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Guest article: Public consultation during Lockdown – learnings & predictions

We are currently facing an oxymoron in our working lives – a state where there is ‘a new normal’ and at the same time, where everything is changing.

Public consultation is one area where great swathes of teams and processes have all had to change on a sixpence. It is hard to believe that in February of this year, consultations such as that for HS2, wind farms, new tram lines and community projects were led with teams of people ‘hitting the ground’ – engaging face to face in the local area. Now we see old films and think ‘wow, they are standing far too close to each other’! As we say, ‘a new normal’.

Whilst we ‘lockdown’ vast areas of the country and our lives, for many of us work still continues when it can; consequently, with the need for the economy to be bolstered by something as close to business as usual as possible, many teams working on public consultation face new challenges.

Imagine if this pandemic happened in 1997 – Mobile internet would have been a distant dream, with computers running on dial up and kicking you off the phone in the process, and your rolodex of stakeholders would have been physically located on your desk, not even next to a Starbucks, which wouldn’t land in the UK until 2008. If you wanted to survey opinion, you’d have to do a contactless paper survey delivery. Perhaps laminated.

However, even with the tech at hand, there are some key issues around managing consultations and stakeholder engagement in this new normal – and they probably aren’t what you think.

The first is in reality an internal challenge. Whilst your people are of course your greatest asset, many businesses simply haven’t had the requirement to get themselves set up for longer term remote working. This isn’t just an issue in terms of general ‘office admin’ or even the human element of wellbeing garnered from feeling part of a team– when it comes to consultations, it can have big impacts on your whole campaigns.

Did anyone speak to that person who complained? Was that issue resolved? Why didn’t you hear about that email conversation? And where is that strategy plan?

Without seeing meetings in calendars and overhearing office conversations, we inevitably lose a little bit of the bigger picture. We can’t simply call out to someone with a quick query.

It is hard to disseminate information internally to prevent duplication of effort and confusion even on a good day at your headquarters, but now you have more in the mix – many of your employees also now need to teach their children algebra, undertake shopping trips, care for vulnerable members of society – all the while battling with the natural anxiety response to the current events that has been shown to decrease memory and brain function in the short term. It’s a recipe for calamity if your systems aren’t ordered and logical.

There is also the issue of public events. These are the quintessential cornerstones of how you typically engage during consultations, and without that face to face engagement, alongside a general displaced anger or disengagement with figures of authority and an apathy at large right now, you could be facing an uphill struggle to get people back on side.

This is all a little gloomy, so let’s look on the brighter side and how you can succeed and thrive.

Let’s remind ourselves once again – this is 2020. Not the one we would have liked, admittedly, but 2020 nevertheless with augmented reality, 3D printing and a whole world of internet in our back pockets (if your pyjama bottoms have them, of course.)

Tech such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Portal from Facebook and apps such as Screenhero, which allows you to work with a group on a shared screen and voice chat as if you were all in the same room and Sketchboard, for which lets you brainstorm, mind-map and plan with others in real time on a shareable digital canvas are all in use in planning consultations at this time.

So in a very real sense we have the tools to do what we need, and if we dig deeper, perhaps we can add improvements. If social media has been a ‘quick job’ – now is the time to analyse harder, to learn the specifics of targeting and boosted posts, or how to undertake social listening. We quite frankly have time to learn, and as the saying (perhaps controversially) goes ‘why waste a good disaster?’.

One other area that is under the spotlight is employee communications, or internal comms. Whilst we are all guilty of letting that employee newsletter go a bit dusty, it seems that without any alternative we really are all ramping up our creative abilities to hold onto good people and harness their best talents and this can have real benefits in how you work as a team.

At Tractivity, we have seen this as a particular growth area, with consultation teams now also using their Tractivity systems to engage internally and share critical information. It makes sense – after all, what’s better than tracking when an email was opened and by whom when it comes to business essential information? It’s actually an improvement on many methods.

We also recently released an offer of a 3 month free trial to anyone working in public consultation or healthcare and we have been delighted to help service businesses who are adapting to new ways of working who are now able to switch tactics to serve online surveys and follow up emails, capturing historic stakeholder data in one place.

If you’ve never had time to drill down into insights and reporting, with Tractivity this is exceptionally easy.

So, whilst we are locked down, perhaps we can use this new way of working to unlock new long-term benefits from the changes we have mastered in this period. Whether that means increased working from home, promoting consultations more on social media or through webinars/ online meet ups, now is certainly a time we didn’t expect, but one that may have a silver lining.

Never has it been so important to manage your stakeholder interactions and we’d love to help more businesses try it. Tractivity is an SRM – a ‘Stakeholder Relationship Management’ system, and unlike a CRM, which is designed to manage and nurture a sales opportunity with revenue values, an SRM is instead designed to capture, log and track stakeholders’ enquiries, feedback and issues from multiple channels. You can tag issues and sentiment, manage events (digitally or physical) and also map stakeholders. These are functions that traditional CRM methodology struggles to provide.

Please contact us if you’d like a 3 month free trial of Tractivity for your business so you can manage and communicate with stakeholders. One system holds all interactions from every employee, so you never miss an update, whilst a suite of 100+ reports give you the information you need to make better campaigns each time. Combined with newsletters, email, survey, events and SMS capabilities, it’s the perfect system for both now and the future. We will handle the set up with support from a dedicated account manager and a UK tech team that’s here for you.

Please also visit our website at https://www.tractivity.co.uk/ to learn how Tractivity is helping other clients around the world and apply for the 3 month free trial offer.

 

This article was written by Tractivity. We do not endorse any particular product and it is for the reader to make their own judgment as to whether a particular product is appropriate for their circumstances. Other solutions are available and may be more appropriate depending on the individual situation and requirements. A summary and review of alternate solutions can be found here.

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