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How to analyze and report the results of a citizen consultation?

  • Wednesday, October 14, 2020

  • Blog cover image

    The last step of a citizen consultation is analysis of the contributions: a key element in decision-making. However, many organizers still struggle with this phase, which raises many questions: how to evaluate the success of a citizen consultation? How to set its objectives? Should everything be given back to the citizens? How to synthesize the data? Am I still the main decision maker?

    To answer these questions, we called on an expert in the field: Bruno Jeanbart, Deputy Director General of OpinionWay. A well known polling institute, which has notably dealt with the online contributions of the Great National Debate in France.

    How do you evaluate the success of a consultation?

    Number of contributions, votes, participants, engagement rate... These elements naturally come to mind when evaluating the success of an online consultation. And that is understandable! Democracy** has always taught us to look at the numbers: majority, abstention rate, representativeness, etc.

    For Bruno Jeanbart, we must free ourselves from this "obsession with numbers" and evaluate the success of a consultation according to the quality of the contributions.

    Bruno Jeanbart, general manager of the OpinionWay polling institute](Bruno.jpg)

    Bruno Jeanbart, Managing Director of OpinionWay

    "Those that are particularly long or rich, especially on specific or technical subjects, are just as important as the number of participants. There will always be more volume with very simple questions than with more advanced requests for contributions. But it's the latter that will move topics forward in a constructive way."

    "The organizers certainly need a minimum number of participants to show that the consultative process is of interest," admits Bruno Jeanbart. But we cannot be satisfied with quantitative indicators, which are as much linked to external phenomena as to the consultation itself."

    Certain technical subjects, for example, may generate less participation. Consultations that are poorly positioned in terms of timing may fall flat, etc.

    And to recall in passing that the Grand Débat, which was perceived as a success in terms of participation, gathered only 1% of the electorate for the online consultation .

    "Let's bring the participation down to conceivable figures. When you have 2% or 3% participation, it may seem low, but it is already extremely important!"

    How to set the right goals before the consultation

    Here again, timing is crucial. "You have to be upstream of things" recommends Bruno Jeanbart. Propose a local reflection on a topic under debate at the national level, for example. Or, plan a consultation within the framework of a land use plan so that the contributions can have a concrete impact on what happens next (before the meetings with the various stakeholders: associations, service providers, etc.) If this notion of timing is not a quantified objective, it is undoubtedly one of the things to anticipate when launching a consultation

    As for the expected results, the expert recommends first of all to "properly identify your audience": "Not all consultations are aimed at all citizens. Not all consultations are for all citizens. They may be for specific geographic areas, users of a particular service or facility, etc. You need to have a idea of the target audience. You need to have an idea of the target population and reduce the objectives to that (participation rate, type of contributions expected, etc.)."

    Tracking these indicators can also prove valuable as the consultation progresses, to adapt your communication. For example: few shopkeepers expressed their views on pedestrianization of a city center, how can you get them more involved before the results close?

    Should all the data be analyzed at the same scale? How to avoid getting lost in the details... and at the same time not miss any information?

    Pictogram representing the analysis of citizen consultation results](analyse.png)

    For Bruno Jeanbart, data can be worked in two complementary ways:

    1. The synthetic way. We can identify the masses and give an idea of the volumes: the themes that were most discussed (security, environment, mobility, etc.), the different types of proposals (ideas, votes, comments), the vocabulary that comes up, etc.

    These elements are used to better understand opinion trends for the territory, but also, if necessary, the participation habits (at what time of day do citizens participate the most. What format they prefer. The media that made them react, etc.).

    2. Qualitative work. We leave this "accountant's logic" to look for original proposals. This more meticulous work consists of reading the contributions one by one, to find those that are worth going up.

    You have to spend time in it," recommends Bruno Jeanbart. It's the only way to identify the rare gems."

    **Can the results of a consultation limit the decision-making power of elected officials? How to turn data into a real opportunity?

    "There is first of all a need to accept that consultation is one element among others in the decision making process," says Bruno Jeanbart.

    It is important to understand it and to present it to the citizens as such.

    The consultation is there to fuel the debate and offer avenues of reflection; not solutions.

    Diagram representing the analysis of the results of a citizen consultation](Capture-d_e_cran-2020-10-15-a_-12.00.52.png)

    "We know anyway that it doesn't work to ask people what to do to solve the problems of cleanliness, security, mobility, environment... The consultations will allow to assess the main difficulties, to define priorities, to bring out elements that the community was not aware of, phenomena that are more or less exasperating for the inhabitants etc. And then think about an action plan to respond to them."

    A sort of flattening of problems and expectations, to lead to more informed decision-making.

    "It's a risk for the organizers if the final decision is just consultation. The more participation that is proposed, the more open** the **debate is and the more subtleties are taken into account. The decision is not simply for or against."

    Digital and physical participation at the same time: is it possible?

    Physical participation is entirely possible, but it must be adapted," warns Bruno Jeanbart. Paper questionnaires are not very effective in bringing out ideas and projects. It is better to hold meetings**, led by professionals, who can get citizens to work together on ideation.

    On the other hand, if the online consultation is based on simple questions such as MCQs, one can consider doubling it with a traditional paper questionnaire.

    Combinable therefore, but adaptable according to the participation requested and the consultation device chosen.

    If the digital divide is a reality, Bruno Jeanbart invites us to think about the real bias of participation: "do I want to participate or not?"

    "People who don't feel like participating will not do it more in physical. We won't be able to close that major bias. Communities need to be aware of that."

    He added, "Consulting means accepting that not everyone wants to be involved."

    The problem of the digital divide will undoubtedly arise less and less in the years to come with the explosion of mobile: a tool that changes the game by its "mass tool" side.

    Why is it important to return results to citizens?

    It's not important, it's essential!" says Bruno Jeanbart. When we ask citizens to give their opinion, the least we can do is give them the results in return. If you don't, you're ensuring that participation will never happen again in the long term.

    However, everyone must also accept their role. The community to give back the results, and the citizens to understand the limits of their participation (in terms of feasibility, budget, community competencies, etc.) All of this can be explained via clear and regular communication.

    "If we don't give feedback to citizens, we kill the emergence of this idea of participation."

    How to give them back the data in an educational way?

    "At OpinionWay, we are used to writing a summary of about a page and a half. We simply transcribe what people said, with the main data and opinion trends."

    This summary is sent by email to the people who participated. "But we can also imagine publishing it in the city newspaper."

    It can be done on simple surveys or on ideation, bringing out particularly representative ideas and some verbatims.

    "It is a professional job, which should not be hesitated to entrust to the person in charge of the consultation, or to carry out in binomial with the communication service" recommends Bruno Jeanbart.

    A second possible level of restitution is access to all consultation data.

    "This is what was done during the Great Debate. In practice, few citizens will go and decipher these data, except for an informed public. But it is a great demonstration of transparency on the part of the communities."