Engagement: Verve Communications

Effective consultation on becoming a foundation trust can set the tone for ongoing engagement with your community. It is also a good opportunity to raise your profile and build local relationships. But what makes a good consultation?

Get the message across

Foundation trust status involves profound changes to the way trusts are run and much more local accountability. To the uninitiated, 'governance' sounds bureaucratic and can be difficult to understand. It is important to minimise jargon and specify how foundation status will make a difference for patients.

Use the local knowledge of those who know your patch

Talk to new partners like schools, tenants' associations and voluntary organisations. Don't be afraid to ask for their help.

Remember what you are consulting about

Consultation is about your headline service plans (that will eventually become your integrated business plan) and your governance arrangements. Keep information and questions clear and relevant.

Make sure you are culturally sensitive; one size does not fit all. Be aware of the cultural and social norms in different groups and try to work through networks or institutions that are familiar and trusted, such as faith organisations. Above all, don't be afraid to ask how people want to be involved.

Don't forget young people

Young people will take part in consultation exercises - but only if they think they are relevant. Arts and music projects are particularly effective.

Use the consultation process to recruit Make sure you think through data collection. Forms must be easy to fill in, and remember to ask all the questions to which you will need answers later, such as age and borough of residence.

Consultation budget - where to spend it

You don't have to spend a lot of money. Many of the venues you can use are available free and you can piggyback on existing meetings if you research them carefully. It is worth making sure your core documents are of a high quality and written to encourage feedback. Think carefully before spending on advertising or mailings.

Don't forget local politics

An important part of your consultation will be with local councillors, many of whom could be newly elected or in authorities that have recently changed control. Think through the hard questions and rehearse your spokespeople.

Remember the Department of Health framework

The report form on consultation is prescriptive. Gather feedback systematically from the start against all the criteria and check that you are achieving a good balance between responses from individuals and organisations.

Talent spot

Through consultation, you will meet people active in patient or user groups, local agencies and community networks. They have a great deal to give. To ensure that a diverse range of people stand for election as governors, ensure you underline the importance of the role and encourage people to think about putting themselves forward.

Clive Caseley is an associate director of Verve Communications. clive.caseley@vervecommunications.co.uk