Through Westco, I joined Hounslow Council in May 2021 as an interim Consultation and Engagement lead. Initially, the contract was just for three months, but the task was huge. I was asked to provide “stop-gap” leadership to a re-structured consultation and engagement team, still recovering from the assumption of frontline roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team of three in “acting up” /secondment roles had also moved to a new directorate – their second such move in four years. It is fair to say, I had inherited a rudderless, captain-less team, but one that had immense potential.
Fifteen months on, I am proud to be handing over a team of permanent staff with additional fixed-term support. We have a clear sense of purpose, making individual and collective contributions by supporting colleagues and teams to undertake effective, meaningful consultation and engagement activity.
We must hit the ground-running
As a seasoned interim, I am used to hitting the ground running – scoping out the brief, developing a clear course of action and inspiring the team to work with me on a shared mission.
Passionate about people, I often bond quickly with colleagues and residents, but on arrival at Hounslow, my priority was to work with steely resolve to establish the engagement function’s ‘USP’ within the organisation, develop a jointly owned vision and shared goals.
My priority was collaboration with senior leadership, colleagues in different service areas and team members. It was also critical for me to negotiate “win/win” trade-offs with my team: In return for working with me to “put the consultation and engagement function on the map”, I would strive to secure the future of the team.
Being part of Westco provides a sounding board for ideas and testing new thinking. I am especially grateful for the autonomy to thrive that the Westco team has afforded.
Engagement is everybody's business
My average day is shaped by Hounslow Council’s corporate mantra – “Engagement is everybody’s business”: A typical day includes providing advice and support for colleagues to develop meaningful engagement plans and, where formal consultations are required, to ensure they are compliant with the Gunning principles, equalities legislation and good practice.
As a small team, we cannot be omnipresent, so I have introduced accessible resources – a consultation toolkit, varied templates for tasks such as survey planning and post engagement reports. I have also initiated a high-level Consultation Forward Planner and team KPIs (Performance measures).
The time required to do a good consultation or undertake an inclusive engagement exercise can seem daunting to a service manager with limited time. Therefore, part of my day is spent gently reminding colleagues that the primary goal of consultation and engagement is to gather lived experience and insight to assist the Council in making better decisions, develop effective policies and strategies and continually improve service delivery; always mindful to avoid risks of external challenge and/or reputational damage.
Interims help plan for the future
As an interim, my legacy is important: In recent days I have forged a partnership with the National Citizen Service to enable the Council to engage a minimum of 200 local young people each year; increased engagement opportunities to encourage residents on Council estates to get involved and, in collaboration with Public Health, secured funding for a Council-wide engagement platform bringing digital, informal and fun approaches to consultation and engagement.
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Angela Basoah – Westco Works, Consultation and Engagement interim