Beyond the Usual Suspects – Real Influence Matters!

Under commission from the London Empowerment Partnership, TCC has been conducting research on factors affecting residents’ perceptions of influence on local decision-making in London boroughs.

The research is now complete and today at the Conference “Beyond the Usual Suspects – Real Influence Matters” we are reporting back to representatives from across London on its conclusions as well as discussing how to improve residents’ experience of influencing local decision-making.

Speakers at the conference include:

  • Sam McLean, Director of Public Participation, RSA speaking on the role of citizens and citizenship
  • Andy Byrom and Anna Pierce, Associate Directors, Ipsos MORI presenting their national research on influence
  • Pat Dade, Director, Cultural Dynamics exploring the importance of recognising different personal values in communication and engagement
  • Phillip Blond, Director, ResPublica discussing the Big Society

What do different people mean by ‘influence’? What might affect their perceptions of whether or not they have it, and their motivations for seeking it?

A key conclusion of TCC’s research was that most residents judge their perceived level of influence in their area on their personal experience of the quality of customer service that they receive from local institutions.

Yet those same institutions formally separate the customer service and ‘engagement’ functions. Moreover, many of the small number of self-selected residents who choose to engage formally are often left disappointed at the lack of feedback or outcomes. The result is that they often do not feel that they have had influence as a result of their engagement.

Local authorities need to recognise that their residents have different values that inform their feelings and its means that they should approach this issue in different ways.

The report explores public perceptions and makes 26 recommendation as to how local authorities can improve how they engage with their local communities. Some of the key points are summarised below:

  • All customer encounters should be classed as engagement
  • Understand motivations, values and expectations through segmentation
  • Break down cultural differences between customer services and engagement
  • Enhance front-line engagement through better feedback mechanisms and training
  • Integrating communications through pooled insight across providers and effective feedback to customers
  • Choose the right channel for the right audience: word of mouth  might be more appropriate than the internet
  • Look at the option of informal consultations and ongoing discussions which may in certain cases be more effective than formal consultation
  • Use open and discursive engagement to take influence beyond the town hall to assist with building social capital and social norms

The conference is likely to be a useful opportunity for bringing many practitioners in this field together to innovate further on this important subject.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

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