A Citizens' Panel is a large, demographically representative group of citizens regularly used to assess public preferences and opinions. When conducted online it is sometimes known as an e-Panel.
A Citizens' Panel aims to be a representative, consultative body of local residents. They are typically used by statutory agencies, particularly local authorities and their partners, to identify local priorities and to consult service users and non-users on specific issues. More recently, there have been attempts to form a European Citizens’ Panel at the international level, taking the method beyond its traditional space at the local level.
Participants are generally recruited through random sampling of the electoral roll or postcode address file. Postal recruitment tends to be a popular approach given its wide reach and relatively low cost. However, a number are recruited by other means to ensure recruitment of socially excluded and hard to reach groups.
Once citizens agree to participate, they will be invited to a rolling programme of research and consultation. This typically involves regular surveys and, where appropriate, further in-depth research tools, such as focus groups and workshops. Not all members will be invited to take part in all Panel activities. This is why it is important to be clear at the recruitment stage about what is expected of each Panel member, and what their membership is likely to entail in terms of type of contact and frequency of involvement.
- Citizens' Panels can range in size from a few hundred to several thousand people.
- With more than 1,000 participants it is often possible to identify sub groups of Panel members who can be surveyed or consulted about issues specific to their needs or interests.
- The Panel needs to be systematically renewed to ensure it remains representative of the population throughout its lifespan.
- Costs vary depending on the size of the Panel, the methods in which the members are consulted, the frequency of consultation and how often membership is renewed.
- In some cases incentives are given to encourage participation in a Panel; for example, a prize draw.
- If the Panel is shared with other partner organisations, the costs can be reduced. However, when sharing the Panel with other organisations, agreement on the rolling programme of research must be achieved to avoid respondent fatigue.
Approximate time expense
- Staff time will be needed to keep the Panel database up to date, recruit new participants, and to run and analyse the consultations.
- Feedback on the outcome of consultation needs to be produced and spread among the participants (often through a newsletter) and among the wider public (often through local or new media).
- It is best practice to keep contact with Panel members regularly but to vary the approach so that participants have a choice in how they can get involved. A regular survey is acceptable, as long as there are other opportunities for members to express their views such as through focus groups.
- Planning a sensible programme of research and consultation is important to ensure that a variety of topics and research methods are employed, and that activities are spaced out throughout the year.
- Can be sponsored and used by a partnership of local agencies
- Allows you to target specific groups if large enough
- Allows surveys or other research to be done at short notice
- Assessing local service needs and identifying priorities
- Can determine appropriateness of developments within the area
- Can track local sentiments over time
- Needs considerable staff support to establish and maintain
- Can exclude non-native speakers
- Responses to surveys often reduce over time, particularly among young people
- Can exclude certain residents who do not feel comfortable participating in this way and should not be the only form of engagement
Market Research- Citizens' Panels have evolved from Opinion Polls.
Photo Konstantin Lazorkin Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)