4. People (and dogs) see through tokenism
Fred and George know what’s coming now. By day the garden is filled with fun and games. A happy place. But at night the humans have no intention of making it fun.
Yet they long for that fun. They sit outside each night looking at us in the hope tonight will be different. A quick game of fetch first? No, we just want them to do what we want. We’re not interested in what they want.
It can be the same for consultations. Do people want to complete yet another survey about service priorities or reductions? “What’s the point, they don’t listen” is a common response.
That’s where communication across the whole process is important. Don’t just pop out of the woodwork to push your survey, then go into hiding again. Tell people how you’re using the findings to inform your decisions, what changes you’ve made as a result of the feedback. It means something to them and they’ll be more likely to take part in the future.
I suppose there’s also something in this analogy about making exercises fun. Dogs like fun, and us humans do too, I think. There are some good examples of gamification but I’m as guilty as the next of defaulting to the comfort of a survey.
5. Conditions have an impact
I know by now that if it’s raining there’s no chance Fred and George will step out into the garden, let alone have a wee. If we have friends around, they’re not interested either. There’s too much going on to concentrate on the job at hand.
We have to work around these conditions, whether it’s taking them out when there aren’t distractions or sticking waterproofs on and going to the effort of a walk.
It’s no different in the world of consultation. I’ve found surveys and exercises over periods like summer and Christmas are best avoided if you can. It’s hard enough getting people engaged as it is, without the distractions associated with these times of year.
Another condition to watch out for is when too many exercises and surveys are out at the same time. No-one likes survey fatigue, although the exception to the rule here would be something like a really joined up programme of consultation where different surveys and exercises can piggy back on another.
6. Your communication can be futile if the method is wrong
Considering all of the points above, it feels like it comes down to two things: method and communication. You need to get both right. One without the other and you’ll be chasing your tail.
Get your method and approach wrong and your communications will be a lot like what I do when I let Fred and George out. Pleading with them to do what you want when it’s not what they want.
And no matter how bob on your method or approach is, you need to back it up with the right communication and messages.
So if you ever need to run a consultation exercise, spare a thought for Fred and George. Make it about them, your audience, not you. Don’t default to the garden, put some effort in and go for a walk.