people representative
of the population as a whole using statistically valid sampling;
- 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;
- 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
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
- 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
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,
For further details please contact
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