The Creative Communities Unit get Consulting Creatively

Creative consultation helps the Creative Communities Unit stay relevant to the needs of communities, our students and partners.Creative Consultation at recent WMPAF event

The world is a rapidly changing place and it is easy to assume the way you have done things for the last few years is still the best way to do them.  I don’t think we can be so complacent.  But how do we make sure we keep ahead of the game?

The Creative Communities Unit (CCU) are committed to ensuring our programmes are continually updated and relevant to the needs of those taking part and the organisations they work for.  So we are undergoing a period of consultations with partners, prospective students and communities to help us to identify the key themes for people working with communities in the current climate and how the CCU can work with them.

At the CCU we believe strongly in participatory approaches in all areas of our work, including consultation.  But how can we creatively consult with people in a way that is both meaningful and engaging?  And how do we avoid ‘death by post-it note’?  And how do we interpret the results?

Here are a few thoughts from the consultations we have been involved with:

  • Be clear about the information you need and what you need it for.  This will help you form clear questions and to stay focused during the consultations.  It will also help you have a consistent approach to your consultation, even if the methods with different groups vary, and make it easier to interpret your results.
  • Who are you consulting with?  If it is possible to find out a little bit about the group beforehand, using some of their interests as a means of engaging with the group is likely to have a far greater and more meaningful response.
  • How much time do you have?  Will you consult with a ‘captive audience’ or a more transient group.  At a recent West Midlands Participatory Arts Forum (WMPAF) event CCU ‘set up stall’ in the corner of a room while people had lunch.  We had to think carefully about how this would affect how people engaged with the consultation and how much time they would give us.  Our consultation methods had to be clear and quick.  There was not much room for discussion, so the questions we asked were specific and to the point.  For another consultation in a couple of weeks time we can explore some more in depth activities as we are with a group for a full hour.
  • Information that can be gathered using a questionnaire can be collected by other means.  For example, a question which would require a tick on a questionnaire can be asked by placing a sweet in a bottle (above) or star on a picture.
  • Do not assume that everyone you are consulting with have good literacy levels or the confidence to take part.  Wherever possible give people the option whether they write or provide information through alternative means (such as a drawing, video or voice recorder) or offer to write people’s responses for them.
  • Discussing responses with participants will help you to understand them and reduce the potential for misunderstanding.  This is particularly important for methods such as drawings.
  • Using a range of media to gather information will make a far more interesting consultation.  For example, a mixture of social media, video diaries and discussion groups could provide some interesting results and reach a wide range of people.
  • In addition to creative consultations, at CCU we find that one of the most effective means of finding out what issues are current and what our communities and partners need is getting out of the office and talking to people.  Attend as many events as possible.  Our networks are one of our most important resources.

This is not an exhaustive list and may or may not work for your specific groups.  We are always looking for new ways to consult with communities.  Feel free to share your ideas with us!


Senior Lecturer, Creative Communities Unit, Staffordshire University