Inclusive consultation – what happens when the Covid dust settles?

Key considerations for inclusive consultation following the rapid shift to online engagement.

“The public mood at the moment is for inclusion, the politics is about inclusion – we need to think that way.”

As words spoken by Stakeholder Involvement Specialist, Nick Duffin during his opening slides on a recent webinar with Objective Keystone, the ethos described is what follows on from a year of disruption and change.

2020 has changed the way organisations engage with their citizens and stakeholders with lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing measures removing the ability to consult offline completely.

But, despite this, consultation and engagement must always continue.

In response to the pandemic, the rapid shift to digital consultation has brought change, challenge and opportunity to the consultation and engagement community.

We’ve seen:

  • an increase in appetite for public involvement;
  • a public willingness to engage via online channels where face-to-face has no longer been possible;
  • an appreciation of technology and how it can bridge the physical gap; and
  • the inspired and creative adoption of tech to bring participation online and support continued, high-quality engagement.

Whilst some things may return to normal this year, the reality is that however ‘normal’ might look, digital engagement is here to stay. And as part of this, organisations need to drive participation online in a way that promotes inclusivity. After all, one thing to come out of the last year is a spirit of standing together and ensuring no one gets left behind.

So, with digital-first as the default, how can organisations ensure inclusiveness across citizen and stakeholder demographics?

Led by Objective Keystone and The Consultation Institute, the ‘Inclusivity in the era of online consultation and engagement’ webinar offered insights into this exact topic, covering five key areas of consideration:

  1. The meaning of inclusivity – what does it mean and why does it matter?
  2. Understanding the drivers of change – why have things changed and how does this present an opportunity?
  3. Creative technology adoption – what are the popular tools and technologies being used to replace physical events, reach the masses, and avoid isolating the less digitally able?
  4. Appreciating demographic differences – what are the similarities and differences in the community and how can different profiles be best reached?
  5. Sustainable consultation – how can consultation and engagement be futureproofed with a phased approach and good practice in mind?

As the Covid dust settles, Nick mentioned there’s a willingness to ‘observe and learn’ from the last 12 months – from trying new mediums and methods of communication, to developing and refining approaches to reach stakeholders. Acceleration towards fuller online engagement has already happened and the momentum will keep us going in that direction. 

What many people have learnt is that by embracing digital, consultations can become far more inclusive than before. And, in the future, as offline mediums become feasible once again, a balance of the two will ensure inclusiveness becomes common practice and not a theoretical project.

If you’re interested in hearing the insights and suggestions from Objective Keystone and The Consultation Institute’s ‘Inclusivity in the era of online consultation and engagement’ webinar, the recording can be viewed here.

Our five key considerations infographic, summarising such ideas and thoughts can also be downloaded here.