Alasdair McWilliams, Digital Media Officer at the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), explains how the GCP Communications team actively encourages public and stakeholder engagement by letting people choose how they want to be informed
At the Greater Cambridge Partnership, good communication isn’t just ‘nice to have.’ It is essential to ensuring that we keep all our stakeholder groups up to date in a timely and efficient manner.
We’re a local delivery body for a city deal with central Government, bringing powers and investment, worth up to £500 million over 15 years, to create vital improvements in infrastructure and to work to ensure that growth in Cambridge is sustainable and supportable.
Our comms team manages communications and engagement, so we’re responsible not just for press releases and media enquiries, but also for consultation. Most of our current projects are focused on large transport infrastructure for which the Department of Transport requires community engagement.
This process starts at the conception of each project and can follow all the way through to a Transport Works Act Order Application, which is a statutory process. This can take anywhere between four to ten years. In that period, we’re managing ongoing engagement and consultation with local bodies and communities.
Working with the community
We also work with a number of specific local community groups which opens a line between us and the community to help ensure anybody who is impacted by our project is consulted.
Whatever our objectives – whether it’s improving public transport, cycling, pedestrian, or equestrian access, improved accessibility for disabled people, or simply making traffic move better and faster around an area where there’s congestion, or even if it’s plans to end congestion altogether by putting in a new park and ride service – that consultation process needs to be direct; it needs to accessible to all and it needs to be transparent.
To support this mission, we use a platform called govDelivery – a communications and engagement platform from Granicus. This platform enables us to interact with different stakeholder groups including local council members, charities, and activists, all by setting up email topics to keep them informed.
“The consultation process needs to be direct; it needs to accessible to all and it needs to be transparent”
People looking for regular updates from us can sign up to these through our website. We don’t do demographic segmentation, but we have grouped our topics by project, theme, and geographic location. Additionally, we have separate topics for the North, East, South and West of our region and for thematic housing and transport. This means that our subscribers can pick the exact projects and topics they want to hear about.
We’ve come a long way since I first joined the GCP, when we were using spreadsheets and Word documents for mailing lists, and then running everything through Outlook. It could take an hour to send an email bulletin to each stakeholder group due to re-checking email addresses and spotting things like errant commas that had replaced full stops in an email address, and it was incredibly time consuming.
With govDelivery, it really becomes as simple as writing the email, and selecting which topic lists to send it to by ticking boxes. The individual subscribers manage their own profiles and email addresses, which is a huge benefit in terms of empowering them, but also in terms of Data Protection and managing consent.
When we come to the statutory process with the Transport Work Act Orders for our key infrastructure construction projects – which goes to the Secretary of State, who will usually refer projects to public inquiry – we need to make sure all activity is evidenced.
This is so we can say to a public enquiry if needed, ‘this is who we spoke to, when we spoke to them, this is what they said, and this is how many people we contacted.’
The data capture functionality of our platform is critical to this – with so many large transport infrastructure projects, we need to evidence that we’ve kept all relevant groups informed, or that they’ve been invited to meetings to ensure impartiality.
It can’t track every successful email delivery, simply because of the way organisations and individuals can manage their own emails, but our system will never flag a false positive. When it flags that an email has been opened, we know for sure that the recipient has definitely opened it, and if the system logs a “click”, that they’ve clicked the link to review attached documents.
As well as govDelivery, we also use a platform called Engagement HQ – a consultation and engagement suite from Bang the Table [now a part of Granicus]. This platform encourages community engagement, and allows us to capture, analyse, and report on feedback from our stakeholders using a wide variety of tools, from forums and surveys to interactive maps, all within the one digital environment.
When our stakeholders sign up to a topic or project through EngagementHQ, it’s also automatically fed into the govDelivery platform, which enables stakeholders who provide comments and responses to stay connected and receive regular updates as the projects they’ve engaged with progress, and helps to build a culture of engagement in the process.
“People are now choosing to receive information from us and to be kept informed”
This constant engagement role is key to our work and one of the reasons why we use a communication and engagement platform. When we were implementing the engagement platform both providers worked together to conceptualise the dual system and build the integration between Engagement HQ and govDelivery.
Thanks to the two platforms working in tandem, we’ve found that while the consultation process is ongoing, we get a steady trickle of people a day going into the project. Those people are engaging with it and responding to it, asking to be kept up to date with any progress. This further helps us identify those people and reconsult with them if anything changes.
Choosing to stay in touch
Every couple of years we take part in the Gateway Review, which is the government scrutiny process. They interview stakeholders and project managers at Greater Cambridge Partnership. The next Gateway Review is in 2025
In our latest review, every stakeholder talked about the importance of engagement – and most fed back that Greater Cambridge Partnership’s engagement was good, with over 5000 points of feedback. To date we have over 10,000 stakeholders subscribed to our topics, and our successful delivery & open/read rates are much higher than reported industry averages
I would say a key part of the new way we work with our platform, as evidenced by the Gateway Review, is the fact that people are now choosing to receive information from us and to be kept informed. And with our platform in place we can confidently evidence this continued engagement, even up to submitting it in judicial process.
Find out more: www.greatercambridge.org.uk