Monthly Myth Too Much Data in Community Engagement

Often, the purpose of an engagement process (or one phase of an engagement process) is to cast the net wide, capturing as many views and voices as possible.   Often, this is a good approach, particularly at the beginning of a longer engagement process.  What you generally don’t want to aim for, however, is the highest possible volume of feedback and data, with no regard for how useful or informed that input is.

Today we’re highlighting why you might get an overload of responses – many of which aren’t relevant to the issue at hand, why this is a problem, and how you can avoid it for your next process.


More isn’t always more when it comes to data.   In most cases, it’s quality over quantity that you should be aiming for.    An overload of low quality input is a problem for a range of reasons.

Risks associated associated with this approach  

  • It’s difficult to explain to people how their input was used if their input wasn’t very useful.
  • Analysis of the data is time consuming and takes more resources than the organisation can afford
  • People feel like their input is so general that they aren’t having a real influence over the issue, so they are less likely to feel participation is worthwhile.

Why it happens and how to avoid it

The below table highlights five key reasons this error occurs, and how to avoid this mistake in your next process

Issue 1

Asking questions that are so broad they don’t reflect the issue at hand.

Alternative approach

Share the problem the organisation is facing, then ask a question or questions that go to the heart of the dilemma at hand.

Issue 2

Lack of clear communication around the scope – what people can and can’t influence.

Alternative approach

Clarify what people can and can’t influence about the decision or outcome.  Ask questions that clearly reflect this scope.


Issue 3

Lack of information about the problem provided to participants - people are giving feedback without sufficient context.

Alternative approach

Find ways to provide information to participants – work to ensure you are as transparent with relevant information as possible.

Issue 4

Misconception that the public can’t digest or understand the issues effectively and therefore the questions put to people are too vague, simplistic or broad.

Alternative approach

Build a process that incorporates enough time for deeper consideration  carefully curate background information that clearly explains the issues and dilemmas you are facing.

Issue 5

Rushed engagement planning leads to implementation of a quick, easy to implement process that fails to uncover in depth insights. 

Alternative approach

Undertake a comprehensive engagement planning process that considers the needs of all those affected by or interested in the decision



Do you have any tips for ensuring people's input is relevant, informed and useful?  Share your ideas in the comments below. 



Stay in the know! Get new posts, actionable ideas and fabulous free resources delivered to your inbox - subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter 'the Discussion'.