Being better prepared and more organised is key for urgent consultations

The pressure is on.  An urgent decision is needed to prevent foreseen losses.  This is a common scenario for which many Consultors can relate.  Yet it is traditional to ensure that Consultees are given lots of time to consider new proposals so that they have a reasonable opportunity to express their views.

While rushing consultation is not the answer, the reality is that sometimes quicker can be better.  For example, a longer consultation is more likely to be influenced by changes to the supporting circumstances – which can impact the original choices on offer.

So how can Consultors maintain a balance of quality and agility?

My view is that the principles of ‘shorter but better’ can be realised with a renewed focus on preparing for consultation and improving back office processes.  In other words, under certain circumstances and for certain issues, Consultors can strive to consult more quickly by putting in appropriate quality assurance measures and adopting productivity tools like Darzin.

For example, adequate time must be given to decision makers for their consideration of public views – so a faster consultation might expect that decision makers are more regularly briefed.  With Darzin stakeholder relationship management, not only can results be analysed on-the-fly but Consultors will have comfort in knowing that there is a robust process for qualitative data analysis.

One things for sure, it’s time to move away from using spreadsheets to try and understand what people think.  The art of creating a comprehensive and accurate summary of responses is difficult enough at ‘normal’ speed.

The latest trend in online consultation

It’s not uncommon to want to consult on a refreshed strategy or policy – just last year a County Council in the East of England did so when considering a new charging regime for Adult Social Care. But is there a way of consulting on a draft set of words directly, such as draft legislation?

Well, there was a promise to create a ‘public reading stage’ in the UK which resulted in a neat online platform to allow citizens to comment directly on the Small Charitable Donations Bill in 2012. But it didn’t last the test of time. However, in other parts of the world this is a new norm.

For example, is a tool to help residents collaborate with government on draft legislation, regulation, and policy. It’s run in partnership between the DC Council, the Executive Office of the MayorOCTO, and The OpenGov Foundation.  Similarly, the New York State Senate’s recently redesigned website has incorporated participatory features allowing the general public to vote in favour or against bills, leave comments, and sign up for email updates on bills of interest. In-fact, there are similar platforms in more obscure places such as Croatia and China.

So when will this type of technique be adopted by smaller scale, issues based consultations? The General Medical Council have already set the standard in the UK – generating a commendable draft report on ‘Good Doctors’ and hosting a commendable Osteopathic Practice Standards review, resulting in over 360 submissions.

There are some great local authority examples too, albeit a little further away. For example, Ada County in Idaho are using online commenting to consult on their new ‘comprehensive plan’.

In my view it is only a matter of time that this sort of technology will be more widely embraced. The solution market is still thin but there is great appeal.  Yet there is a risk of missing the essence of consultation when presented in this form – that feedback starts to build on the technicalities of the wording and not on the merits of what is being said. For now it seems like a convenient way to build consensus around a piece of text but context is key and a dialogue around a document as a whole cannot be ignored.

The Digital Psychology of Feedback

Digital Psychology is a relatively new discipline that combines theory from the worlds of behavioural economics, psychology and digital marketing to create digital communications that are compelling and persuasive to our unconscious minds.

Have you considered how the act of writing a review may actually influence your future behaviour? The acts of writing and sharing a positive review cements your customer’s positive views on the product they’ve experienced, and means they’re more likely to buy again in the future.

So don’t just think of review writing as a means of acquiring new customers, think of it as a means of retaining your current customers or persuading them to do more!

Learning from the best

Our equivalent in the health sector, PatientOpinion have grown into a mainstream operation over the last 9 years.  Phil and I have had the pleasure of talking with Dr James Munro about OurHousing.  It’s clear that despite PO getting a lot of traffic these days, it hasn’t been an easy ride.  Not least, they got railroaded by government who launched an equivalent tool after PO success on their own platform, NHS Choices.   However, now they’re up and running in Australia and have just launched CareOpinion.The insight we got was invaluable.  For example, when is a complaint just negative feedback?  James shared his views about originators’ intention and showed us a devilishly good coping mechanism for dealing with citizen feedback of private sector organisations.  We spoke a little about the new defamation laws, developments in sentiment analysis and natural language processing and how OurHousing might evolve.

It’s clear that PO are special.  They have values which reflect a true intermediary and they know their health stuff, all their moderation being done in-house.  What they’ve done is create a relationship builder in a very delicate marketplace with very little selfishness.

Despite their success, James wasn’t driving around in a Ferrari or wearing a Gucci jacket.  If anything, I would have been a little suspicious about their true intentions if he was.  If social tech start-ups don’t get seed funding or public money investments then the results are going to be shallow.

Conversation brokers such as PO need to survive for the public good but government seems to be pulling in different directions and reinventing the wheel. Let’s hope OurHousing can work alongside policymakers, not in competition with them.

For what it’s worth, here’s a recent response from Kris Hopkins, Minister for housing and communities about our little initiative:-


Thank you for your electronic correspondence of 19 February to Kris Hopkins MP. I have been asked to reply to you. I apologise firstly for not responding sooner.I was interested to learn of your new venture which offers social housing landlords and tenants an opportunity to have online conversations with the aim of improving services.

Government is keen to encourage ideas and initiatives that improve opportunities for tenants to challenge their landlords and drive improvements in the delivery of services. I note that you have received some backing from the Nominet trust. I am afraid that we are at this time unable to offer financial assistance but we would be interested to be kept informed about how the website improves tenants’ experiences and improves opportunities for tenants and landlords to address issues in this way.

We would like to wish you good luck with this project.  

Miss L Storer (DCLG)


Leaders of the pack

We’ve been poring over the 2012 ‘connected housing study’  to see which social landlords are best at social media.  Bromford Group seem to be ahead in 2010.  Thanfully, it looks like the study will get updated for 2013.

We know that ‘The housing sector tends characteristically to have a fairly formal approach to communications’ and that is one reason why we love OurHousing.

And we completely agree with the sentiment that ‘As residents become more digitally connected, Housing Associations have the opportunity to change the way they deliver resident services and handle management and maintenance issues on a day to day basis’.

Let’s hope we can persuade a few in 2014….


Good storytelling

We thought we would share some tips about good storytelling.  Great for OurHousing, maybe good for your childrens’ bedtime story too?

Story elements

To tell a story you generally need to have a few basic elements. At least one character or actor in the story, some kind of problem or challenge to overcome, and then the story of taking on that problem and some kind of conclusion. A story can have a positive or negative message, depending on what you want to reinforce.

Making a good impression

When you’re actually telling your story you want to use some techniques to help capture your audience’s attention. Use various methods to draw them in, depending on what you feel comfortable with. This might include:

  • Drama in the actions and challenges for the character of the story
  • Express it wildly, use exaggeration and expressions
  • Use facial expression and motion with your body and hand gestures
  • Describe things vividly to stimulate the senses to help your audience visualize elements of the story
  • Use lots of inflection and voice tone variation
  • Use simple language and easy to remember names and events whenever possible

Getting to the point

While its important to provide enough detail and specifics to draw in your audience, you also need to be careful not to drag it out. This can loose the attention of your audience and will kill the impact of your story if you don’t keep the story moving and get to the point.


Stories get better as you practice telling them, so retelling the same stories is a great way to perfect them. Look for signs from your audience as you tell them where you might notice they are distracted or loosing attention.  Shorten up those areas or add some humor, and look to refine how you draw them in further as you get to the conclusion to ensure that is the strongest point of your story and has the most impact.

Be careful not to overuse your stories and remember who you’ve told them to so you can avoid repeating it to the same people or groups as this is one of the easiest ways to destroy a good story since you won’t get the same reaction from people the second time which will lessen the impact on those hearing it the first time. Its OK to use stories with individuals as well.

Learning and using stories to coach others, teach something or just to liven up an otherwise simple statement or fact is a great way to ensure others learn it, you remember it for life and that it has a strong impact on others. Among these reasons, story telling has many other advantages in life from quickly building relationships to exercising your memory to keep your mind healthy. Great story tellers are fun to share time with and always seem to have a way to bring people together. What are some of the advantages and techniques that you know about and use for story telling?

New tenant’s charter announced by DCLG

According to the Guardian, Eric Pickles is set to announce reform in the private rented sector.  The unregulated nature of private landlords is causing a myriad of problems for tenants who feel trapped in their situation – a.k.a. play nice or be evicted!

Some local authorities have already introduced private rented property licensing which is providing basic protection against rogue landlords.

However, this scheme (which requires new legislation) goes a step further by offering tenants redress, including a complaints process for poor service or hidden fees which will be independently examined.  Where a complaint is upheld, tenants could receive compensation.

The review will look at how councils inspect properties, how they can demand landlords carry out maintenance, and how they can take action against landlords who continue to rent out dangerous and unacceptably dirty properties.

We’ll be watching closely to see if OurHousing could be adapted to support this change in emphasis on the tenant/landlord relationship for privately rented accommodation.




We’re nearly ready with OurHousing

Phil and I have been working solid to get OurHousing out into the open.  So, we’re pleased to announce that the Beta will go live on 10th October and the first reveal will occur at the Tinder Foundation,SHPDISH Sheffield.

It’s been a bumpy journey but we hope that the platform will shine.

You might like to know that we had an interesting time getting data for this little project.  Even getting a list of all housing providers is tricky business unless you want to pay for it.  Our thanks go out to Thames Valley Housing for pointing us in the right direction.

We must also praise Nominet Trust who are just brilliant funders.  Go apply.


Tenants on top

The welfare reforms planned for April 2013 are a big upheaval.  For housing associations this could mean rent loss, increasing arrears and constraints on future income growth.

In order to avert these risks, landlords will need to better understand their tenants.  Resource allocation will have to be more targeted and more business intelligence (e.g. customer profiling) will be needed.

As not all tenants will be affected in the same way, housing associations will need to have in place improved systems for sharing information and identifying those who need help.

OurHousing aims to bridge some of these problems.  For example, housing associations will be able to benchmark their listening and responding performance.  They will be able to identify common problems and be recognised when they deliver excellence.  Tenants will be able to normalise their views and benefit from a combined knowledge in de-snagging individual issues.

We’re not ready to launch quite yet but will be back soon with more exciting details.  In the meanwhile,  head over to the digital housing hub to see other examples of  ‘tech for tenants’.