Online consultation has the huge benefit of being widely accessible and eliciting responses where they may not have otherwise been available. But the good consultation is two-way consultation: encouraging a response and ignoring it does not constitute good consultation.
The following suggestions will help to create a responsive consultation, without making it too arduous:
Be as responsive as is feasible
- Provide a means for respondents to contact a person if necessary – ideally both by email and phone.
- Determine in advance whether you’ll interact on public forums – and if so, ensure that the role is one of facilitation, not refereeing.
- Ensure that all those posting / responding on behalf of the consultation do so with the same understanding.
- Respond promptly.
- Keep registered users updated – via email, RSS, SMS or social media.
Remember that communication online is immediate and 24/7
- Commit to regular posting. Social media posts can be scheduled via a range of dashboard applications such as TweetDeck and Hootsuite.
- Keep the site fresh and up to date.
- Check links regularly.
- Update the site regularly.
- Set up monitoring from Day One. This may be both automatic (for bad language / spam) but should not be exclusively so.
- If you have to remove a post, let the individual know and give them an opportunity to replace it.
- Avoid vetting comments as this leads to mistrust of the consultation.
- Provide links to offline consultation, allowing respondents to take part both online and offline.
Always remember that in two-way communication, every comment deserves a response.
Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge in June 2017. Please email Penny to receive notification of its publication.