e-Panels are a way for councils or other organisations to carry out regular online consultations with a known group of citizens.
The most well established e-Panel is YouGov. It was established by a market research company in 2000 to provide research for public policy, market research and stakeholder consultation. YouGov currently has 350,000 panelists and can focus its research on particular groups if necessary.
Councils have adopted this idea to have a way of consulting a group of people on a regular basis using a range of technology. It provides a quick and potentially cheap way of staying in touch with a group of citizens.
Market research companies tend to focus their e-panel activities on online surveys but other interactive technologies such as discussion forums or VIP messaging have since been introduced. These help create a sense of online community and enable ePanel members to participate in the consultation process, suggesting topics for discussion that the council might not have considered.
- e-Panels can be tailored to distinct audiences, depending upon the purpose of the consultation. Therefore anyone with access to the internet is a potential participant.
- If there is the technology and web space already in place, then costs can be very small. In some cases the only cost incurred would be for the time it takes to recruit the participants, set the questions and analyse the results of the e-Panel consultation. However, if it was decided that a dedicated website needed to be built (which is not a necessity), then the costs could greatly increase.
- Incentives may also be considered. YouGov for example, has a point collection scheme which panellists can eventually exchange for £50 or a store voucher.
Approximate time expense
- Time requirements involve recruiting the participants, setting the questions, sending them out, chasing responses, analysing responses and writing up the results.
- Most e-Panels are ongoing over a number of months or years, although they can also be a one-off event.
- They can increase discussion and awareness about an issue.
- They can be used alongside offline initiatives.
- They can increase participation in local democracy, particularly amongst young people or those who are time poor.
- The online platform enables local authorities to reduce their administrative costs since no paper questionnaires or postage is required. There are limited additional costs to run a focus group or live chat (just the cost of online facilitators). Data input is not necessary and analysis is generally quicker and can be immediate depending on the type of software being used.
- Allows anyone to contribute in their own time.
- Allows different views to be aired and discussed.
- Engages people that may not normally be involved in face-to-face consultations.
- As with all online methods, e-Panels exclude people without ready access to the internet.
- If too much is asked of participants, such as too many follow-up emails from e-Panels, then participants may become uninterested.
- If topics require specialist knowledge or insight then e-Panels may not be able to deliver the depth of debate required.
- They do not empower participants.
Market research companies
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