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Methods for engaging consumers

There are many ways to involve consumers to help plan, design, deliver, measure and evaluate services. All have value and are suitable for different purposes.

If you understand what you want to achieve, then it is easier to determine the level of engagement and the mechanism you will use. The best partnerships often use a combination of approaches from one-off or short-lived activities (e.g. surveys/focus groups), to long-term (e.g. consumer representatives on steering committee).

Refer to the partnerships foundation page to determine the most effective level of engagement for your project.

Find out more about methods of engagement in the table below.

Engagement methodsAdvantagesConsiderations

Surveys (written, telephone, email, face-to-face)

  • May be relatively inexpensive
  • Can be done via video
  • Can cover a wide geographic area
  • Useful for gathering quantifiable information
  • Questions need to be structured, straightforward and unambiguous
  • Literacy may be an issue
  • Often low response rates
  • Limited opportunity to probe in telephone/written surveys
  • Consumers may not be able to afford or access internet
  • Priority groups are often underrepresented
  • Diverse groups are often underrepresented

In-depth interviews

  • Useful to follow up specific issues
  • Provides in-depth information from selected stakeholders
  • Requires a skilled interviewer
  • Time consuming
  • Small numbers – requires careful selection of informants

Focus groups

  • Quick and low cost
  • Allows exploration of issues identified (e.g. through surveys)
  • Useful for collecting information on a specific issue
  • Unlikely to be widely representative
  • Not suitable for information dissemination or decision making
  • Small numbers – requires careful selection of informants
  • Requires skilled facilitator
  • Language barriers
  • Confidentiality issues

Workshops

  • Can develop a shared approach to a specific issue
  • Brings together selected people from diverse groups
  • Structured session can produce a plan or recommendations
  • Small numbers – needs careful consideration of participants
  • Requires a skilled facilitator
  • Participants may need certain skills, knowledge or experience

Consumer representatives on committees

  • Medium to long-term perspective
  • Encourages debate
  • Ensures accountability
  • One person cannot represent all
  • Requires orientation and ongoing support
  • Requires a succession plan
  • Requires organisational commitment to recruitment and meaningful participation

For more methods and detail, please refer to the experiential evidence methods guide.

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