Missing the point

Only asking those who will give you a good answer

Even casual observers of this blog will know that we were big election day supporters of the local government staff who worked such long hours to ensure that last week’s elections went off without incident.

However, my general feeling of good will to my fellow local government workers was slightly punctured when I popped into my local polling station late on Thursday evening.

There was nothing wrong with the service I received. The process was efficient, the staff were friendly and the polling station was well signposted. I received my polling card and like a good (and slightly anal) citizen had it with me when I popped off to vote.

The slight souring of my mood happened as I went to leave the polling station. The very friendly senior returning officer (he had a badge: another tick) stopped me and asked if I would be willing to fill in a feedback survey and send it back in the kindly provided freepost envelope. Being a strong believer in collecting feedback and acting on residents’ opinions I took my form and headed home.

Once home I realised the futility of the evaluation; one which has lessons for many other local government consultations.

The questions were simple enough:

Staff at the polling station were helpful and well informed (strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree)

The polling station was a suitable venue (strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree)

Have you ever visited www.xxxxx.gov.uk/elections (yes, no, I don’t use the internet)

Are you aware that election information, electoral registration forms and applications to vote by post can be found on the above website? (yes, no, I don’t use the internet)

And then a series of Yes/No questions

Did you receive your poll card?

Was the map on the poll card adequate for your needs?

Would you like to see any other information on your poll card?

Did you know that information is available in large print and other formats?

So what was wrong with the questionnaire?

Well, the questionnaire was preaching to (or questioning) the converted.

Is there that much to learn from people who managed to get their polling card, made it the polling station, voted without talking to the staff about how to vote and were on their way out of the polling station after just 60 seconds? As someone who voted and made it to the polling station ok does it even matter if I know of their website? I obviously don’t need it.

There IS something to be learnt from my musings but it is quite limited.

Surely, the key people to talk to are those who didn’t make it to the polling station and didn’t receive their polling card. If my weekend conversations are anything to go by there are lots of people like that; they thought about voting and then quickly gave up because they didn’t have a polling card, didn’t know where their polling station was and didn’t care enough to make the extra effort to find out.

Maybe, you might believe that if people don’t care enough to make the effort then they don’t deserve the vote. That’s a fair position but surely for a local authority seeking to consult with the whole electorate handing out the above questionnaire at the polling station is going to tell them absolutely nothing of use.

And let’s be honest, that’s the sad trap that consultations of this kind often fall into.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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5 Comments on “Missing the point”

  1. localgov Says:

    There are also some simple issues with the questions asked – leading statements, compound questions – which mean they won’t probably get as much in the way of useful and usable information out of you as they should.

  2. Ed Hammond Says:

    I suppose that in a very limited sense – to get feedback on the process of the election – it was useful.

    I understand that the Electoral Commission are carrying out some kind of review of polling arrangements, and polling places, this year (as a CPO I had to fill in an incredibly detailed questionnaire about the layout and position of the polling station for the EC) and this may go towards that assessment.

    I agree that it’s not very probative for anything beyond this very limited objective, however.

  3. Big K Says:

    As a purist I should point out that this is not a consultation – it is a service evaluation. These are different beast and therefore would be done differently. The evaluation could be helpful in itself, I wish more services would think about evaluation, but a consultation would need a much broader reach. There is a world of difference between asking how was it for you and asking what could we do differently that might get you to change your behaviour.

    Voter turnout has been a tricky issue for a while and falls between national and local agencies for proper leadership. Maybe the non-enforced duty to promote local democracy might have encouraged local gov to up its game but we will never know.

  4. Sue Smith Says:

    I had to get a postal vote as I was away. The website address was not on the voting card, just a phone number. I phoned the number and got the web address. Then I filled in the form and posted it off. I had one letter telling me my postal voting form would be sent to me then it came a few days later. That is a pretty inefficient and expensive system.

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