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|Brief description of technique
Residents are recruited for regular consultation. This
contact might be via the telephone, written surveys
or discussion groups.
Participants may be attitudinally and demographically
matched to the community as a whole which is the case
in Wyndham City Council (refer case study below).
|To what kinds of consultation situations
is this approach best suited?
Community Panels can be used for a variety
of purposes, from Best Value to getting prompt responses
on urgent issues. While they might be more appropriately
used for municipality-wide issues, the growth and consolidation
of a Panel may lend itself to use for small area
developments and plans for changing neighbourhoods,
depending on the quality of the contact details of Panel
Members maintained by the council.
|How much time is generally needed?
Participants are usually asked to commit to the Panel
for a fixed term. A commitment of a number of years
is required for optimum results.
|How are target populations identified and
Typically, random sampling is used with up to 2000
participants. Attempts can be made to ensure that the
sample represents the full spectrum of residents' views
and to be broadly representative demographically.
Typically, random sampling is used with up to 2000
participants, reached by telephone, through written
surveys or recruited at community meetings.
If the Panel is intended to represent the full
spectrum of residents' views and to be broadly representative
demographically, it must be selected initially to meet
these criteria and re-tested at regular intervals.
|What are the skills required?
Statistical analysis, survey development skills, and
database management skills.
Qualitative analysis is integral to Wyndham's approach.
|What kind of information do participants
require prior to their involvement?
Need to know the level of involvement required of them
and their rights in relation to privacy/confidentiality
They should know that at any time they can resign from
|Brief outline of how the process usually
Panel participants are sourced from the community
and briefed on their involvement. They are issued a
unique code number to ensure confidentiality. Participants
are consulted every six to eight weeks.
Questions and methods are developed to meet the needs
of the staff requesting the information. Different methods
are used - telephone interviews and questionnaires by
mail are most common, but occasionally Panel
members have participated in community workshops, focus
groups or forums.
The research feedback is then compiled in an appropriate
format, and given back to the staff area which requested
the information. Panel input, together with many
other types of community input form the basis for much
- but by no means all - of Council's priority setting
and corporate planning processes.
|What level of reporting back to participants
A summary of results is distributed regularly, providing
feedback from the latest Panel, details of topics
discussed, results found and other new issues to be
followed up with the next Panel consultation.
This is commonly distributed by way of newsletter or
This information will also include actions and implementation
strategies undertaken by council in response to the
issues raised by the Panel discussions.
|How is this approach usually evaluated?
Ongoing - it provides longitudinal information which
can compared as information is compiled over years.
Where the Panel make-up is matched to the community
as a whole, its constitution is re-tested annually for
attitudinal similarity to random survey sample.
- Easing the burden on the community: Council
departments are able to channel their information
requests through the Research Officer; a survey may
address questions from several departments. Also,
people who would prefer not to be surveyed are spared
in Panel surveys.
- Cost effectiveness: In a random survey, a
majority of calls are refusals or non-responses. With
the Panel, interviewers know when respondents
are likely to be at home, and that they are willing
to do the survey. Savings in research expenditure
- Longitudinal data: Most surveys can only
provide a snapshot at a particular moment in time.
As Panel members respond over months and years,
changes can be tracked for example attitudes or satisfaction
with services to life changes.
- Unbiased data: Most consultations attract
certain types of people more then others. For example,
special interest groups or small groups with a particular
point of view can dominate consultations. Where matched
attitudinally and demographically, the Panel
does not replace stakeholder consultations, but allows
it to be balanced against a whole-of-community perspective.
- Where random sampling forms the basis of inclusion
in the Panel (as opposed to attitudinal and
demographic matching) the process is not necessarily
an accurate method of sampling and does not guarantee
an accurate representation of the population. Extra
care will need to be taken to ensure the recruitment
of under-represented groups.
- This can vary but will rely on ongoing staffing
for developing and maintaining relevant databases
and continuing to engage Panel members in related
activities. Depending on the method used to contact
members, casual or contract staff will be required
as well as adequate phone and computer facilities.
This information has been put together with the assistance
of Wyndham City Council's Research Unit.
|Council or other authority
|Wyndham City Council
|Name of Project
|Wyndham Household Panel
|Date of consultation
|Ongoing consultation tool.
|Aim of consultation
To enable representative, integrated and frequent resident
input to a variety of Council activities and programs.
|Consultation methods used
|Description of consultation
What is the Household Panel?
The Panel is a key element of Wyndham City Council's
core research/community engagement program. It consists
of over four hundred Wyndham households who have agreed
to be surveyed every six to eight weeks. To prevent
bias, Council has taken steps to ensure that the attitudes
of the Panel reflect those of the muncipality's
residents as a whole.
How was the Panel established?
Late in 1999, Council was conducting a large number
of surveys and response rates were dropping. Many of
the surveys were developed and sent out by individual
departments, with little overall coordination or quality
control. The Household Panel was set up to provide
Two major random surveys were conducted, one mailed
out and another conducted by telephone. Each had similar
key questions, and each had the same final question.
Some people don't like receiving surveys and feel
that they get surveyed too often. Other people like
the chance to offer their perspective. Council is setting
up a Panel of residents who are willing to do
a short survey each month - written or over the telephone.
Would you be interested?
Respondents willing to be surveyed on a monthly basis
became part of the Panel. Since then, a brief
survey ending in the same question has become part of
the new residents' kit and invitations to join the Panel
are included in other community consultations.
How do we know that the Panel is really representative
of the community as a whole?
The Panel can only be truly effective if it
represents the full spectrum of residents' views - and
in the same proportion as in the community as a whole.
If the Panel contains too many people with very
positive views, the results will be biased and much
less valuable. Similarly, if the Panel contains
a high proportion of people who joined because they
wanted to express very strong negative views, the Panel
results will be less trustworthy.
To ensure that the original Panel was representative,
Council analysed the responses of people who joined
the Panel and people who refused, for every question
on the survey. The Panel - as a group - was within
a 1% - 3% range of non-Panel responses for every
question. Panel members were less likely to respond
'don't know' and to have definite views, but the relative
proportion of positive and negative views mirrored the
community's very closely.
To ensure that this remains the case, the Panel
is re-tested against a large random sample each year.
Demographics are also a concern. The Panel is
broadly representative, but targeted recruiting is focusing
on a few age groups, family types and certain ethnic
groups which still appear to be under-represented.
How is the Panel used?
A Panel can potentially be used for many purposes,
from Best Value to getting very quick responses on urgent
issues. Wyndham's Panel runs on a regular schedule,
so that staff enquiries must fit into community convenience.
Panel members have provided responses on a wide
range of topics, from substance abuse issues to shopping
patterns, and from home-based business growth to satisfaction
ratings with Council services.
Each year, Panel residents do a 'life events'
survey which looks at changes in their life over the
year - in jobs and income, family structure, home ownership,
community activities, etc. This enables Council to build
up a longitudinal picture of life in Wyndham. Since
we have the postal address of each Panel member,
we are also able to look at small area developments,
and plan for changing neighbourhoods.
|Success of the consultation
The longitudinal database
The maintenance of a longitudinal database is key to
the success of the Panel. Research and consultation
results are entered into the database, and qualitative
information is categorised using software such as N6
or NVIVO. This enables Council to track perceptions
and attitudinal changes in much greater detail than
would be possible with statistical data, or with coded
The database now has almost five years of data, and
can serve as an initial information base for most of
the issues Council deals with. This has led to substantial
savings - in staff time and in community burden, as
well as cost.
For example, no question has ever been asked on a survey
about the river which flows through the city. Nevertheless,
when a question was raised about changing attitudes
to the river, a five minute search of the database showed
significant changes over four years. Three hours of
work produced a report showing the evolution of attitudes
year by year, and likely reasons for the changes revealed
by the data. Clearly, this approach is faster and much
more cost-effective than developing and implementing
Similarly, a question about public safety is asked
once a year, but the question does not ask about people's
greatest concerns. However, a search of the database
showed revealed this. Interestingly, the mere presence
of young people in public places - particularly young
men - was most closely associated with safety concerns,
ranking even higher than crime or substance abuse. This
finding is leading to changes in city programming.
Management issues with the Panel
The Panel is resource-intensive. It requires
a multi-year commitment to be truly effective, as well
as a combination of statistical and database management
expertise, as well as survey development. Qualitative
data is integral to Wyndham's approach, so that qualitative
analysis (N6 and NVIVO) is also critical. Standard Council
research management and quality control measures also
apply to the Panel surveys, including data entry
audits, 5% keystroke checks, data cleaning, etc.
There are also management issues specific to the Panel.
Maintaining loyalty, and sustaining Panel members'
willingness to be surveyed, is a major issue, and Wyndham
has worked out a number of strategies for doing this.
These do not include any financial incentives. Instead,
Panel members have received birthday cards (hand-written,
not computer generated).
We are looking at other ways to maintain members'
sense of engagement, but need to ensure that we are
not transforming the Panel into a group with
its own identity, separate from the community as a whole.
This year a Panel newsletter is being piloted,
outlining the results of previous surveys. To ensure
that Panel members are not receiving information
which other community members do not receive, we will
be providing the same information in public places throughout
the municipality. Minimising member turnover is an important
goal, but far less important than maintaining a Panel
similar to the community as a whole.
Confidentiality, compliance with new privacy legislation,
and the ongoing maintenance and linking of databases
are also important, and protocols have been worked out
for these issues.
Council has one Research Officer, responsible for Council's
entire core research program (of which the Panel
is one element). There is assistance from casual staff
for many of the tasks ResourcingCouncil has one Research
Officer, responsible for Council's entire core research
program (of which the Panel is one element).
There is assistance from casual staff for many of the
tasks involved in running the Panel, including
phone interviews and data entry. We have found that
local teenagers, with appropriate training, support
and supervision, have worked out well in these positions.
Wyndham's Research Unit raises a part of its budget
by offering consulting services to external agencies
such as other councils, universities, etc. Several Victorian
Councils have decided to implement Panels in
their local areas and have contracted Wyndham's Research
Unit to handle the initial set-up.
The Panel recently won a national award from
the Dept of Transport and Regional Services for Innovation
in Local Government, in the Community Services category.
Since that time, Wyndham has been asked to present
the concept to regional, national and international
audiences, including the Commonwealth Local Government
Forum in Brisbane and the International City/County
Managers Association Best Practices Symposium. Requests
for further information have since come from other regions
of Australia, and from countries as diverse as the UK,
the USA and Fiji.
Other aspects of Council's core research program used
in conjunction with the Panel, including the
focus on qualitative data, caught the attention of the
United Nations. Council's Research Officer was contracted
to set up a qualitative database in East Timor similar
to Wyndham's, and train staff in how to use it. The
database has been used to support a national visioning
exercise to identify priorities for action in the new