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>From the main report:

• The survey reveals a marked increase in the take-up of some
innovative and deliberative approaches, particularly interactive
websites, citizens’ panels and focus groups, since 1997.

Chart 5 shows a sharp rise (chart shows a jump from 45 in 2000 to 112
in 2001) interactive web sites) in the use of some of the more
innovative methods of consultation since 1997 – specifically
interactive websites, citizens’ panels and focus groups. The recent
levels of usage are in sharp contrast to the very low take-up
previously: until 1996, only 1 or 2 authorities were introducing the
use of interactive websites or citizens’ panels each year. The sharp
rise in the use of interactive websites to involve the public is
probably a reflection of the Government’s e-local government agenda,
which includes targets for local authorities.

Full text of key findings:



• Local government continues to push forward the agenda on public
participation - authorities clearly recognise the benefits of
engaging the public and are increasingly trying to involve people in
local decisions and developing service delivery. The average number
of initiatives used by local authorities per year has increased from
9.1 in 1997 to 10.5 in 2001.

• Traditional approaches to public participation and those with a
‘consumerist’ nature are well-established across local government. In
fact, service satisfaction surveys and complaints/suggestions schemes
are almost universally used by local authorities. These approaches
were used by 92% and 86% of authorities respectively in 2001.

• Trend data show that the take-up of consultation documents, public
meetings, co-option/committee involvement and complaints/suggestions
schemes have slowed significantly in the last few years, suggesting
the use of these approaches may have reached their peak across local

• The survey reveals a marked increase in the take-up of some
innovative and deliberative approaches, particularly interactive
websites, citizens’ panels and focus groups, since 1997. In contrast
the use of referendums and citizens’ juries is very unusual in local
authorities – only 10% of authorities used referendums and 6% used
citizens’ juries to engage the public in 2001.

• The participation initiative used most regularly by local
authorities appears to be area/neighbourhood forums, which seem to be
used on average 15 times a year. Traditional approaches - public
meetings, question and answer sessions and co-option to committees -
are also used frequently (around once a month) by authorities to
engage the public. As one would expect referendums are used on a one-
off basis, most likely to engage the public on a key issue or

• The scale of public involvement in local decision-making is
sizeable. Roughly speaking the survey suggests that a total of around
8million people were involved by all 216 responding authorities in
participation exercises during 2001. If this figure is aggregated up
to represent all English local authorities, assuming non-respondents
are not too dissimilar, it would imply that local government as a
whole engaged approximately 14million people via participation and
consultation initiatives during 2001. The survey suggests that the
highest numbers of people are involved by local authorities via
consultation documents.

• District and rural councils seem the least active across the
participation initiatives addressed in this survey, especially the
more innovative and resource-intensive approaches. District councils
used on average 9.1 initiatives in 2001, compared with London
boroughs who used 14 initiatives on average.

• There is less distinction between authorities with differing
political control, although those controlled by Labour and Liberal
Democrat parties have been the most active across the participation
approaches addressed in this survey. Labour authorities used an
average of 11.3 participation initiatives in 2001 and authorities
with no overall control used 9.8. Generally speaking, the use of most
of the traditional and consumer-oriented Public Participation in
Local Government approaches is consistently high across all
authorities regardless of type or ruling party. There tend to be
variations in relation to the more innovative approaches.

• Local authorities most often seek to engage the public on issues
relating to service delivery/best value and to the
environment or the local community. Also, but to a lesser extent,
housing and crime/safety.

• Relatively few authorities contract-out participation exercises in
whole or part. That said, the more resource-intensive
and/or innovative approaches, such as citizens’ juries, focus groups
and opinion polls are likely to be contracted-out to
some degree. Instead, almost all authorities (97%) work with other
organisations on schemes to enhance public participation
– in most cases authorities work with the police (89%), but also
health authorities, voluntary/community organisations and
other authorities.

• Local authorities clearly recognise the benefits of engaging the
public, particularly in terms of improving service delivery and
decision-making. And, a majority of authorities (70%) think that
participation initiatives are ‘often’ or ‘fairly’ influential on
final decision-making. Authorities do, however, have some concerns
about the time and resources required, and about motivating all
sections of the community to become involved.

• 56% of authorities are concerned that participation exercises may
simply capture the views of dominant, but unrepresentative, groups.
This is compounded by the fact that 44% of authorities report having
experienced difficulties in engaging people from certain social
groups – particularly, those from ethnic minorities and young people.
However, it would appear that local authorities are seeking to
address this issue by aiming certain participation exercises (e.g.
forum-based initiatives, user management of services and co-option to
committees) at specific citizen groups or
^               ^               ^                ^
Steven L. Clift    -    W: http://www.publicus.net
Minneapolis    -   -   -     E: [EMAIL PROTECTED]
Minnesota  -   -   -   -   -    T: +1.612.822.8667
USA    -   -   -   -   -   -   -     ICQ: 13789183

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