Engagement Considerations – Methods

A quick guide to common engagement methods

The following provides a guide to the type of engagement available. When considering your engagement you should make sure the methods are appropriate for the audience, and alternative formats available. DCC Staff should seek advice from Insight & Impact, with the engagement exercise set up either via the existing framework, their own in-house provision, or partner organisations where appropriate.

Some engagement methods


Surveys are usually used to gather quantifiable data with limited capability for some open text to expand on some responses. May be used to gather opinions, views, or measure attitudes, satisfaction, and performance. Postal, online, or face-to-face surveys may be used. 

  • Needs effective survey design knowledge and research experience
  • May need statistical expertise
  • How to access all groups concerned
  • Whether to include open-ended questions and to what extent 

+ Fairly effective at gaining information from a lot of people
+ Quantitative analysis can be relatively straight forward
+ May be designed to compare against other similar data sets
+ Can be anonymous or confidential for sensitive issues
– Not suitable for more complex issues
– Response rates may be low, especially with randomised surveys
– Open-ended questions may take a lot of time and be difficult to analyse
– May not be appropriate for harder-to-reach groups
– Cannot explore or check respondents meaning directly

Surveys – telephone

Telephone surveys are usually used to gather quantifiable data with some capability to expand on some responses. May be used to gather opinions, views, or measure attitudes, satisfaction, and performance. May be useful for specific client groups.

  • Needs effective survey design knowledge and research experience
  • May need statistical expertise
  • How to access all groups concerned
  • Should use trained staff who know how to ask the questions and signpost to other services

+ May allow interviewer to explore or check respondents meaning
+ Some harder-to-reach groups may respond to this method better
+ May be used to explore sensitive issues
– Interviewer cannot respond directly to questions, other than signposting
– Representation may be affected by type of people who respond
– Can be time consuming
– Specific skills are required to conduct interview

User panel

A small group of service users are engaged on a regular basis, e.g. surveys or forums, to inform decisions on service delivery. 

  • Small size, around 12 manageable
  • Need to be clear on what influence the group may have
  • Need a competent moderator 

+ Provides the users knowledge and perspective of the service
+ Engages service users
+ Provides a grounded perspective of the service
+ Different people may be involved over time to widen engagement and refresh the group

– Perspective is not necessarily representative
– If the group are not refreshed they may lose objectivity
– Limited to the service in question
– May exclude certain clients

Citizen panel

A larger group of residents that aims to provide a representative group who provide opinions on a wide range of topics over a number of years. 

  • Larger group, 1200 to 2000
  • Need to be clear on what influence and involvement the group may have
  • Needs database of participants with appropriate demographics

+ Can provide a balanced data set that can be weighted
+ Higher response rate to surveys or other engagement exercises
+ Results may be analysed by different characteristics
+ Can produce an ongoing engagement exercise

– Panel often biased towards older age-groups taking part
– Minority groups may not be represented
– Difficult to recruit younger people or those of working age
– Need to make the engagement meaningful and ongoing


Forums are open debate with larger groups of people. 

  • Can act as focal point for local or countywide issues 

+ Allows for direct contact between officers, members, and the public
+ Mainly for airing opinions, limited for decision-making
+ Requires skilled facilitation 

– Not representative
– May be difficult to reach any consensus, or may be consensus of interested parties
– May be dominated by individuals whilst other voices lost


Provides a contact point for local people to raise issues, and express their concerns or feelings around a problem.

  • Provides a local perspective
  • Issues raised by constituents
  • May access harder-to-reach groups
  • Elected representative

+ Enhances their role as democratic representatives
+ Can be good for public image
+ People may feel listened to and that they can have a say that will be acted upon
+ Enhances representation of local councillors
– Provides a limited perspective
– Not representative of general population
– Depends on the individual councillors

Community Needs Analysis

Considers needs of a given community, either looking at overall needs of an area, or needs around specific issues.

  • Provides a localised perspective
  • Informs local needs
  • May access harder-to-reach groups 

+ Provides a local perspective and allows for more detailed analysis of issues to inform evidence-based decision-making.
+ Can include groups from all backgrounds
– Resource hungry
– Needs to be managed effectively, and local support may be varying in quality and commitment
– May raise unrealistic expectations

Citizens’ Juries

A small group of interested people who debate an issue from an informed perspective to achieve a considered opinion or verdict on a controversial and often complex issue. 

  • Needs a skilled moderator
  • Need to be very clear how results will be used
  • Does not require consensus
  • Must be prepared to implement decision, or have robust defence if not

+ Engages people in the issue
+ Informs and develops deeper understanding with alternative perspectives
+ Useful for controversial and complex issues
+ Places a decision with public representatives other than members, or the authority
– Resource hungry
– Can be time-consuming
– Requires jury to carry out extensive preparatory work and understand issues that may be complex and sensitive

Planning for real

A small group of residents make a model of their  area (or a detailed map), using local knowledge. All residents are then invited to place markers on the map where they think problems are, with solutions. Findings are then used to inform further engagement work and an action plan.

  • Consider the skills required and how the process will be led and action plan drawn up

+ May be bought as a package and run by experienced facilitators
+ Can be made entertaining, and part of other local events
+ Allows a wide range of people to participate and present honest specific opinions
+ Immediately identifies problem areas, and can highlight complex issues

– Can be costly
– Need to keep the enthusiasm going
– Requires specific skills
– Unrealistic expectations need to be managed

Focus Groups

A small group of people, usually ten or fewer, to focus on a specific topic or area of interest to explore more in-depth, often to produce ideas, or explore issues. 

  • Needs skilled facilitators
  • Appropriate groups need to be selected
  • Several focus groups may be required for multiple issues or to provide a wider perspective

+ Useful for building on findings from other engagement exercises e.g. surveys
+ Can explore more complex issues
+ Provides more in-depth information in context
+ Can involve harder-to-reach groups
– Requires expertise to facilitate discussions
– Less confidentiality
– Limited representation
– Can be costly and time-consuming
– Analysis may be difficult
– Requires transcription

Documents for consultation

Although specific consultation documents may be written, often substantial documents, e.g. strategies, will be put out for consultation before final draft. 

  • Full information needs to be provided
  • Method of collecting and analysing responses
  • Allied events and publicity
  • Time for considered responses

+ Provides detailed information
+ Seeks to gain informed views, often from interested individuals and organisations
+ Document provides a substantial indication of direction of authority, and willingness to listen
– Circulating documents that are often lengthy can be costly
– Original document may not be accessible
– Low response rates
– Target audience may not be reached

Complaints, comments, and suggestions

Provides a system for receiving, responding to, and monitoring to determine areas requiring action 

  • Provide multiple channels for complaints, comments and suggestions
  • Appropriate response and determining what action required and whether problem a one off or systemic

+ Relatively easy to set up
+ Demonstrates to service users that we are listening
+ Can identify strengths and weaknesses
+ Cost effective in dealing with issues at source
– Not representative
– Reactive (though can inform proactive decisions)
– Don’t expect positive comments

Reference group

A group of partner agencies and expert stakeholders to inform and advise on decisions and services within their expertise or service area.

  • Ensure members know what their roles are
  • Ensure members communicate with the people they represent
  • Share information 

+ Uses existing groups with channels of communications with specific users
+ A permanent reference group that enables constant engagement with key users
+ Group will have expertise and knowledge in given areas
+ Provides advice from a variety of perspectives

– Some groups or representatives may not be recognised by certain groups or individuals
– Assumes groups have the resource to be involved
– Some groups may act as ‘gatekeepers’
– Takes time

Seminars and workshops

Provides an opportunity to present issues before discussing issues in smaller groups and presenting the findings back to the main group.

  • Requires skilled presenters and facilitators 

+ Opportunity to present key information in digestible format
+ Larger numbers of people can participate
+ Provides opportunity for discussion and questions
+ Good networking opportunity  

– Requires organisation and moderation skills
– Can be costly
– Some may not feel comfortable airing their views or speaking in large groups

Staff engagement

Staff provide a valuable feedback on their own experience of working for the organisation, and their perspective on the running of services. Staff may also feedback service user perspectives.

  • Establish engagement, communications, and feedback mechanisms 

+ Demonstrates a commitment to staff and that their opinions are valued
+ Staff are a valuable source of information on services and service users
– Relies on staff being motivated to participate
– Resource intensive
– May be difficult to reach all staff


Online technologies can be used in addition to existing channels of engagement. Access to ICT may be limited, e.g. lack of broadband coverage.

+ Cost effective
+ Quick up to date responses, quantitative data may be readily reported
+ Information can be kept current
+ Can reach wide groups, including some harder-to-reach
+ Allows for live discussions 

– Like other methods, will not reach everyone
– Requires some technical expertise
– May be unrepresentative, or difficult to monitor who is actually responding
– May need mediation

Public meetings

Formal meetings with scheduled agendas. Used to provide information, seek views and develop/ endorse local plans and strategies for the community or whole town. 

  • When/where to hold meeting so target audience can attend
  • Advance publicity
  • Clearly defined outcomes
  • Skill facilitator, meeting structure, and terms 

+ Can build relations with local community
+ Allows public to air their views
+ Opportunity to provide information and receive feedback
– Unlikely to be representative
– Large public meeting may be a barrier to some
– Turn out may be poor
– May be dominated by a vocal minority
– Other issues may dominate

Road shows and exhibitions

Provide information and opportunity to gain some views on proposals. 

  • When/where to reach target audiences
  • Advance publicity
  • Consider special interest groups

+ Direct contact with the public
+ Allows discussion around issues
+ Can respond to questions and issues raised
– Audience dependant on time and location
– Attendance may be limited and unrepresentative
– Feedback may be limited
– May be dominated by vocal minority

Acts & Guidance