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How can we really listen to public problems?

James Edmondson

Blogpost written by James Edmondson (Delivery Director) and Amaani Ahmed (Consultant)

Councils often talk about how they listen to and take on board residents’ views, feelings, and ideas. Yet the perception of the public is that feedback is not acted upon. Frustration among residents has only been heightened during the pandemic, with less opportunities to ‘make your voice heard’.

As reported in yesterday’s MJ, complaint handling within councils has become a ‘casualty’. Ombudsman Michael King said:

‘At a time when listening to public problems was more important than ever, we saw some overstretched and under-resourced complaints teams struggle to cope.’

A strong public sector is the cornerstone of society and, for us, improving public services is fundamentally about improving the lives of residents. Therefore, in an arena that is complex and influenced by multiple stakeholders, listening and acting upon resident feedback is crucial.

IMPOWER has been working with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) to bring a new approach to strategic listening in the organisation by developing the ‘Listening Tool’. In partnership with Logan Tod, a data and analytics company, IMPOWER has embedded this tool within the Customer Services team to group and theme resident feedback using text analytics.

The tool takes massive amounts of qualitative data and pulls out thematic subjects, which would be impossible for an individual to undertake. To date, the tool has ordered and themed over 15,000 comments without subjective bias.

RBKC now has a clear view of the experience residents have when interacting with council objectivity. This is significant as it provides a clear and impartial evidence base to use in cross-council decision making.

As using the tool has become business as usual, its use has extended to support the investment case for the council’s digital inclusion programme. The tool highlighted that digitally excluded residents have a much worse experience when interacting with the council than the average interaction, and that the issue cannot be simply solved by putting a tablet or laptop in every home. Lack of digital knowledge, support, and accessibility of the RBKC website are the real barriers.

A key part of our EDGEWORK® methodology is ‘delivering at the frontline’ and ‘holding up the mirror’ to help clients reflect on how change and improvement programmes are genuinely having impact. This intervention encourages self-reflection and the insight from the ‘Listening Tool’ has helped evaluate how services are working in practice. When staff understand how their work impacts on residents, they are more likely to take ownership of, and co-produce, new ways of working.

Our recent case study ‘Helping RBKC put communities first’ highlights the impact of our work to date not only on resident engagement, but on resilience amongst staff. (The ‘Listening Tool’ is one project within our Delivery Partnership.)

So yes, Covid19 has ‘magnified stresses and weaknesses present before the pandemic’ but the use of leading-edge technology presents an opportunity to not only hear what residents are saying, but to really listen.

Written by

James Edmondson

Delivery Director, IMPOWER



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