1. Committees can use a wide range of approaches to gather information, views and experiences to make their scrutiny effective. Conveners can encourage committees to consider at the start of a new activity
- the purpose of the piece of work eg to shape the policy agenda, review the effectiveness of existing policy, hold ministers to account for decisions, evaluate the effectiveness of proposed or existing legislation;
- the information available already eg from the Scottish Government, other public bodies, other organisations or academic research
- who is most impacted by legislation or policy changes in this area
- the outcomes the committee wants from the price of work.
2. The committee’s support team (including clerks; SPICe researchers; media, outreach and web & social media staff) can then propose a plan of activity designed to gather views and experiences from the key audiences and/or to fill gaps in the existing information.
3. This plan can cover activities in the Parliament or elsewhere and activities that are more or less structured, depend on the kind of evidence the committee is looking for and the amount of staff and member time available to plan and deliver. An engagement plan might include:
- a range of ways of gathering written views, including open or structured calls for views, surveys and online forums; this can be used to help shape a remit or work programme as well as within an inquiry
- use of social media to promote and explain opportunities to take part in an inquiry and, in some cases, also to gather views
- questioning at formal committee meetings. These form part of Parliamentary proceedings and have the advantage of a high level of transparency, including an official report of what is said. They are essential for holding Ministers and public bodies to account, and can work effectively for confident and articulate representatives of organisations or academics. While all sorts of people have given impactful evidence at formal committee meetings, many will need extensive support and preparation to feel comfortable in what can be an intimidating setting and conveners will want to weigh this up against alternative ways of gathering views
- meetings in the Parliament building which are not part of proceedings eg informal discussions, video conferencing
- fact finding visits to meet people in their own location or to observe how something works in practice
- more structured external events such as focus groups, structured debates and facilitated discussions, conferences
4. In designing and agreeing an engagement plan, conveners may want to consider:
- the value of personal accounts in focusing an inquiry and providing material to test current policy - as long as they are balanced by other sources of information to provide as rounded a picture as possible
- the benefit to the Parliament of its committees being visible in most parts of the country over time
- how to meet the needs/constraints of members eg do all members need to be involved? can information be gathered without members and reported back?
- how to meet the needs of the people whose views are being sought eg where will they feel most comfortable? what time of day are they likely to be available? would facilitators or support workers be helpful?
- how to evaluate the effectiveness of any engagement it undertakes and how to give feedback to the people it engages with so they know what impact their involvement has had.