Over the last few years, it has become clear that citizens have become disconnected from institutions, governments and in many cases, their local areas. Recent events have also shown us just how important it is that we involve, engage, listen and act on what our residents tell us.
by David Holdstock
I have always been and always will be a huge advocate of regular ‘temperature tests’ to find out what people are thinking. How can we possibly do the right thing if we don’t even know what that ‘thing’ is? Would companies such as Apple or John Lewis launch a new product without rigorous research, testing and evaluation? So how can we ensure we have the right insight to ensure we are connecting with our residents?
Those super folks here at comms2point0 recently raised the question of whether insight and research should still be a single step in your communications strategy because it’s so integral to every part of your strategy and should permeate throughout. I would argue that whilst that is true, there’s a real danger that without highlighting it as a key component, it’s simply too easy to ignore.
So, if we’re all agreed it’s important, why are so many communicators still developing strategies that do not include insight and research? Surveys are seeped into so many aspects of our everyday lives, from reviewing the hotels we stay in to restaurants we eat at. But when it comes to asking our residents what they think of our services, not all councils are putting their multiple choice where their mouth is. This risks leaving us with a corporate knowledge gap about what communities think and feel on a wide range of issues.
Cost is certainty an issue, which is why demonstrating the value of insight to the political and officer leadership of the organisation is vital. Saving costs by stopping research is short sighted. Understanding our communities should be at the heart of developing policies and services – which could actually save money by ensuring that the things we are developing are the right things to do. We need resident input to make sure we’re spending limited budgets in the places where they matter most and can have greatest impact. This can often mean better services, at a lower cost.
To help make it easier for councils to develop their resident insight we have launched a new on-line resource – Understanding the views of residents: an introduction to surveys and consultation. This provides practical help and provides access to Are You Being Served? – a set of free resident satisfaction questions and accompanying guidelines to help you run your own surveys. This will help save time and money and will allow you to benchmark results against our national polling. Councils that upload their own results to LG Inform – our online performance database – will also be able to compare findings with other councils. The more councils inputting data into the database, the better the comparisons will be.
The resource also contains specific guidance on how to run targeted surveys and conduct a Who Reads What survey to find out how your communities receive information and more importantly, would prefer to receive that information. We can develop all the strategies we like, but as professional communicators, if we don’t match channels to our audience needs, our strategies will fail.
With our latest national resident satisfaction polling revealing that just 58 per cent of people feel informed by their council, we’ve got some work do to. Previous work has shown a direct link between how well informed people feel and their views about their local area, council and services.
At a time when many residents feel distant from decision-making that affects them and their family, investing in insight will help us improve our decision-making and service delivery.
David Holdstock is director of communications at the Local Government Association
image via Tyler Merbler