Innovative model of consultation is a success in Kilkeel
The Integrated Education Fund used Deliberative Polling as part of their Civic Activism project.

Innovative model of consultation is a success in Kilkeel

18 October 2016

Consultations in education planning have ‘left ordinary people’ behind, but IEF have tried a new process that engages and involves the community, and could be rolled out as a ‘best practise’ method for future education planning engagement.

A new way to do consultation has been trialled in Kilkeel, and its success shows that this could be an exciting model for involving the community in decisions.

The project was run by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) who recently published a final report -  with their findings of the project. They plan to use this to propose that this model could be developed as ‘best practise’.

From their years of experience in the sector, the IEF noticed that people weren’t involved in how the education system worked in their local area and there was limited community consultation. They felt that increased public involvement in planning decisions could improve how education planning decisions are taken.

They wanted to find a way to fix this; they wanted to find out how the community is engaged in decisions about education planning and where there was room to do more to involve people.

Community audit using deliberative polling

IEF carried out a community audit using deliberative polling. Deliberative polling is where research is carried out to find out public opinion, usually round a contentious or sensitive issue, and is combined with learning and discussion to help people engage with the issue.

This typically involves a few stages:

1. Finding out what people think by polling (asking people to fill in survey or answer questions).
2. Some of these people are invited to an event and learn more about the issue, and are invited to discuss and deliberate with each other.
3. After this, they are polled again to see if their attitudes have changed.

Find out more about Deliberative Polling here.

This community audit used deliberative polling and a process of learning, discussion and deliberation. The IEF wanted to use this method of consultation to see if people felt they were involved in decisions about education, and if public opinion changed through taking part in discussions and deliberation. 

IEF used an independent polling company to run an initial poll in the area from November 2015 to January 2016, engagement events were held between January and March 2016 and a final poll was carried out from late March to April 2016.

The poll asked about people’s thoughts about existing education planning consultation and current education provision in Kilkeel and South Down.

So, have they created a ‘best practise model of consultation’?

The ‘model of consultation’ showed that a new way of engaging people delivered tangible and real results, delivering clear opinions on how the community felt.

The audit allowed IEF to check in with people’s current level of understanding about local education provisions, and assess their level of awareness of existing opportunities for public engagement, and gauge any enthusiasm for more public engagement in the future.

The engagement process highlighted a number of findings:

  • The engagement process reached a broad range of people and used broad range of means:
    • Demographically representative sample of 540 people to fill out survey
    • Targeted groups (teachers, parents, business professionals etc)
    • Held focus groups, of between 6-15 people
    • Held one-to-one and small group interviews
    • 45 people attended the public interaction event
  • Results suggested that more could be done to engage with people, because people aren’t involved in planning decisions and aren’t consulted: ‘between 95% and 99% said they weren't consulted about education provision in the Kilkeel and South Down area’. This figure is taken from both the initial poll and the final poll.
  • There was a call for improved communication around education plans and consultation with the community on these plans.
  • The participants in all stages of the project wanted more public involvement, with ‘overwhelming support for public consultation regarding education plans’.
  • There was growth in support for integrated education throughout all strands of the community audit. This suggests there was quality deliberation, as shifts in public opinion are expected during a high quality deliberative polling exercise.

As a result of experimenting with community auditing and deliberative polling, IEF are calling on education planning departments to use this new model of consultation to ask people what they think, listen to their opinions and take these into account when making planning decisions.

What’s next?

As for the success of implementing this change, it will depend on the IEF’s next steps.

They aim to encourage the adoption of the audit framework model for use in future decisions on education provision. They are in the process of disseminating the report, and aim to facilitate conversations with managing authorities, local councillors, schools, business leaders and the Department of Education.

The implementation of this engagement tool will be shared as a case study. The lessons learned and experiences that IEF had with using the tool will be shared as learning resources. These will be presented at the Civic Activism Programme final conference in March 2017.

Watch this space!

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