Why resident engagement is vital to the development of local government policy
Local authorities are under tremendous pressure to develop and provide services that meet resident’s needs. With budgets tighter than ever, making decisions through resident engagement is an increasing priority to ensure correlation with what all residents consider to be important. If services are not what they need or want or agree with, there’s every chance that they won’t be used, or a change in the way services are delivered will be rejected.
Resident consultation is nothing new, but too often resident engagement becomes limited to a smaller group of louder voices and not totally representative of the whole community. This is one of the biggest challenges local government faces.
Resident engagement to influence waste and recycling policy
A perfect example of this is waste and recycling. Both sit high on the list of local government concerns. They’re also among the most hotly debated topics among residents themselves, particularly on local social media — be it the challenges of understanding recycling rules, the lack of (or need to book) access to household waste sites, and the fluctuations in service levels for domestic waste collection.
Clear recycling targets have been set by UK central government — 55% in 2025 and 65% in 2025 — so the need for resident and community engagement and communication is imperative. But the 2020 target of 50% wasn’t met, and recycling rates actually decreased from 2019.
Of course, the pandemic had a huge impact here, but among the many factors and barriers that are cited as influencing waste behaviours, communication and resident engagement are considered critical.
It’s no longer enough to deliver one-way information: local authorities need to work harder and smarter to understand how to influence behaviour change, engage with their communities to understand attitudes, and create two-way communication that instils long-term values around waste, the environment and community responsibility.
There are already some great examples of this happening in local authorities across the UK. Haringey Council, for example, are actively engaging residents to share their views and experiences on waste and recycling to shape future council approaches. Oxfordshire County Council has recently concluded a consultation on its 2023-2043 household waste and recycling centre strategy, and explains how its policy here has been shaped by resident feedback through a ‘you said, we did’ approach.
And there are many other examples of resident engagement programmes from authorities around the UK, spanning the biggest issues that affect communities on a daily basis – from housing to the environment to health and wellbeing and more.
How can local government organisations achieve cost-effective resident engagement and feedback?
The strongest resident engagement programmes clearly demonstrate the role that research plays in influencing and shaping local government policy. But the challenge is getting robust insight from all parts of the community, something exacerbated by tight financial budgets.
Sadly, many consultations and policy decisions, including waste and recycling, are based on sub-optimal data. In many cases this is because it’s really hard to engage all parts of the community to share what is most important to them.
And this is where we believe that, by replicating the approach that many commercial organisations take, local authorities and local government can make a huge difference to the success of their efforts to engage residents and communities for the long term.
By treating residents as customers, and using best practice examples from the wider customer experience and feedback programmes, a greater level of resident engagement can be achieved.
But, it’s not enough to engage with residents every now and then. If they’re to be fully engaged and on board with local authority plans and decisions, they need to feel a part of the entire journey, involved at multiple touchpoints, and, critically, see the evidence that their feedback is being used to drive action. And this is where, a sophisticated resident’s panel, or community, come to the fore.
What are the key elements in developing a quality resident engagement programme?
To begin with, the LGA has some great guidance on how and when to engage with residents. This focuses on understanding what authorities already know from their residents, gauging where the gaps are in this knowledge, and taking the most appropriate approach to gathering views to fill those gaps.
This reflects our own guidance when it comes to CX, research and insight programmes of any kind: there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
From our experience of both commercial and local government organisations, the ones that do it best:
- Engage customers through the channels that suit the customer best, which may change depending on the subject being discussed, timing, and a host of other variables.
- Use creative and innovative recruitment methods to build up a bigger picture of their customers/residents; they don’t just rely on post, telephone or email, but use wider channels at their disposal – and that residents are happy to use.
- Capture, store and refresh information about each person they engage with so that they don’t keep repeating the same questions every time they seek feedback.
- Choose the right approach and methodology to gathering insight: this is key to understanding needs, satisfaction and improvement.
- Think beyond the departmental silos of their organisation: Critically, just as with any organisation, a customer’s journey with local authorities is very rarely linear. It may not map naturally to the functional departments within a local council, for example – meaning authorities need to think beyond silos if they are to engage with residents on a broader range of issues.
We know that, with huge budget and resource constraints, local authorities are under ever increasing pressure to focus on the delivery of the services that matter most to their communities, at the time they matter most, but at the least cost.
Gathering targeted insight at from residents at the right time, through the right channels, is one of the most cost-effective ways of understanding community needs and informing action that will have the most impact. It’s also the best approach to creating long-term community engagement, allowing authorities to understand and influence behaviours for long-term, positive change.
Optimising this process at every step of the way, and continually looking for new and innovative ways to reach ALL residents, is critical to the long-term success of resident engagement and using feedback to influence and shape local government policy.
You can find out more about how we support local authorities with citizen research and resident engagement programmes here.
Written by Kirsty Potter, Research Director