The perennial problem of public consultation is low engagement — people are often too disconnected from “the process” to know how or where to share their valuable opinions. Even though more than half of the UK public wish they could contribute to local decision-making.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Think about the last TED talk you listened to, the award-winning Netflix documentary everyone’s talking about, or even adverts broadcast during the Super Bowl.

What do they all have in common? They weave stories that grab you, using a simple but powerful framework we like to call the “5 P’s” of storytelling: People, Place, Pictures, Personalisation, and Peril.

These elements make your messages heard, felt and remembered. They can raise awareness of local projects and potentially turn consultation surveys into widely shared discussions. On this page, we’ll tell you how you can make these storytelling techniques work for you, creating campaigns that not only inform and educate, but also inspire action and increase citizen participation.


At the core of every compelling story are the people.

Just like the characters in your favourite TV show breathe life into the narrative, its local people who are the heart and soul of your community projects. After all, these are the folks who not only benefit from but often fund these initiatives.

So, first things first, your story pages must feature people your audience can see in their own lives — like a family member, a neighbour, or even themselves.

Police Scotland really gets how to do this right. They tell stories that show they’re listening to all kinds of people, from those who’ve had a tough start to life to young men working on being their best selves. They’re not making up these stories; they’re based on real feedback from people just like you. It’s why they openly publish their methodology, admit to their own biases, and put forward recommendations under every post.

The point of doing this isn’t just to make the police look good. It’s about showing you, especially if you’re from a group that hasn’t always trusted the police, that they’re genuinely paying attention and making changes based on what you say.

The key takeaway is clear: your online content should do more than merely list information on a topic. You need to relate every topic to the individual, and repeat this from a wide variety of perspectives. It’s the only way you’ll draw engagement from all walks of life.

This is why we built Pages for Citizen Space. It simplifies online storytelling for governments at both local and national levels — grabbing the attention of audiences and making it easier to find detailed info on topics, projects, and groups in their area. Police Scotland is a great website for you to check out, but keep reading as we look at other storytelling techniques and examples…

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Next up, you need a setting, because it’s impossible to picture a story without knowing where it’s happening. It’d be like watching a movie with no set. Who would find that engaging?

In public consultations, spotlighting the real places where changes will happen — like your streets, parks, and landmarks — helps your readers see how decisions might shake things up in the areas they know and love. You need to provide the contextual details on place and inform people of their real-life connection to your story.

So, a well-defined setting is how to ground your narrative, but how can you achieve this?

Take a look at how Hackney Council does it. They have split their digital hub into sections on topics like the environment, local culture, growth, and redevelopment. Think greener spaces with fewer cars and more footpaths, a buzzing cultural scene with museums and libraries, finding new uses for council land to build homes, and sprucing up the Town Hall Square to bring more people together.

Even the name of their digital space is shared with “Hackney Central” — the train station at the centre of their community — tying everything back to a renowned community setting.

What’s nice about this approach, is that when people think of what’s happening in Hackney Central, they think of the physical setting and the digital space simultaneously. They’re more likely to feel a part of it and get involved.


A picture is worth a thousand words” is an adage so often used that it might sound trite, but its importance cannot be understated for public engagement.

Imagine trying to get someone excited about car parks or bus routes by showing them a wall of text. These can be dry subject matters for us policymakers, let alone an average member of the public! What you need are compelling visual elements to spur emotions, get your audience feeling something, and ultimately, doing.

We really like Lancashire County Council‘s approach to this aspect of storytelling. Take a look for yourself and see how these elements make their visuals stand out:

  • Geospatial Maps: These are more than regular maps; they’re interactive stories thanks to Citizen Space’s Geospatial feature. You get a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening and where, with colour-coded information to make important information pop and allow things to make sense.
  • Iconic Landmarks: Spotting Blackpool Tower or Chorley’s Cuerden Valley Park in Lancashire’s visuals isn’t just cool; it tugs at the heartstrings of locals. It evokes a sense of pride, making people think, “Hey, that’s my town!”, and instantly feeling a connection to the project before them.
  • Human Faces: Do you ever wonder why ads love showing happy, smiling people? It’s because we’re wired to notice and relate to faces. Seeing someone enjoying a new bike line, like Lancashire does, makes the reader think, “I could be that person. I want to be part of this.”

And it doesn’t stop at pictures. Lancashire County Council also use a video from their YouTube channel on their page. This type of content is more dynamic, and it can really bring a topic to life for the majority of us that are visual learners.

So, when it comes to communicating your message, make sure to lean into the power of images and videos. It’s key to making tricky topics accessible and motivating people to participate.

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Personalisation is about making a story hit just right for each reader. This starts with speaking in a way that feels relevant to everyone, then honing in on the specific groups you’re targeting for each project in order to sound resonant.

To achieve this, you need to understand who you’re talking to. This could mean looking at things like your readers’ expected age bracket, where they live, or what their concerns are, and then tailoring the message to fit snugly into their world. When stories feel personal, they’re way more likely to grab your attention and keep you engaged.

A great example of this is North Northamptonshire Council’s public consultation hub, ‘Your voice matters’. Let’s take a peek at how their page connects with their audience:

  • Mission Statement: Right off the bat, they lay out a welcome mat with a sincere message from the council leader. This sets the tone for the purpose of the page; that is, to make you feel part of the dialogue and to encourage participation.
  • Use of Personalised Language: From here, they use direct language, asking questions like, “Are you Eastern/Central European and live in Northamptonshire?” It’s like they know who may be reading and want to make sure the message resonates with their experience.
  • Call to Action: Far from a one-sided conversation, the hub encourages you to join in with friendly nudges to give feedback or join their Residents’ Panel. They even included Citizen Space’s search bar functionality to help readers find ways to get involved easily.

Together, these elements turn a generic consultation page into a place that makes you feel seen and heard. The lessons are simple: talk like a human, pre-empt the needs and questions of your community, and always invite folks to join the discussion.


The final core element of good storytelling is peril. This is the part where you lay out what’s at risk and why everyone needs to sit up and pay attention. It’s about showing what could happen if you don’t act or if you choose one path over another.

And let’s be honest, some topics are tough to tackle, but that doesn’t mean policymakers should shy away from them. It’s precisely these hard talks that require the most input from everyone.

Take East Sussex County Council’s approach with their People Bank page, specifically their Drug and Alcohol support survey. They’re getting ready to renew the service contract in 2025 and want to know how to best support vulnerable people in their community. An issue they encountered, however, is that many people felt unable to speak up due to the sensitivity of the topic. Even people without a history of drug or alcohol abuse reported that they couldn’t weigh in on this survey.

East Sussex listened hard to this feedback and faced the peril head-on. Firstly, they made sure to clarify that everyone’s views are valuable, and then took steps to make respondents feel more comfortable. For instance, they offered multiple-choice answers instead of always requiring personal responses, and also included extensive links to resources.

Here, the correct approach is to present the peril in a way that motivates your audience to act without scaring them off. You need to strike a careful balance — on one hand, showing the importance of the issue, while also offering hope that, together, it can be resolved.


So, there you have the 5 P’s of storytelling. Once you’ve learned what they are, you’ll see these principles at play everywhere in the world of digital content, because they really do work. Let’s have a quick recap of what we’ve covered:

  • People: Stories need to mirror the lives of those you’re trying to reach. Make your audience the heroes of your narrative.
  • Place: Anchor your story in settings that are relevant and familiar to your audience.
  • Pictures: Use visual aids to make complex pages digestible and engaging.
  • Personalisation: Tailor individual topics to the corresponding segment of your audience. The more personal the story, the deeper the engagement.
  • Peril: Don’t avoid the tough stuff. Show what’s at stake to motivate action.

Get started with these 5 P’s to transform your standard public engagement model into something much greater. You’ll be able to create a narrative where everyone feels that their opinions are valued and worth sharing — making public participation a more inclusive and impactful process.

We built Citizen Space with these storytelling fundamentals in mind. It’s easy to weave these elements into your Pages, surveys, consultation reports, and more.

Please get in touch if you’d like a product demo, or check out our extensive resources section for more tips on how to build effective and engaging public consultation campaigns.