Participation, data, and impact: Ofwat’s engagement methodology for Price Review 2019

28 July 2017

One thing our team enjoy doing is figuring out how to make complicated subjects accessible (and fun!) to members of the public so that they can share their opinions. Working with the water industry regularly provides these opportunities (How do you get customers to weigh up and give opinions on water resource options? How do you talk to them about outcome delivery incentives?) and we’ve been working with Bristol Water since 2016 to support the design and delivery of innovative customer engagement activities.

The recent publication of Ofwat’s methodology for the 2019 Price Review has been a useful way for us to evaluate the engagement approaches and activities we’re currently using, and ensure that we’re being as creative and inclusive as possible in how we involve customers in the PR19 process.

In this blog, we highlight 3 areas in Ofwat’s methodology we believe to be critical in demonstrating excellence in customer engagement, with some ideas of how to approach them.

Participation: Ofwat’s Tapped In report, released in March this year, calls on companies to think beyond the limits of traditional engagement and encourage “the active involvement of customers in the design, production, delivery, consumption, disposal, and enjoyment of water, water services and the water environment at home, at work, and in the community.”[1] This is a great opportunity for innovation and to draw on popular methodologies from the business design and social change communities. Hackathons (check out this great one from the Future City Glasgow project) are a great way to energise and mobilise groups of people to come together to design and deliver services. Design thinking is also a great approach for developing and testing solutions to complicated problems (this case study on design thinking and sexual health is good example). When developing projects with stakeholders, taking a collective impact approach (such as this program for children and young people in West London) is a way to promote an accountable, holistic approach to behaviour change. These might seem ambitious methodologies, but Ofwat is asking companies to lead a fundamental change in the way people think about and interact with their water supply, and that demands an ambitious response. If you’d like to learn more about any of these methodologies, contact anna@dialoguebydesign.co.uk.

Data: Smart use of data is closely related to promoting customer participation, as they are both connected to the idea of personalisation. Personalisation appeals to our intrinsic need to be engaged – something that happens when people become more involved in the development of a product or service they own or interact with. In addition, working with data often calls for collaboration and partnership with other companies and stakeholders. Ofwat’s report; Unlocking the Value of Customer Data sets out clear expectations for next steps for the water sector. As an ISO27001 organisation, used to handling large amounts of data from members of the public, we also recommend plotting out a data journey to better understand how customer data moves through and between systems in order to highlight both potential points of weakness, as well as opportunities. We also believe it’s important to think beyond quantity when it comes to data, and to consider the range of sources you could use and in what way. For example, looking at social media content as an approach to revealed preference research. If you’d like to learn more about making the most of data, contact lucy@dialoguebydesign.co.uk.

Impact: Impact is not highlighted as much as some other themes in Ofwat’s engagement methodology, but arguably it is the most important. It is essential to be able to evaluate all components of an engagement program and demonstrate the impact this engagement has on both business as usual and plans for the future. Collecting feedback from customers and stakeholders after engagement events is important, but does not go far enough in demonstrating the quality of the engagement. An engagement evaluation framework should demonstrate the purpose of each piece of engagement, how each piece contributes to wider, and more long-term objectives, and outline basic internal and external indicators to monitor how well the engagement performs against these. Lessons can be brought in from areas such as the health sector (check out this example, and this one too) to inform best practice. For more ideas on how to create a robust evaluation framework for engagement and participation, contact amelie@dialoguebydesign.co.uk.

These three areas are particularly relevant when considering one of the cross-cutting themes in Ofwat’s methodology: innovation. Innovation is relevant across all aspect of business planning, however Ofwat clearly highlights the need for “innovation based on an understanding of customers”[2]. Smart methods for customer participation and use of data both give unique opportunities to understand and work with customers, and being able to tell the story of their impact is a key part of the business planning process. We’re excited to see how the water industry can begin to demonstrate leadership in these areas for this price review and beyond.

[1] Ofwat, July 2017, Delivering Water 2020: Consulting on our methodology for the 2019 price review, pg18

[2] Ibid