Canterbury City Council: Efficiencies through online engagement

In 2016 Canterbury City Council’s consultation team adopted Confers engagement software to help them deliver on the council’s promise to “make clear and transparent decisions informed by local opinion”¹.

Like in other councils, the consultation team use regular survey software, and run face-to-face engagement meetings, but they had to find a way to extend their engagement with limited budget and resources. Adding online engagement software to their toolkit has saved time and money for officers responsible for delivering consultation and engagement. It's also enabled a more open, broad and inclusive engagement approach.

The consultation team have run numerous online forums, consultations and focus groups about different council projects, and continue to use Confers.

¹Canterbury City Council’s Corporate Plan 2016 - 2020

THE CHALLENGE:

As in all councils, Canterbury City Council faces challenges that impact the demand for, and supply of, local services. This is happening against a backdrop of funding cuts. The council has redoubled its efforts to make the right decisions about services and to be open and transparent in the process.

In order to understand what local people value, the council wants to hear what residents have to say on subjects such as the use of buildings, new facilities and transport-related projects. They want to attract a wide range of views and feedback. There is a large student population in Canterbury and engaging this traditionally ‘hard to reach’ community is vital.

The consultation team needed a new, smart approach. They needed to fulfil the council’s engagement objectives, and do so in a way that was efficient, time-saving and within budget.

HOW CONFERS HELPED:

The team turned to Confers engagement software to raise the bar. Its flexibility in deployment has meant Canterbury City Council could run both public engagement and private stakeholder engagement activities on their portal.

In a recent private online forum, 400 residents were invited to provide additional feedback on a wider residents survey. This helped to uncover more in-depth data and insights to inform the council's decisions. The information was then further explored in a private forum with councillors.  

Seven online public engagement activities have been set up to engage local people:

  • public community consultations

  • public forums to collect ideas and feedback on

  • a clever ideas forum to crowdsource ideas from residents about how the council could raise new funds to offset the impact of government cuts.

Each of these activities lasted for a few weeks, often complementing and extending other traditional or face-to-face engagement events. All the online activities are listed on the council’s public portal.

Visitors can decide how they want to engage with the council, whether they wish to register their name, remain anonymous or register and submit a view privately. Giving people this choice is really important to the council.

When leaving responses, people are able to place a sticker to point to an exact location providing context to their point of view. They can reply to each others comments, share or like comments. The consultation team are able to respond to people immediately if necessary, send messages to participants and moderate any inappropriate comments.  

Michael Bailey, Senior Strategy and Improvement Officer, says:

“The ability to see an evolving conversation about one of our projects gives us the real inside track about what matters to local people. It gives us the data our council leaders can use to make decisions, and an audit trail we can refer to.”

The team have used Confers content creation tools to welcome their online visitors with videos. Have a look at this introductory video in the consultation about the Higher and Further Education Impact Review. And a simple video provides a warm and friendly welcome to participants encouraging them to have their say for the Kingsmead Field consultation.

Different types of media - maps, images, 360 video and colourful documents enriched with weblinks and other information - have been used in the online activities to give visitors an informative and engaging experience.

Michael continued,

“We love the ability to combine lots of different types of media in one activity. It helps us explain what we are doing and why in a really compelling, visual way. This encourages people to respond and leave their feedback.”

Confer’s automated scheduling features have been put to good use. They helped the team schedule activities for when they were out of the office, and automatically close the period for responses and commenting.

RESULTS:

Canterbury City Council's consultation team have fully embraced online engagement. The consultation team is now able to offer its internal service clients an efficient, affordable means to engage online. It’s easy to present explanatory content, and collect and sort qualitative feedback, within a specified time period. The feedback from these internal teams has been very positive.

Rebecca Booth, Senior Environment Officer, Canterbury City Council, said:

"Confers is a very innovative interactive tool which worked very well for our public consultation.  It encouraged and fostered real community engagement and enabled the public to put forward and discuss their ideas in a unique and multi format way.  It was very well received by partners and the community and I would use it again for future projects."

Confers saves the consultation team time with a range of automation and content preparation tools. It provides a smart, cost-effective means of involving more local people in the council's projects and plans - whether these are about an education review or transport proposals.

Local people too seem to enjoy the new way to explore past and current council consultations on the council's public portal, and to get involved.

Michael concluded:

“Confers is super quick and easy to set up, maintain and report on results. It works well for the council for a wide range of different consultation and engagement exercises. We love the way it offers a new, accessible and modern way for residents and stakeholders to have their say on issues.”

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