Improving engagement with the people of Wales is a big priority for us at the National Assembly for Wales, where we run a variety of projects to engage citizens from all over Wales in order to build long term engagement, understanding and trust between the Assembly and the people it represents, and to encourage direct public participation in the Assembly’s work.
A few years ago the Big Lottery Fund funded Pathways through Participation, a research project which explored how and why individuals get involved and stay involved in different forms of participation. The project was run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research and Involve.
This project found that the following factors play an important role in determining if people start, continue or stop participating:
- Personal motivation, such as helping others, developing relationships, to have influence, an interest in an issue of importance to them;
- Trigger, such as a reaction to a decision, or a recent life experience like ill health, moving to a new area or having children;
- Resources, including time, money, geography, access to transport, health, skills, experience, knowledge, and confidence; and
- Opportunities, an appropriate environment with conditions and opportunities to translate motivation to participate into action.
The way that we deliver our activities and how we measure their effectiveness considers these factors, to ensure that whilst we are measuring if we are meeting the specific short term objectives set for individual projects, we also understand the impact that different activates has on citizens that are involved, with the desire to encourage long term democratic participation.
Recently we gathered feedback from participants from two projects. The first was with small business owners across Wales who took part in video interviews to share their views with Assembly Members for a committee inquiry on Business Rates in Wales.
The feedback told us that all participants would take part again if given the opportunity, and that they felt that they had the opportunity to express their views. The most significant changes as a result of their participation was evident in the response to following statements:
- ‘People like me don’t have a say in the decisions the National Assembly for Wales’: none of the participants disagreed with this statement before taking part, compared to 67% who disagreed with the statement having taken part.
- ‘I have the confidence and information needed to get involved in politics’: half of the participants disagreed with this statement before taking part, where as 88% agreed with this statement after taking part.
A similar feedback exercise was conducted following an event to engage with individuals with a lived experience, and those working in a frontline capacity, as part of a committee inquiry into Perinatal Mental Health. What we found from this feedback exercise was that:
- None of the participants had previously directly engaged with the Assembly, and all of them said they wouldn’t have taken part in the consultation if they hadn’t been invited to the event;
- All felt they had been given enough of a chance to have their say during the event, and they would all take part in something like this again;
- Participants had a real variety of political interest, just over half had a great deal/quite a lot of political interest, the remainder claimed to have some/not much political interest;
- 7% claimed to have a great deal of political knowledge, 52% a fair amount and 41% not very much;
- When asked whether their levels of knowledge of Welsh politics was better than it was before, the majority agreed or strongly agreed;
- When asked whether their understanding of the difference between the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government had improved, the majority either agreed or strongly agreed.
Our intention is to seek to gather this type of information for the range of different engagement initiatives we deliver at the National Assembly, to better understand their effectiveness and improve our offer in the future, ensuring that those participating in our work are better placed to continue as democratically active citizens.