Expectations for E-consultation
This was the first e-consultation ever conducted by the Wheel. Therefore, the research team were keen to identify initial expectations of the consulters and consultees for the E-Consultation.
The consulters were first to be profiled.
The Wheel's Expectations
Here is the Wheel's expected advantages of using e-technology:
"I think expectations from the point of view of the Wheel is that we would learn and experience another method of reaching out to the clients that we would seek to service or facilitate. Our expectation would be that it would improve the opportunity to do that because it is breaking away from traditional methods, which we have had problems with, where you can’t get everyone in a room. So by using a virtual medium we would hope that it would increase that participation rate basically."
However, the Wheel team expressed two concerns:
- Getting the appropriate numbers of people to participate in e-consultation is a critical problem for consulters. This was also a concern for The Wheel team.
- The Community's and Voluntary sector's access to technology, such as computers/PCs, internet and mobile phones.
"It is recognised that as a sector, there are limitations and challenges in so far as many people operating in the sector do not have access…So us as the Wheel would like to explore this area, we do have reservations about whether or not people will be able to participate. But if we can share the burden of that quest with Maynooth or Queens University then of course, we are willing to embark on it."
The research team studied the group of potential consultees.
A number of representatives from the Community and Voluntary sector agreed to take part in a survey in order to gauge expectations for engaging in the e-consultation. These participants were initially contacted by e-mail, using the Wheel’s membership mailing list.
Access and Experience
All participants had access to computers and the Internet. The majority of participants had at least some previous experience of engaging in public consultations. Instances of these experiences include:
- attending meetings representing a community partnership—representatives from the Department of Community and Family Affairs in attendance…’
- Developing a 'Model' of good consultation. This was tested on the 'Co. Monaghan Heritage Plan'
- Producing a detailed response to consultation on Town and Local Development Plans.
Mixed feelings about consultations
Consultees had mixed emotions about consultation:
- Negative: Some participants felt that the experience was largely negative. For example, one participant commented that they never see any tangible change from their participation. Another suggested that, although they initially felt they were being listened to, after getting deeper into the process it felt as if the consulters were just 'ticking off the public consultation box'.
- Positive: A participant commented that they were very positive:"Effective consultation is imperative for PAUL Partnership. As an area-based partnership company it is vital that PAUL's strategies and programmes are validated by consultation with all partners and the community and voluntary sector in particular. It is also a central goal of the Partnership to ensure that the voice of the community is enabled to be heard at wider forum for decision-making in social inclusion, local and community development and local governance."
Making the consultation easier for contributors
Respondents were asked to list any other resources that would be necessary in order to make participation in consultation easier. Some suggests are as follows:
- inter-agency consultation with state bodies
- excellent and sustainable networking pathways between stakeholders
- more power in decision making as to when, where etc., meeting are held.
- more evidence that consultation makes any difference
The most important factors were:
- higher proficiency in technology
- more skills training
Significantly, the need for more financial and personnel resources were viewed as less important.
Next, respondents were asked to state the type of expectations they had from the e-consultation. Responses included:
- Learn more about e-consultation
- to experience of e-consultation and how it works as a form of communications
- to get clearer picture of how to use e-mail and internet to promote and advance their projects
- lessons learned about potential of e-consultation methodologies
- to be able to learn techniques for divining public opinion without having to spend a lot of money
- Accessibility and Voice for all
- that real volunteers will be listened to and catered for
- free, easily accessibility for all people would be addressed
- to allow (for example) local parish halls or other community facilities to have a 'hub' where anyone can access and have their issues or ideas heard. Fro example: "Women, children and those usually not at the table making decision that effect their lives should be especially thought of during the consultation process."
- that one's views will be heard and taken into account
- Practical outcomes
- to receive feed back on the results received and information as to how the results will be used.
- consultation with purpose and beneficial outcome: "Mindless consultation and lack of credibility can often be the reason for lack of future participation. If ones view is not given proper consideration or acknowledgment the incentive certainly decreases to participate in future."
- it will make sensible and usable recommendations with regard to the form, and use of electronic surveying, so that real effects can be derived from it
- will make sensible and usable recommendations with regard to the form, and use of electronic surveying, so that real effects can be derived from it.
Respondents were then asked to articulate expected outcomes from the processes. These included:
- to identify ways in which other voluntary organisations can use e-technologies to 1) effectively communicate with and harness the views of the community sector as well as 2) identify ways in which that sector can avail of the potential for consultation, make its voice heard and overcome the risk of digital exclusion
- positive change will happen - that new technologies will enable greater ease of access to peoples opinions and ideas
- to be able to use the resources currently held to better effect
- to be able to identify what we need to more effectively communicate/canvass opinion among users' target audiences.
- better proficiency with internet
- advice on how to use internet to users' advantage
- free easy access to technology to allow all people of the community to have their issues aired.
- special attention to those usually absent from the decision making process
- to make the e-consultation process fun
- allow local—grass roots projects access to the same resources that recognised organisations/charities enjoy