Tools for Consulting with your Community

Why Consult your Community?

Consultation is an important part of community groups' activities: it can be used to:
Find out the issues in a community

  • Develop new projects
  • Establish and evidence a need in the community
  • Bring the community with you, to support the group's work/new project
  • Prove that you have a project worth funding to potential funder
  • Challenge a development which is not wanted/needed

Or it may that as a community based group you just feel that you should be ensuring that you have community support for your work.

Often the need for consultation arises out of a local issue e.g. a lack of a service/loss of a service/additional service requirements, affecting a group of people within a locality.

What does consultation involve?

Consultation is a way to gather information and evidence to establish the need formally, but the consultation does not always need to be "formal". There is a variety of ways to collect the information and the method used will reflect the community affected and the issue.

If you are wanting to start a parent and toddler group in the village hall, you don't need to send out questionnaires to every house in the village. Just asking parents if they would like to attend and when should do the job fine. But if you are a parish council wanting to increase the precept to build a new village facility, then it may be appropriate to find ways to research the matter so that everyone in the village feels that they can have their say.

If you are looking for evidence of need for a funding application, you may not need to have a large scale/formal consultation. It may be that gathering and collecting information is just as effective. Why not record how many times people ask for a service which isn't presently on offer, or ask people, your parish council, local school or local businesses to write letters of support.


Choosing the right methodology/medium for the issue and the targeted population e.g. 'young people' or 'older people', is vital:

  • Questionnaires and surveys - Questionnaires and Surveys are often the first method we think of when we want to consult a community. They can be postal, telephone, in person or online. People can be contacted at their homes, in the street or at other gathering points. They can be used to collect both quantitative and qualitative information. They are good for consulting large numbers of people, and so able to obtain representative view. They can be specific and quantifiable, and it is possible in principle to compare results over time and with results elsewhere. They are most useful where the questions and issues are understood (e.g. about people's personal experience). They can be posted out to a whole population, thus being inclusive, and this has the advantage of being seen to give everybody an opportunity to voice their opinions. But response rates tend to be low, which may mean that the views of minorities are missed and also people who have difficulties with reading will be excluded. These surveys can be expensive and there needs to be careful thought and skill in the phrasing of questions, and finally you need to allow enough time and resources to analyse the responses. Response rates may be higher in small and close knit communities. There are now several tools for producing online surveys (such as Survey Monkey).
  • Focus groups - Focus groups ask a group of people about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs about and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or development. Questions are asked in a group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members. Group work is particularly useful for looking at complex issues. The use of groups has several advantages:Interviews - These may be good for gaining an in-depth response because it is possible to probe, and for sensitive subjects where people may not respond to a structured questionnaire/group discussion; they may also be better for people who are not confident at reading or writing or in a group situation.
    • They can be used to ensure that points of view of specific groups within the community can be heard, which may otherwise go unnoticed
    • It allows the reasons why people hold their views to be aired.
    • People will generate new ideas and expand upon their own through working together and hearing each other's views.
    • They allow for an in-depth analysis of an issue.
    However groups may allow more vocal individuals to make sure their voices are heard disproportionately, and the results may not be statistically reliable.
  • Public meetings - Public meetings give everyone in a community the opportunity to hear about an issue and have a say. However they tend to only attract those affected by the issue and those used to public speaking may dominate discussion. In order for everyone to leave feeling that they have had an equal opportunity to have a say and be heard they require a skilled chairperson, especially if the subject is controversial.
  • Village poll/vote - This has the advantage of being a way to ask the whole of the community. In order to do this successfully the question needs to be carefully drawn up and clear cut with people able to answer decisively yes or no. People will need to be well informed of the issues prior to the vote. The disadvantage is that only one question can be asked.
  • Participatory appraisal - Participatory appraisal is defined as "a family of approaches and methods used to enable people to present, share and analyse their knowledge of life and conditions, to allow them to plan and act." It uses a diverse range of visual and colourful "tools" which appear informal and unstructured but which are carefully planned to be inclusive and controlled. To use this method you will either need to be trained or to use experienced and trained researchers .
  • Planning for Real - Planning for RealĀ® uses a large scale model of an area, to enable community involvement in consultation by:
    • Allowing people to have their say without needing to speak to an audience
    • Encouraging informal discussion of ideas
    • Removing the confrontation which often exists at a conventional public meeting
    • Making the consultation process more fun and rewarding for everyone involved
    • Stimulating informal contacts between the community and officials throughout the process.
    If you want to use Planning for RealĀ® you will need to purchase a kit and be trained in its use or be supported by someone who has been trained.

Any one issue may need a number of different consultation techniques for different parts of the process and sections of the community.

For instance a group wanting to establish a play area in a village may begin by surveying local children and parents to establish the need for the play area (using an online survey to contact busy young parents and social media to contact young people), they might then hold a public meeting to consult on the location of the play area and discuss whether residents are happy to have the field near them.

What do you do with the information once you've got it?

  • Remember consultation is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end.
  • Don't pre-empt the outcome of the consultation; if you assume everyone will be in favour and go ahead before your consultation is finished you will lose credibility and public support.
  • Keep people in touch, let them know how the consultation is going and what your findings are. Then as the project develops let people know how you are getting on. If people have been kind enough to give time to give their opinions, it is good practice to let them know what has happened to their views and whether the project has been successful.
  • Above all, DO act upon the findings of your research. Groups who undertake research then ignore it and do what they originally intended anyway find that their project fails very quickly because the community will not support them.

Some Tools



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