NSEC Learning Outcomes

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Trialling e-consultation with NSEC has been carried on over a year now and is ongoing.

The e-consultation component will be able to effectively support the extremely broad remit of consultation required from NSEC. As an experimental process it has had some key learning outcomes.

As with all new technologies there is a tendency for an overly optimistic assessment of what can be delivered. The progress of the trials was affected by:

  • resource issues
  • political considerations
  • calendar considerations
  • the complexity of the task, due to the of broad consultation with multiple constituents.

However, as the team worked there way through these issues, the following were clear learning outcomes in all of these areas:

1. Resources

Resource issues are always primarily present. An e-consultation exercise is a major undertaking (like any serious consultation) and will place significant pressure on the internal resources of the sponsoring organisation.

Whilst it was possible for the e-consultation research group to absorb some of the administrative functions, there was still a considerable burden placed on NSEC in terms of recruitment to the trials and focus groups that were not fully anticipated at the outset of the trials.

2. Political considerations

Political considerations must be taken into account: With the political processes frozen, activity from NSEC might have been seen to be inappropriately creating a new north-south body with no Northern Ireland Assembly to report to. NSEC could not publicise and promote consultation in the media for fear of possible political reactions. It was agreed NSEC would target specific groups, e.g. teachers, youth works and young people, etc. who would be followed up by the e-consultation research team.

3. Calender considerations

There are very real calendar considerations. As will all of the consultations carried out there are times when consultees will not be there or not be interested. Consultations with schools in particular need to take into account the academic school year, where there are few specific windows of opportunities to conduct consultations of any nature. Understanding the precise nature of the calendar most affecting specific consultees is crucial.

4. Complexity

The complexity of the consultation environment must be fully understood: the domain of NSEC is comprised of a diverse range of specific populations. There were at least five layers of activity that need to be considered and as the research team moved through the layers of complexity, it became increasingly obvious that to engage with some of these consultees would require specialist strategies.

5. Clearly identifying consultees

Each group of consultees needs to be clearly identified and separate assessments made of:

  • their requirements in terms of consultation instruments and resources required; and,
  • the resource implication for each of these populations and the consultation team.

These are crucial elements of any successful e-consultation.

6. E-consultation role in communications strategy

E-consultation can play a role in developing an integrated communications strategy to manage the totality of the NSEC requirements. E-consultation offers NSEC the potential to develop a highly specialized and adaptive communications e-consultation strategy, which then needs to be integrated into the overall communications strategy of the organisation.