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Newsletter, January 2007

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Contents this month

At the coal face: paper-based consultation

This is the second in a short series of articles about how we work, written by those who actually manage the process. In each article, one of our project managers describes their own experience of a major branch of our work.

This month Sarah Alder describes the ups and downs of conducting a paper-based consultation.

If I was asked to sum up what a paper-based consultation is like in one word I would have to say ‘challenging’…

Many of our paper-based consultations run parallel to the online consultation, which can be a test in itself just trying to replicate on paper what is also being presented online.

A paper-based form can be as short as a single A4 page to as long as one or more double-sided A3 sheets. To ease the pain of processing vast numbers of questionnaires, we set up each questionnaire using software that allows the questionnaires to be scanned. We also have systems in place that track a piece of paper from when it arrives in the post to when it is completely processed.

In order for a questionnaire to be completely processed it must go through a series of stages:
1. Begin tracking process by giving each questionnaire an ID when it arrives in the post;
2. Scan the questionnaires. This captures any tick-box information alleviating the need to manually enter all of this information;
3. Capture the address details of a participant using tools to check the address is valid;
4. Process information written in the open text boxes of the questionnaire; and
5. Carry out a quality check to ensure records have been processed satisfactorily.

Broadly speaking this is how we move from paper to screen. Once the information has been inputted the online and paper-based submissions are combined and put into a collation tool, which allows for submissions to each question to be grouped into similar themes or topic areas.

Paper based consultations are important, particularly if there is concern that some people don't have access to the internet. It is vital to be able to fully integrate paper and online responses so you don't end up running two separate processes and so that responses from both sources are treated equally in the analysis. But here a balance needs to be struck: the costs of managing lots of paper are enormous when compared with a web-only process.

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