Closing the engagement loop (a step by step guide)
A common mistake is to overlook closing the engagement loop at the end of the feedback period.
Even if you have run an effective and thorough engagement campaign, failure to show submitters that their feedback was taken seriously can undermine the whole engagement process. This can create unnecessary reputational damage and backlash against the project.
Follow the eight steps below and you will almost be guaranteed to close the engagement loop effectively.
STEP 1. Acknowledge you have received each submitters feedback as soon as possible – send submitters an email or letter to let them know you have received their feedback and are taking it on board. This includes a quick run-down of the process going forward e.g. we are analysing feedback and will get back to you during March with a summary of the feedback received, responses to the key points raised and final project decisions.
STEP 2. Analyse the feedback – at a minimum your analysis should identify:
the key feedback themes (including the main points made under each theme)
other good points that may have only been raised by one or two submitters
the main points raised by each key stakeholder
STEP 3. Use the feedback to help make project decisions – if your engagement is genuine then you need to give feedback serious consideration when making project decisions. For example, should we go ahead with the project, which design should we choose, what changes should we make to the design? It is strongly recommended that you try and make positive changes in response to feedback, even if they are slightly outside the scope of the project or push the budget a bit. When stakeholders see their feedback has resulted in changes they are more likely to feel the engagement process was worthwhile and also be more accepting that other parts of their feedback did not lead to changes.
STEP 4. Respond to the key themes and other important points made by stakeholders – this is very important to demonstrate that you gave feedback serious consideration. Responses should be clear as to whether the theme/point resulted in any changes to the design and explain why/why not.
STEP 5. Reassess the project – before going back to respondents with the final decisions on this stage of the project you need to reassess the project, its risks and its engagement requirements. Are you confident to move into the next project phase or is there a need to rethink the current phase/design and gather further stakeholder feedback?
STEP 6. Respond to key stakeholders’ – key stakeholders should be provided with personalised responses to their feedback. Yes, in some cases this may take a bit of time, but it demonstrates that you see them as an important contributor to the project and it should help maintain or enhance your relationship with them. Also, key stakeholders are often used by media outlets for quotes about the project, if they feel they have been well treated throughout the engagement process then you will almost certainly get more favourable public comments from them.
STEP 7. Create and share a report on public feedback – the report should be sent directly to each submitter and also made public. A typical report on engagement should:
report on the levels of support/opposition to the proposal (if this was a question in the feedback form).
outline and respond to the key feedback themes. It's also recommended that you include and respond to other good points that may have only been raised by one or two submitters. The report should not omit feedback themes because there are concerns as to how it will reflect on your organisation’s reputation. Omitting themes will harm your reputation.
outline how each theme affected the final project decisions e.g. what changes were made and why. If the theme did not influence any decisions, then outline why it didn’t.
clearly state the final project decisions, including images of final designs etc.
briefly reiterate the need for the project and the project benefits.
outline the next steps, including when the project will be implemented.
STEP 8. Evaluate the engagement process – take time to evaluate how the engagement process went and identify what can be improved next time.