Effective online consultation – part 3: responsiveness

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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.

Monitor constantly

  • 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 Norton

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.

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