How to carry out an effective community consultation

12 October 2014

Find out who to consult, where to reach them and how to carry out a consultation event that works.

Comm Consultation

Community consultation should be an important part of any community development project.  Without it, the new development may not be used to its full potential.  With it – not only will the local community be getting what they need, but they’ll also take ownership of the project, resulting in reduced vandalism, graffiti and antisocial behaviour. 

Although everyone wants to have their say when it comes to a new development in their community, it isn’t always easy to get the right people to participate.  This article looks at one way to do this effectively and offers tips on who to consult, where to reach them and how to carry out the consultation.

How do we do it?

Let’s say there’s going to be a new play area built on some unused land following a new housing development. This could have been an old industrial site in town or a new build on former agricultural land, but the developers have given some money to the local authority towards the development of a new play area.

Step 1 – establishing a target.  We’d start the process by deciding who we’re going to consult. In this case, it would be the local residents but we’d need to work out which ones by establishing a consultation boundary.  We wouldn’t want to consult residents that are closer to a different play area so we’d look at proximity and work with the local authority to establish the boundary.  Schools, community groups and nurseries in the area would also be considered. 

Step 2 – inviting people to the consultation event.  The next step is to invite as many people as we can from inside the consultation boundary to the consultation event.  For a very specific local area, a leaflet drop works well – sometimes the old methods are still the best! Posters would be displayed in public buildings, local markets and other places where the local community visit.  We’d also use social media to target local groups, where we can.

Step 3– the consultation event.  The consultation event is normally held in a local hall or community building. Often the consultation events end up turning into a bit of a community event, with locals chatting away and catching up with people they haven’t seen for a while – which is a great thing to be part of.  Here's how we would host it:

  • We always ask people to sign in to tell us how many people attended the event and how far they’ve come. This is often important when applying for funding.  
  • We would display plans of proposed layouts (provided by our landscape architect team) which would show a number of ways that the play area could be set out. 
  • There would be options for traditional play equipment and natural play elements and (something that’s very important to us) ways to improve local biodiversity with the addition of, for example, native plants, flowers that would encourage butterflies and bees and wildlife habitats.  
  • We’d ask people to look at the plans and to indicate their favourite by placing a sticky dot on the plan.  
  • We’d also display pictures of different types of equipment and natural play features, and this time we’d give people 3 sticky dots so they could chose their favourites. 
  • At the end of the event we’d have a quick count up of the dots to show us which the preferred plan, equipment and features were.
  • Post-it notes are also provided to give people a chance to comment on the designs, which they can stick on the display boards.  We may ask people to comment on specific issues like litter, dogs or anti social behaviour. 
  • It’s important to have a few members of staff there to answer any questions.

Step 4 – engaging with schools/nurseries. We try to work with at least two schools to get the opinions of their pupils.  After making an appointment, we’d explain our reason for being there and then carry out a consultation event, using the same method as in step 3.  From experience, the pupils are generally very enthusiastic about being involved. Sometimes, the pupils draw their own designs of what they’d like to see in a play area.  The drawings are often used later in the consultation report or even for artwork on site.

It’s also worth calling in on local nurseries or play groups. Not necessarily for the young children to take part, but to get the staff’s opinion - especially if they take small groups out to play.  Their points will be worth making a note of and they will, of course, welcome being kept informed on further developments.

Step 5 – pulling the results together.  The final step is to gather all the results and put them together into a report to present to the local authority, who will use this to meet with other stakeholders and agree the next stage. 

So that’s how we’d carry out a consultation for a local play park but there are a number of different ways to consult with a community.  Sometimes it’s more effective to use online surveys and even financial incentives to get the public involved – it all depends on the project.  The key is to think about whose opinion you need to get and then work out how to reach them – where they live, where they visit, whether they have internet access and what would motivate them to get involved.  It’s all in the planning!


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