Cornwall Council: engaging communities

Having involved communities in previous public-facing campaigns in the past, Cornwall Council was in a strong position to engage residents in the devolution agenda. This case study form part of our devolution toolkit.

Communications support

Having involved communities in previous public-facing campaigns in the past, Cornwall Council was in a strong position to engage residents in the devolution agenda.

It was important for the council to keep its communications simple and use terms that people could understand and relate to. In all of its communications materials, the authority broke down the powers it was asking the Government for into clear themes - including transport, housing, heritage, environment, employment skills and health - and asked people for their opinion on these. It also outlined the benefits for people of all ages - older, working age and young people - as well as businesses, to ensure everyone could understand how they could gain from devolution.

As part of the council's community engagement work, it has positioned its leader and chief executive as the "voice of the people". They have played a central role in all communications activity, including taking part in online web chats with residents, media interviews to promote key messages to the public and live radio phone-ins.

On the digital front, the council developed a social media campaign using #standupforCornwall to generate conversations about the devolution deal. It also developed a public pledge for residents to sign up to and support devolution. A variety of organisations and community groups took part in a photo campaign on social media, including Devon and Cornwall Police, GPs, community hospitals, Newquay Cornwall Airport and community safety partnership Safer Cornwall, holding placards with the hashtag. The leader and chief executive also took part in the photo campaign.

Meanwhile, the council regularly emailed a network of community and business contacts with key messages about devolution, including town and parish councils, voluntary and community sector organisations, and other public sector services. They also put up posters in libraries and other community venues.

As well as online activity, the council knew it was important to meet with communities face-to-face. The council held four public events across Cornwall, with nearly 250 people attending and 100 taking part in a live webcast. It also took the Stand up for Cornwall theme on a road trip to meet residents around the county and explain what the devolution deal would mean for them. In addition, the council organised meetings with new MPs and breakfast meetings with opinion formers for residents to ask questions.

It was important to provide communities with an opportunity to feedback on devolution, so the council set up several channels for them to do this, including at public meetings and through its website, social media and emails. This feedback was used to inform the final version of Case for Cornwall that the council submitted to the Government.

But the engagement didn't stop there. Following the signing of the deal, the council has kept the public informed of what is happening on devolution. Since early 2016, the authority has been sending out a bi-monthly newsletter to 23,000 email subscribers and distributing a print version in libraries and GP surgeries.

The council is also communicating about devolution in more creative ways. The Cornwall deal was the theme of an interactive exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Show in June 2016, to make the topic more tangible for people of all ages. The show was attended by several thousand people, with residents invited to join in activities and games at the council's stand.

One of the biggest challenges the council has faced as part of its engagement work is that there are a variety of communities spread across a large area. It is had to be strategic and employ a variety of communications channels to target these different audiences.

But one of the big positives is that the council has seen everyone pull together - both officers and cabinet members - and, as a result, they've learnt what is important to local people.

Top tips for engaging communities in the devolution process:

1. Use a variety of channels to engage with communities, including digital, print and face-to-face contact, to appeal to different audiences

2. Ensure communities understand how they will benefit from devolution by keeping your communications simple and easy-to-understand

3. Make sure your leader and chief executive play a key role in your communications. Position them as the "voice of the people" so residents feel the council understands what they want from devolution