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Ambition consultation complete - what happened and what's next?

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We’ve come a long way since we launched the consultation on Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 on Wednesday 23 March 2016.

Consultation workshops

By the time the consultation ended at 23.45 on Friday 3 June 2016, we had:

  • Held 13 workshops, plus an additional LGA-hosted session specifically with Local Authority Councillors
  • Visited 12 libraries, travelling over 2,200 miles
  • Spoken directly with around 300 people

Running the workshops was tiring but hugely valuable. Not only did we hear directly from a wide range of people interested in libraries - including library workers, councillors, members of Friends Groups, library boards, academics, partners, suppliers, campaigners and library users - but these people also got to meet and hear from each other. We asked every group to share 3 reflections at the end of the sessions - some of the common themes were:

  • Participants recognised the value of meeting other people and hearing their views - both to bolster feelings that they were not alone, but also to experience the broad spread of views
  • It was good to step back from the day-to-day and think strategically about the future
  • Despite challenging times, there was lots of energy and commitment to creating a positive and vibrant future for public libraries in England

We also asked participants to complete an evaluation form, which again showed some common themes.

Workshop retrospectives and iteration

After each workshop - usually on the train travelling back to London - we held a short retrospective. Each team member shared their thoughts on what had gone well, what went less well and what we could improve on. This ranged from logistics, to thoughts on different ways to address some of the specific issues raised in the workshops. By doing this, we were able to iterate and improve the sessions - I hope anyone who came to the first one and then attended a later workshop would have noticed a much smoother experience (bar Newcastle and the train problems of course!!).

Using this learning, we also changed the format of part of the workshop. In exploring the 7 purposes, we wanted to probe more deeply into people’s views on our plans for 2021 and the indicators we would use to measure progress. The original workshop structure of an introductory presentation followed by a facilitated group discussion was resulting in useful but extremely generic feedback. Shifting to a more interactive exercise, with individuals sharing their thoughts by writing on big sheets of paper around the room, provided more detailed and actionable feedback. Particularly helpful was encouraging people to do a double circuit of the room - first to share their own thoughts, then to comment on other people’s.

Online responses

We also received 181 responses to our online questionnaire, plus 37 by email/letter and one via a tweet/blog (thank you CommonLibraries). Some of these responses were submitted on behalf of groups - in particular, some of the people who attended our early workshops subsequently ran a similar session with their teams and sometimes an organisation shared the views of its members. We were particularly pleased to receive responses from a range of library users and lapsed/non-users, including from primary school children via Pupils 2 Parliament, an organisation that works with school children to facilitate debate and provide input to official consultations.

Analysing the feedback

All this material has been carefully recorded. Firstly, all the raw data has gone into a giant spreadsheet so that every single point raised is noted. Whoever facilitated a table during the workshop discussions was responsible for typing up what was discussed - that focused the mind on writing neatly I can assure you!

The raw data is then being collated into themes using Trello - a web-based collaboration tool - with each team member taking responsibility for analysing feedback on different parts of the Ambition document (context, vision, purposes, governance and delivery, etc). This collated feedback will then inform the discussions with Taskforce members, including the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (on behalf of central government) and the Local Government Association, to develop a collectively-agreed final document.

Next steps

We intend to publish the final Ambition document before the end of July. Alongside this will be an Action Plan, setting out what needs to be done, who is responsible for doing it, and by when. Some actions will start straight away, others will take longer to address as research may need to be commissioned and/or sources of funding identified.

I want to thank everyone who has taken part in the Ambition development process to date - your input has been invaluable. I hope we can continue to work with you as we take forward the myriad of activities that will be set out in the Action Plan.

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