Memorandum by Cambridgeshire County Council
INNOVATIONS IN CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN GOVERNMENT
1. Cambridgeshire County Council uses a range
of means to improve citizens' understanding of, and participation,
in decision making. The Council's Listening and Involving Strategy
has been a useful way of drawing these together and stimulating
new activity. Key aspects of the strategy are:
Cambridgeshire Citizens' Panela
representative sample of 2,100 adult residents surveyed three
or four times a year on a range of issues affecting the Council.
Topics include the level of Council Tax, policy priorities, satisfaction
with Council services overall and detailed questions on particular
services as part of the Council's programme of Best Value reviews.
The survey is run for the Council by an independent market research
Ongoing programme of awareness raising/consultation
with the public and key opinion formers. Rather than consult just
once a year, the Council has established a dialogue with opinion
formers via a regular bulletin. Our experience is citizens, and
many of our partner organisations, feel they lack the knowledge
to engage in informed debate. Providing information is therefore
a key part of the Council's participation activity. We also make
every effort to communicate issues clearly and without resorting
Websitethe Council has developed
its website (www.camcnty.gov.uk) as a means of providing information.
We are increasingly encouraging online responses to consultation,
for example on the Council's Local Transport Plan and Medium Term
Service Priorities. So far only a minority of people are participating
in debates, but in an area where almost 40 per cent of households
have access to the Internet at home, work or college we anticipate
a high level of demand. And while the numbers participating are
similar to those attending traditional public meetings on the
Council's budgetthey participate at a fraction of the cost.
Placing greater emphasis on supporting
and working with advocacy groupsfor example, Speaking Out
works with people with learning disabilities to make their views
known to Health and Social Services. Cambridge Ethnic Community
Forum has recently agreed to work with the Council, Cambridge
City Council and the Police to ensure its members have a voice
in the provision of a range of services.
2. Last year the Council carried out over
30 other surveys and participation exercises to gather information
about particular services. Our success in the Charter Mark awards
scheme, eight awards since the scheme began, demonstrates our
wide experience and long-standing commitment.
Greater satisfaction with the Council
as people become better informed. Regular feedback gives consultees
confidence that the Council is listening and working to meet their
priorities. The Citizens' Panel shows a 10 point increase in satisfaction
with Council services over the last year. This in part will be
due to panel members feeling better informed.
More responsive services, for example,
improvements to the Cambridge Park and Ride service on siting
of bus stops, changes to library opening hours and improved access
to Council services by telephone and via the Internet.
Improved staff skills. As a result
of consultation activity staff throughout the organisation are
becoming more outward looking. They are more aware of service
users perspectives and of partnership opportunities with other
Moneyfor example the Citizens'
Panel costs £30,000 per annum and the production of opinion
formers leaflets approximately £10,000 per annum.
TimeConsultation takes time,
whether it is commissioning a survey or working with "hard
to reach" groups.
has had to invest in staff skills. We offer specialist training
on quantitative survey techniques or qualitative research facilitation.
Other staff need management support to give them the confidence
to try new methods of participation.
5. We believe there are four key elements
to successful participation:
Consultation must be meaningful,
and be seen to be meaningful if it is to be credible. There is
danger that these new developments will fall into disrepute if
local accountability is further eroded, whether by capping or
insensitive use of central audit and inspection powers.
Participation must be an integral
part of project planning, not just as an add on.
Participation must involve a range
of techniques and be commensurate with the size of the decision.
Spending £30-40,000 on budget consultation is justified as
the Council's total budget is £350 million. For smaller projects
less expensive techniques are used.
Providing feedbackan essential
part of our strategy is ensuring all those who were consulted
receive feedback. Citizens' Panel members receive written feedback
after each questionnaire and results are communicated to a wider
audience via press releases and our website.
6. These techniques have been useful to
Councillors. Participation provides additional information to
help them make decisions and is not a substitute for decision
making. Initially some Councillors were suspicious but it is now
seen as a real aid.
7. Citizens' panellists want more information
from the Council, especially about how to access services. We
would not want to overemphasise this, but greater consultation
and greater awareness of Council services does seem to encourage
8. The Council has not developed any new
methods of participation, but has successfully brought together
a range of techniques in a co-ordinated way and is using them
to have a real impact on decision making.
Head of Policy and Review
9 December 1999