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Linking to your consultation

1 March 2017
Daniel Bradley

OpusConsult takes away the burden of having to manually type in public representations yourself, saving valuable time and money. To get the most out of this it is important to make sure that the public are aware of their ability to add their representations themselves directly into the system.

To make sure you are getting the most out of your software, we will be producing three useful guides on what you can do to increase the number of web representations you receive, and in turn reduce those which you must enter manually. This is the first of those guides.

Linking to your OpusConsult site

Through research, we have discovered that the link to OpusConsult is often buried deep within a council’s website. Users are having to click through many menus and content pages before finding the option to comment on a consultation.  It is important to ensure that the system is prominently and clearly advertised on your site at appropriate times.  Publishing a promotional article on the council’s homepage when the consultation has just started or is about to end will drive traffic to the document and encourage people to take part.  In these circumstances you should always link direct to the document and bypass the OpusConsult homepage.  Users like to get to the content quickly, don’t get in their way.

Consultations should also be promoted within the Planning Policy section of the website.  Ideally link directly to either a specific document in OpusConsult or the OpusConsult homepage from a menu.  If this is not possible any pages created that link to consultations should follow the guidelines below. Ultimately, we need to make sure that users aren’t giving up on finding what they are looking for. For them, giving up means they will instead resort to submitting a representation through email, or worse still, via snail mail!

Call to action first, waffle later

When creating web pages the temptation is to explain everything to people first, then link to the content you’ve just explained but the vast majority of people use the web in the opposite way, scanning the page for the content they are looking for rather than reading it and only going back to read instructions if they get stuck.  Web pages should be structured to match this behaviour. This means you should display a large, clear link to the JDi consultation portal at the very top of your webpage, and not after several paragraphs of text explaining the consultation. All the key information is already displayed within the public facing consultation page, so there is no use placing such an emphasis on it here.

Below we have mocked up two example webpages of both good and bad practices of displaying your calls to action. The good example is on the left (with the use of a button an extra bonus if it is available to you) and the bad example is on the right with the call to action right at the bottom of the page. Another bad example would be to have the link buried randomly somewhere in the text, whereby a user would struggle to find it whilst skimming through text that they may not want to read!

  

Put it in the menu

Better still, why not put a direct link to the consultation homepage within a menu? It is a page in it’s own right after all, why make users jump through hoops and have to go through a page of content before finding… well, another page of content. Your council’s website menus link directly to things like planning applications, bin dates and council tax forms - why should your consultations be any different?

Link it everywhere

The more places the link can be seen, the more times it will be used. The key is to make people aware of the consultation homepage, and their ability to submit a direct representation themselves. Be careful of linking to the page multiple times on one page though, this causes both unnecessary clutter and confusion. You can try things like adding the link to your email signature or within documents. If your council is using social media (which they should be!) then they can link to your consultations on there - but more on that in a future article. There are probably places where it would be beneficial to put the link that are unique to your council, so find out what works for you, take advantage of it, and soon enough you’ll see the benefits!

Let’s do it

Following the suggestions above will increase engagement in your consultations, helping you to get through the inspection, and will reduce the cost of administering consultations by directing most users to input their own reps through the web interface.  They won’t do this if they don’t know it’s there.  Your web team will be able to help you achieve this and if they want to get in touch with us direct to discuss the best possible strategy we’re always happy to help.

Hopefully you found these suggestions helpful, and can start making changes that will boost your percentage of web reps. Our next guide will be on using social media to promote your consultations, so stay tuned for that!

Looking to improve the way you manage planning consultations?  Wanting to make better use of the web for online consultations? Interested in how our system could help you? Why not request a free demo of OpusConsult. Just get in touch!