To ensure optimum alignment with the priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, other Whitehall Departments and the wider education, English language and arts sectors, the British Council introduced an extensive and open consultation process as part of the development of its 2015-17 Corporate Plan.
This paper sets out the steps that were taken in consulting on the Corporate Plan 2015-17, summarises the key points of the feedback that was received, and explains how the feedback was addressed.
The consultation was in three stages:
Stage 1: presentation of plan shape, structure and key themes (November 2014 – January 2015)
Stage 2: circulation of the introduction to the plan, which set out the key priorities, among a focused stakeholder group (January 2015); and
Stage 3: sharing the full draft plan with key stakeholders (January/February 2015)
Comments were received from the following stakeholders:
• Six UK government departments
• Nine sector bodies
• The three devolved governments
• 44 Heads of Mission around the world
The key themes in the consultees’ comments were as follows. A note below each section sets out way we addressed these:
Process and timing:
• The thorough consultation process was welcomed by consultees.
• The iterative nature of consultation allowed consultees early sight of the plan priorities and provided an opportunity for British Council representatives to get together with stakeholders and catch up on priorities.
• However some stakeholders felt the first stage consultation presentation was too visual and difficult to comment on without a discussion in person.
These comments support the intention to continue to consult on our plan, and will inform the process for the next plan consultation process.
Alignment with UK and stakeholder priorities
- There was a consistently positive response to efforts to bring greater clarity to the benefit that the British Council’s programmes have for the UK. Responding to early drafts, stakeholders suggested that the plan should place greater emphasis on the importance of the British Council for the UK’s soft power and to be more explicit about the value/benefits our work brings to the UK, at the overall level, by key programmes and on the ground.
- A range of views were provided on the plan’s alignment to UK and devolved government priorities. Consultees asked us to be more positive about working together on the ground in country (links with Heads of Mission, joint planning and One HMG), to better articulate the alignment between the British Council and UK government, to reference UK and devolved government priorities and emphasise the assets of the whole UK.
There were also suggestions that there could be greater emphasis on the British Council’s role in promoting British values.
Changes were incorporated into the final plan, particularly around UK priorities and benefit for the UK (chapter 2).
Level of detail
- There were mixed responses to the level of detail provided: on the whole consultees appreciated having detail of delivery areas (and some would like to see more detail), but others noted that a summary would help as there was a lot to go through.
- Requests were made for more detail on funding and target audiences, and for a clearer indication of what will change in the new Corporate Plan period.
- Consultees asked for greater transparency about the way money flows through the organisation and the relative size of key programmes.
- Several consultees asked for more detail on what we are doing where and in particular to include detail on work of key interest to consultees (e.g. British Schools overseas, work in skills, Newton Fund etc).
The final plan included a section on the economic model and a diagram showing the scale of funding for main delivery areas (chapter 9). Requests for detail were also incorporated, and a one page summary was produced alongside the final plan.
- Consultees provided ideas for how we could connect (e.g. into other international programmes), expressed a desire to extend existing programmes or suggestions for new collaboration (e.g. country priorities).
- There were positive statements about how we connect on the ground but a mixed picture with some suggesting we could do more.
Consultation discussions have been a helpful extension to existing relationships and relationship owners will take these forward.
- Consultees shared ideas about global trends, opportunities and threats (e.g. youth markets, digital delivery) as well as demand and need in particular places.
- Some shared concerns about changing ODA eligibility which could limit future funding for delivery in some places.
These comments are useful for longer-term planning and funding considerations
- There were requests from consultees within the sectors for more emphasis on many areas of work including society, arts, skills and digital, and for greater clarity on the British Council’s strategy for international education.
- In some cases the requests were for major changes in direction, additional funding to key locations and other changes that could be considered over the longer term.
- Consultees also asked for clarity on the changes that are being implemented as part of the Triennial Review – in particular to address potential conflict of interest and sharing opportunities with the UK sector.
The plan included a section on Triennial Review delivery priorities (chapter 1) and more detail on key areas noted above.
The comments that were received at each stage informed the next stage of the development of the plan. All consultees received a final version of the plan with an explanation of the ways in which their comments had been addressed.
Next steps for consulting on the Corporate Plan
The formal consultation on the next Corporate Plan will begin in December 2015. The consultation will be completed by the end of March 2016. The new plan will be signed off by the British Council Board of Trustees, approved by the Foreign Secretary, and published, in April 2016.