Engaging Devon – You Said, We Did

You Said: Appropriate decisions will require full disclosure of background information and the consequences.

We Did: We will make appropriate information available, in a way suitable for the audience in line with the ‘Gunning Principles’ where sufficient reasons must be put forward for a proposal to allow for intelligent consideration and response.

You Said: Are councillors and senior staff really committed to this strategy, and have they truly ‘engaged’?

We Did: In adopting the strategy the Council as an organisation, including senior staff, is showing its commitment to engaging people in decisions.

You Said: Are people elected to these consultations, are they accountable? 

We Did: Consultations are about making better informed decisions, to involve people who may be affected by decisions, and other ‘stakeholders’ with specialised knowledge; however, the accountability and final decisions lay with the Council officers and members who need to weigh up all the evidence.

You Said: Will libraries have all information? 

We Did: Libraries should be able to provide information on consultation, particularly as libraries provide web access to their members. We will explore other ways of communication through libraries.

You Said: Are you asking for representatives from all the voluntary organisations in local press?

We Did: We will publicise and contact representatives of people who need to be involved in a specific consultation, which may include a ‘press release’; however, we cannot guarantee whether or what the press may publish. We will contact voluntary organisations through umbrella support bodies or from our ‘Community Directory’ as necessary.

You Said: ‘Engagement’ whatever it is appears to be another exercise for just creating massive unnecessary paperwork, and achieving nothing really specific in the final stages.

We Did: We’re the last people to want unnecessary paperwork, and will always argue that unless the product of a consultation can be taken into account, then don’t waste time and money in what would end up as a clichéd ‘tick-box’ exercise.

You Said: I found the strategy document convoluted and wordy

We Did: The majority of people responding indicated that they found the strategy easy to understand, so we cannot substantially change this. However, a number of people said they thought it wordy, or repetitive, so we have made some amendments to the strategy to simplify it, and produced an A4 summary leaflet, as suggested by a few respondents.

You Said: I’m not convinced that responses have any impact on decisions. It’s good to be consulted, but I’m not sure that it’s just ‘ticking boxes’ rather than actively influencing decisions.

We Did: Consultation is part of a decision-making process to consider aspects that may not have been considered or apparent at the outset. However, consultation, which often produces conflicting viewpoints, must be weighed up with other evidence to provide the best outcome for the residents of Devon. The ‘You Said, We Did’ approach should help show the influence of engagement on decisions.

You Said: I’m not sure if everyone gets to know what changes are likely to happen before they happen. It is often not fed back what the outcomes of engagement projects are and this makes one feel what is the point.

We Did: We make sure that appropriate communication channels are used to publicise proposed changes, or opportunities to get involved with proposals; however, with all the information out there, and differing levels of interest we cannot guarantee that those with an interest can or will get involved.

You Said: Consulting costs more than implementation without consultation – so try to ensure that ideas which enable cost savings to be made are considered where possible.

We Did: Not consulting can cost much more than implementing with consultation; making the right decisions in service delivery means involving those with knowledge of the service; from users, voluntary organisations, businesses, and local government officers. Failure to consult could result in the service being delivered in the wrong way, to the wrong people, and costly legal challenges.

You Said: Use ‘real life’ examples/stories as to how you envisage this strategy working in practice and enthuse people with the possibilities!

We Did: We will publicise examples of engagement as part of the ‘You Said, We Did’ approach.

You Said: Just be looking at this information it seems that you want information primarily from the old and disabled.  What about the young and especially the middle aged working population? 

We Did: We stated that we would engage local people appearing to have an interest in a specific area across all ages. Engaging the ‘middle-aged working population’ is one of the harder groups to engage due to their other time commitments, however, where they have a direct interest in an area we will provide opportunity to contribute.

You Said: Localism and community leadership are really positive and people are beginning to feel empowered. This strategy does not really acknowledge or build on that movement. 

We Did: We have added the text “recognising and working with existing community organisations” in the strategy. Rather than reinvent the wheel (or claim we invented it!), we recognise there are many people and organisations already working within specific areas, we will try to work with these where appropriate, and possible.

You Said: Look forward to a clear engagement programme which is publicised so that all can participate and have their say, helping to influence and inform DCC decisions.

We Did: Consultations are already published at https://new.devon.gov.uk/haveyoursay/ , and we have had an online database of activities for over 15 years; we will look into different ways of publicising engagement and the outcomes.

You Said: Sometimes decisions have to be made which are not supported by local communities, but which are nevertheless, needed for the “greater good” (e.g. Kingskerswell By-pass).

We Did: Yes, we have to balance the evidence and views of those with an ‘interest’, which includes in this case local communities (many who have been demanding a bypass for many years, though the access into the town is an issue to some), local business, road users, and environmental groups, amongst others.

You Said: Consultation can only go so far, and to raise expectations; that by listening you will act in accordance with the views expressed, can lead to dissatisfaction.

We Did: Expectations have to be managed in any consultation, and in a period of cuts it is about hard choices. In taking the ‘You Said, We Did’ approach we hope to listen to views, and explain why a decision was taken, which is better than just taking the decision, and not explaining why. We accept that we cannot please all people at all times.

You Said: We elect Councillors to make decisions; that’s what they should do.

We Did: Ultimately decisions lay with Councillors and senior officers; but this should be an informed decision taking into account the evidence and public views.

You Said: The strategy fulfils the ‘duty to consult’ and is therefore virtually a ‘ticking box’ exercise – all of which aims are constrained by the ‘money available’. 

We Did: The strategy in itself does not fulfil the ‘duty to consult’, the acceptance of and resulting actions following the strategy should go towards ensuring the legal and moral duties are met. Every action we take has to be within monetary, legal, and practical restraints – and we have to acknowledge there is far less money; one reason we need to get assurance that consultation and engagement is a key priority for the authority.

You Said: The term engagement is not helpful as it is meaningless to most people.

We Did: Many terms are used to describe public involvement in decision-making processes. Consultation is perhaps one of the more common terms used until recently, and often implies a process where an organisation goes out to ask advice on a given proposal. Engagement is a term increasingly used to suggest an audience that is more directly interested and involved in proposals from a formative stage through to enactment.

You Said: What is your definition of a community, and what is the optimum size for real engagement e.g. a village, or a parish, or a group. 

We Did: Definitions of and size of sample for a community vary with demographics and the purpose of engagement. Community organisations are defined in the Localism Act.

You Said: Have/are the District Councils and Parish Councils been involved in the preparation

We Did: All District and Parish Councils have been invited to be a part of the process, and to adopt this or a similar strategy.

You Said: You inform groups – but they are usually a certain type of person. If the council wants to put up a statue or build a sports centre, a referendum should be held.

We Did: The question is how do we engage the public to find out whether they wish for a service to be created or changed in the first place, then weigh up the evidence and opinions as to the best options. Referendums are expensive, limited in scope, and not practicable for the majority of decisions.

You Said: Just remember, we are not all online

We Did: With changes in technology we are exploring the best most cost effective way to inform, engage, and involve people in decisions. In Devon distance can be a barrier to attending events, or taking part in meetings, were as people can express opinions using tools such as social media without needing to travel. Documents and other information can easily and relatively inexpensively be distributed online. Other approaches, such as face-to-face meetings will still be used when appropriate, and we will consider accessibility needs – however, we will need to differentiate between those who can’t engage online, and those who won’t, when deciding the most efficient and effective way to engage.

You Said: Need to ensure there is feedback to ensure it makes a difference

We Did: This is a key part of the strategy, the ‘You Said, We Did’ approach; “We will tell people what we have done and what we are going to do in an open and timely way”. The channels of communication used will be appropriate to the audience engaged. This is a message we will keep emphasising; that if people have taken the time to engage, we should take the time to publicise the outcome.