In our last local government blog, we talked about how resident engagement through targeted resident research and feedback campaigns is critical in driving needs-based policy. In this blog, we talk about why robust resident research is now even more important for local government to be able to answer the needs of those they serve within their budgetary constraints, and regulatory requirements like the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023.
To understand resident needs and where to target budget and resource most effectively, it’s essential to listen to, and act upon, the ‘customer’ voice. In this case, residents are the customer, and they, like any customer, are best placed to know what services they require, where provision is lacking, and where change is needed most.
But actionable, results-driven resident feedback programmes are not just about mini consultations and asking a few questions at intermittent times. As the most successful corporate sector customer experience programmes show, feedback programmes work best when they are strategic, co-ordinated and targeted. They need to be designed in a way that gathers the right insight, at the right time, through the channels that are most appropriate to different resident groups.
What insight lessons can government and commercial organisations share?
While the commercial sector may not always have the same budgetary or regulatory pressures as local authorities, the idea of ‘spend to save’ has traction in both private and public sector organisations, and well-designed research can inform how best to achieve this goal.
Research enables organisations of all kinds and in all industries to understand where the strongest needs lie. It is one of the best ways to recognise where to spend and where to cut back, which means research in itself can help to drive both budget allocation and control. It is also the best way to validate where services may be being under-used (either through lack of awareness, poor delivery or lack of access, for example), and how to divert or focus resources accordingly.
More than this, though, collecting effective customer feedback means taking the time to understand what truly matters to your customers: their preferences, priorities, pain points and so on. In local authority terms, this means listening to the voices of your residents to find out what services they need to the most, where gaps exist, and what is working well. Just as commercial organisations use customer feedback to tailor their products or services to reflect customer needs, so local authorities can use resident feedback to optimise how services are designed, resourced and delivered.
Of course, if you really want to understand your residents in the longer term, you have to listen to what they’re saying at every point of the customer journey. Within the commercial sector, this means gathering feedback from initial discovery to final purchase and beyond. For local government, the same can and should apply. The most effective resident research programmes will be those that:
- Gather insight on the current views of residents at different points of service use – what is working well; what makes services more or less attractive; what services are over- or under-used; what provisions are lacking?
- Analyse feedback and map against current and future needs – where are initiatives working well and can they be replicated in other areas; which resident groups are most catered for, and which least; what are the cost implications of making changes in the short and long term?
- Act and close the loop on feedback results – measure the impact of new or changed services; communicate results back to residents; gather further feedback on how changes impact residents further down the line.
Implementing robust, representative resident research
There are many great examples of resident feedback initiatives being delivered by local authorities around the UK. But we would argue that these are too often tactical exercises, rather than strategic, action-driven resident insight programmes.
Truly representative resident research is not just about gathering feedback at certain touchpoints but about listening to the voices from across the resident spectrum and then understanding what action needs to be taken as a result.
Optimally, local authorities should look to:
- See how each insight project or request might fit as part of a broader, strategic residents’ research programme
- Uncover what relevant insight studies and knowledge already exist within the local authority, and coordinate with teams wherever appropriate or possible
- From early conversations, involve a range of stakeholders from within the local authority, and perhaps beyond (e.g. among community groups), to ensure that a cross-section of voices contribute to the design phase
- Also from early on, pinpoint what you need to find out and what you will do with the information to maximise your ROI and help achieve that important goal of spend to save
This is the approach we recommend when working with local government and local authority organisations, helping them to develop and implement strategic, action-based resident research programmes that deliver insight where it’s needed most.
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