Photo: Jason Dale

With declining salmon stocks in many English rivers, the Environment Agency needed to develop options to reduce the take of salmon by anglers and net fisheries.

As part of a wider project aiming to increase marine survival and tackle water quality and quantity, barriers to migration and poor in-river habitat, they wanted to seek views from those who would be affected by proposed new measures, to understand what impacts and benefits the changes would have.

These groups were varied and dispersed, from angling clubs to non-governmental angling organisations to netsmen with licences all around the country. EA’s aim was to reach a broad spectrum of people and so they chose to use Citizen Space.

Previously, in order to consult people, the Environment Agency would have put a paper to regional fishery committees – who represented different groups – for feedback, as well as using local angling forums as a way of people giving their views. This was limiting as the reach was not as wide as it could have been and it meant that people weren’t able to get involved at an individual level.

With the increase in technology, social media and online activity in the past 10 years, digital platforms like Citizen Space have proven really useful in opening up participation to geographically diverse groups.

For EA, this meant that those who would be affected by changes in byelaws could help to develop measures that would form them, creating more of a bottom-up approach to consultation.

People from all over the country will travel far and wide to fish salmon; Citizen Space gave them all the opportunity to participate and created an atmosphere of transparency around the exercise. The feedback was representative of large groups of people, with over 1,100 responses given.

The proposed changes were, at times, incredibly detailed; the ability to include documents throughout the consultation, at the point of question, was invaluable in allowing people to make informed comments and suggestions. Participants were able to fully understand the situation and the potential consequences of the issues being consulted on.

Enabling people to give views on their phones and tablets as well as laptops made responding easy and accessible which led to increased numbers of participants. It also meant that people were more likely to give a quick answer showing their support, which gave a balanced view of how people felt about the proposed measures.

People are often more likely to engage with something if they are opposed to it, but the ease of giving feedback meant that people who wouldn’t necessarily log on to a computer could quickly express their support using their mobile phone. Even a two word response is more valuable than someone just not getting involved at all and Citizen Space provided the platform for light-touch as well as more in-depth feedback.

The surveys were intentionally lengthy to include all of the information in one place. Though they covered a vast range of fisheries in many different parts of the country, the Environment Agency chose to have all of the options covered in one consultation. Being able to split topics down into different sections of the survey meant that people were able to dip into the ones that were relevant without having to trawl through sections that didn’t apply to them. This kept response rates high and there was not much of a drop-off rate throughout the consultation. The last few questions saw response rates of around 80%, showing that most people remained engaged throughout.

The consultation was put together by The National Salmon Programme team. This was the first time they had set up an online consultation, and the first time they had used Citizen Space. They told us they found the system intuitive and easy to use, making the whole process straightforward. They could work collaboratively on different parts and were able to update documents in real-time once the consultation was already live, meaning it was completely up to date at all times.

The results of the consultation have fed into new proposed byelaws which have now been formally advertised, again using Citizen Space.