Consultation, consultation, consultation

You’re kicking-off a new project – perhaps you’re holding an event, designing a new service or refurbishing your shop. You want your customers / users to get what they want and need out of it – after all, without them, there’s very little point in doing the project in the first place. And if they get what they want and need, your organisation is more likely to get what it wants and needs – whether that’s strategic direction, reputational recognition or financial reward.

What’s the best way of making sure that everyone gets what they need?

Consultation, consultation, consultation…

Consultation isn’t about informing people of your plans or marketing what you’ve done. It’s a two-way conversation with those who will be attending your event, using your service or spending their pennies in your shop. These conversations are designed to help you to understand and find ways to meet customer / user needs. And quite simply, working together to solve problems will help you to identify stronger solutions.

Your approach can take many forms, such as questionnaires, small workshops or open meetings. Take your time and plan the right type of consultation for your project and the people you want to reach out to, but whatever approach you choose, it should always be:

Genuine

Only consult if you genuinely intend to use the feedback to shape what you are doing. If you ask people to give their time and energy, commit to taking as much action off the back of it as you can, and if it’s not possible to do everything explain why.

Realistic

If there are limitations to the extent to which feedback make a difference, be upfront about these. Don’t ask open-ended questions if options are restricted, and if you have a small budget, be clear that gold-plated solutions are unlikely.

Early

If consultation can help shape the scope of your project, that’s ideal. If not, get it going as soon as you can. It’ll help you avoid making less-than-ideal decisions which are difficult or expensive to undo.

Ongoing

At the very least, tell people what impact their feedback has had on your project, including where you’ve not been able to take action. Plan to consult throughout the lifecycle of your project, and where possible let people know when you will come back to them at key points during the project. There’s nothing worse than being invited in to share your views and then… nothing… radio silence…

Accessible

It’s obviously crucial that consultations specifically with disabled people are accessible, but don’t forget that around 20% of the UK ‘general public’ are disabled people – so always make provision!

There are lots of resources to help you run your own consultations – a quick web search will dig some out. However, if you don’t have the skills or time to do it yourself, you could get an external facilitator in to do it for you – and even if you do have the resources in-house, this can bring additional benefits. For example, they are less likely to become embroiled in explaining the status quo rather than listening to new perspectives, and sometimes the people you want to consult with will feel more comfortable sharing their views with an ‘outsider’.

Good luck with your consultation – and if you do decide to bring an external facilitator in, take a look at what I can offer.

Share your thoughts - Have you had a really good experience of either consulting or being consulted with?

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