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Deliberative techniques

Regulators in the utilities and government sectors are increasingly demanding proof that your community’s views and concerns have been taken into account. They want greater accountability, transparency and power sharing between providers and their communities.

The Victorian Essential Services Commission (ESC) now expects quality engagement that references the IAP2 spectrum. The model below shows three dimensions. When: regulators are encouraging you to engage your community early. What: they are keen to see engagement on broad proposals and plans rather than single projects. How: “inform”and “consult”on the IAP2 spectrum are considered limited ways of exploring community views.












Traditional “inform” and “consult” techniques don’t help utilities to understand:

  • What services and infrastructure the community expects
  • What the community wants that the organisation hasn’t considered providing
  • How the community wants to balance affordability with service standards
  • The relative value of different services to the community
  • What the majority of the community may be prepared to sacrifice to meet the needs of minorities

Challenges for utilities include:

  • How to undertake a meaningful engagement with small budgets
  • How to integrate deep, qualitative insights with broad, quantitative polling of ideas
  • How to gather the views of younger, more mobile and busier people
  • How to make best use of in-house skills and enhance capacity

The next generation of engagement techniques

Australian regulators have looked around the world for best practice engagement methodologies that can be used here. Forward thinking organisations have already recognised the value of these techniques and within a few years, they will become business as usual for local governments, utilities and other “natural monopoly” service providers.

The methods are collectively known as “deliberative” techniques. They include citizens’ juries, deliberative forums, public participation, citizens’ panels, 21st century town meetings, collaborative governance and many more.

What issues are deliberative tools most effective at addressing?

Deliberative techniques get to the heart of an issue by investing time in upskilling members of the public so that they understand the nuances and complexity of policy issues. They address issues where there are tradeoffs between the present and the future, between cost and service, and between the majority and the minority.

Price proposals, policy, service/price tradeoffs, service standards, infrastructure prioritisation and many more subjects are suitable for testing using deliberative techniques.

Insync’s three-step deliberative process

  1. Broad, exploratory research. Insync sparks the discussion using online polls, social media, websites, face-to-face community research and in-depth random phone calls. This frames the issues for you and informs participants in the next stage.
  2. Deep probing. A well briefed and preferably stratified representative sample of the customer base considers the issues and tradeoffs in detail. The participants need three key ingredients: time, influence and information. The time to adequately consider the issues; the influence which convinces them to engage meaningfully with your organisation; and the information to adequately understand the complexity of the subject matter. Achieving a positive outcome at this stage is empowering for the community, who know that their providers respect them; and councils, boards, management and staff gain new insights into the capacity of community members.
  3. Broad, confirmatory stage. Information, dialogue and deliberation lead to better decisions in complex situations, for example: trading one desirable outcome for another; facing up to long term budget shortfalls; or prioritising one service over another. You build a stronger case for a variation than one informed by pressure groups and individuals.

At this stage, outcomes from the deep probing stage are tested with a statistically significant sample of the population. Insync is well known for high volume quantitative research. We conduct online, paper and telephone research to hundreds or thousands of affected customers and stakeholders.

Reporting and next steps

We incorporate all data into our findings and can provide a draft report and informal debrief before finalising our report and presentation. You can now be more confident of a submission that reflects what your community needs and wants. We do appreciate and respect that you may have internal capabilities to manage this stage. We can offer any assistance you may need along the way.

Get started with Insync Deliberative

Insync Deliberative is a dedicated team that brings quantitative and qualitative skills in research and engagement. These include large scale surveys, benchmarking, facilitation, community and stakeholder engagement and deliberative processes.

Director James Garriock is well known and respected in the utilities sector, having led consulting and research programs for many water authorities and energy companies across Australia.

Contact us today to talk about how we can help you engage and collaborate with your community.