South Gloucestershire Council will jointly lead, with Kingston Upon Thames, a group of eight local authorities who will collaborate to invest an £80,000 grant from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to improve the way we engage and consult with our residents and how we do so with a wider and more representative group of people.
Collectively the Authorities want to better understand the needs of under-represented and too often disadvantaged groups in our communities, and how we can tailor our consultation and engagement processes to help meet them. The output will be a ‘Playbook’ of best practice available to all local authorities to improve the way we talk with and listen to all our residents, particularly those whose existing and emerging needs have been highlighted during the COVID outbreak.
Over the past few months, councils across the country have moved much of their consultation and engagement online, across a number of platforms. There have been successes and new groups have become integral to delivering vital community aid to residents in need. What has also become increasingly clear, however, is that we also need to better at facilitating under-represented and minority communities to articulate their needs and to feed into local government decision-making.
More comprehensive engagement will drive better-designed and better-suited services to meet diverse demands across each and every local authority area as we transition out of the COVID response phase and through the recovery period.
A number of bids for MHCLG funding were put forward and two of these have combined to bring Cambridge County, Kingston Upon Thames, South Gloucestershire, Staffordshire County, Sutton, the London Borough of Waltham Forest, and West Berkshire Councils, along with LGSS Digital, together. The bid is one of 11 funded projects out of 125 applicants.
The project will commence in early August and deliver in the early Autumn. Working with an external partner to be appointed in collaboration with MHCLG, the project will research good practices developed during the COVID-19 outbreak as councils have worked hard to meet the challenge of speaking to and hearing from residents while the traditional methods of consultation and engagement have not been possible.
The output of the project will be a ‘playbook’ based on evidenced best practice that will be a resource for all local authorities. It is anticipated this resource will be an open book, to be added to, improved and revised based on practical experience and new ideas as they evolve while the country emerges from the COVID response phase and resets through and beyond the recovery period.
South Gloucestershire Council Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources, Councillor Ben Burton, said: “Like all councils across the country we have learned so much during the COVID outbreak. In responding to communities’ needs we have learned more about their strengths and vulnerabilities and seen real engagement in a collective effort.
“Traditionally, council consultation has tended to look and sound the same, using tried and tested models, but which can’t or don’t reach into sections of our communities. We are serious about reducing the inequalities the COVID outbreak has underlined and to do that we need to have more meaningful and influential conversations with all our residents. This project will help councils across the country identify and harness the best practices that have emerged over recent months, which have necessarily involved less traditional means of communication.
“A lot of our communications have gone online as we can’t meet face-to face, which has provided a route into communities we don’t often see at traditional meetings. We want to build on that, but also to identify the ways into the homes of the digitally excluded and those with existing and emerging needs, but who don’t have a history of engaging with council services and where we don’t always have a history of effectively reaching out to them.”