Contents this month
Evaluating engagement processes
One way to reduce cynicism about engagement processes, as well
as to ensure they are as good as they can be, is to evaluate properly
what works and what does not.
Evaluation from different perspectives
Processes need to be evaluated from two perspectives: the organiser’s
and the participants’. Both are essential to determining
how successful a process was.
To gain the participants’ perspective it is useful to ask
- their understanding of the exercise’s purpose
- how easy or difficult they found it to respond
- whether they felt the process enabled them to express their
own views clearly
- how confident they felt that their contributions would be
appreciated and used.
These questions enable the organiser to find out how satisfied
participants were with the methods used and whether they felt
the process genuinely gave them an opportunity to contribute to
the topic being consulted on.
From the organisers perspective the questions need to be a little
- how effective the methods were in eliciting the participants’
- the usefulness of responses received
- the level and type of participation achieved
- costs and value for money
- learning points for the next time.
After all, there is no point in employing even the most sophisticated
engagement method if the process gets in the way of participants
giving their views or produces responses that cannot be used.
Following up evaluation
Doing an evaluation is only the first step. The next is to take
account of the feedback and make sure the next engagement process
uses everything you have learned from the previous. The aim should
be to create a culture of incremental improvement so that every
process is better than the last one.
The case study below shows the results of how an evaluation can
be used in practice.
Case Study: Sustainable Development Panel
The Sustainable Development Commission’s (SDC) Panel of
600 began work in September 2006. The first topic on which the
SDC consulted them was ‘Redefining Progress’, focusing
on economic growth, people’s happiness and overall wellbeing.
There were three stages to the process. Stage 1 posed a series
of questions to obtain the Panel’s views on the very broad
concept of economics and wellbeing. Stage 2 enabled Panel members
to read each others’ responses and answer a second set of
questions aimed at clarifying and prioritising points made in
Stage 1. Stage 3 then provided the Panel with the results of the
earlier stages and an evaluation form for members to provide feedback
on the consultation process. 147 of the Panel members completed
the form either in part or full.
The evaluation, which was more extensive than usual for an online
process, was divided into a series of sections with questions
- ease of use
- overall consultation process issues
- political engagement.
The feedback, much summarised here, has been of use to us in
understanding how participants found using the technology provided
for the consultation process.
Ease of use
The majority of people found the consultation either quite or
very easy to use. Comments about the structure and navigation
of the site included:
… the navigation of the site was very easy. I found
navigating around it very intuitive. I think this is one instance
of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”
I found the site logically arranged and easy to navigate
round. The background information was good and comprehensive.
I think most people who have agreed to be panel members
appreciate that commitment is required. I found that there was
the opportunity to be brief or expand. However, the structure
leads you to provide more lengthy answers, which from your perspective
can be a nightmare to collate.
Some participants did request that a PDF version of the questions
be available to download and read offline first so that they could
then come back to the consultation website and submit their answers
at a later point. This is a perfect example of the sort of invaluable
feedback that evaluation can provide and be acted upon immediately.
Overall consultation process issues
To ensure that future consultations are clearly understood, we
asked a series of questions about the topic, the objectives, the
layout of the questions and supporting information.
Most Panel members found the objectives of the consultation to
be fairly clear and many found the first consultation topic to
The questions asked were very big and thought provoking,
which at first was a little daunting… However, I enjoyed
the challenge! As a result, I appreciated the length of time
available to respond and the ability to return to the consultation
to make amendments, which enabled me to take time to think about
the questions and my own thoughts on such important issues.
I think the volume of response demonstrates that the process
was relatively simple and easy to follow. It has not been particularly
demanding or difficult and I have enjoyed being a part of the
Panel members, however, were divided as to whether they had too
little or too much time to complete the consultation: some talked
about each session being open for long enough but the actual answering
of questions taking too long. This is the sort of feedback that
is harder to use: we will probably maintain the session length
but see if it is possible to streamline questions.
Another aspect of the consultation that produced mixed opinions
was the discussion forum that ran in parallel with the structured
process. Most participants did not use it, mainly due, they said,
to lack of time. So the value of such a forum will need to be
examined further; the forum might, for instance, be more useful
on its own rather than in combination with a more formal consultation
When we originally launched the Panel we wanted to make it as
accessible as possible to everyone within the UK. One of the issues
that we asked in the evaluation process was whether we were right
to translate the primary consultation material into Welsh.
Overall, Panel members appreciated being asked this question
and their comments generally questioned the logic of only providing
one alternative language. They offered a number of possible solutions,
… How about producing it in English only but writing
a note in Welsh to say that you’d provide a Welsh version
for anyone that needs it on request. You could do the same for
large print, audio or other languages.
… giving up [translation into other languages] is
not the answer but more encouragement and promoting, perhaps
through an informal forum apart from the main one, just to be
able to start debating in Welsh [or other languages]?
This shows the value of asking the people who spot the problems
to come up with potential solutions.
Dialogue by Design does not usually ask ‘political’ questions
as part of evaluation, but in this case the Hansard Society,
an independent, non-partisan charity that operates across the
political spectrum, was keen to use the opportunity to provide
insight into people’s experiences of online political engagement.
The frequency of internet use, the type of sites visited and
whether or not someone kept their own blog or runs a discussion
board were just some of the questions. Interestingly, most Panel
members who took part in the evaluation believed that their involvement
in political processes can make a difference. Almost all thought
that participating in online consultations is a credible way
of engaging with policy and many agreed that they would recommend
it to others.
Feedback such as that last point above can also be very heartening.
It reinforces our sense that the style of engagement process
used for the Sustainable Development Panel is fundamentally worthwhile,
even if there is still some room for improvement.
Evaluation is often portrayed as a negative process focused
on identifying what went wrong. This is only half of it: the
rest is about strengthening what is right and building on what