Finding Time to Blog

It’s Anna here to confess that I have been struggling to find time to write this blog. For that, I must hold my hands up and apologise as I know all the benefits of blogging and the excuse that I was busy isn’t good enough. I should have made more time to write for my business, rather than just as part of my business.

It seems odd to think about it in these terms, but it can be harder to write for your own business than for somebody else. You’re often too close to what you are doing to take that step back and write objectively and you can fall into the trap of assuming that other people know as much about what you have been up to as well as you do. There’s a saying about assumptions isn’t there?

I write articles and blog posts for others frequently. I dash off web copy and social media content that reflects the brand and tone of voice of my clients and help them to establish their business online and yet I’m often guilty of neglecting to do so for my own business despite knowing how much it would raise my visibility online. I’m using this blog post to commit publically to regular updates and to ask people to get in touch if there is anything they think I could help them with.

Productivity hacks are ubiquitous online, (and they provide a guilt-lite form of procrastination too…) I have read and shared many myself. One of my favourite ideas is to plan your time in blocks. When you look at your entire week as a series of blocks of time you begin to see how much can be achieved in each and gain a greater understanding of what you can do with a limited resource (time).

The 50/10 rule can help maintain focus and gives enough time to achieve a task (such as writing a blog post) and it doesn’t require any app downloads or fancy kit. All you need is to time yourself and work for 50 minutes and rest for 10. If you’ve worked at your desk the whole time it might help to stand or take a quick walk, but the choice is yours, use those 10 minutes to grab a drink, watch a funny cat video, send an email, or check social media, it’s your rest time.

I think the most important aspect is that 50 minutes is a manageable amount of time to be out of contact. You can check your emails after the time has elapsed and will find that you don’t need to react straight away to every email as it hits your inbox. This technique helps you realise that time is an asset and that you can achieve a lot more in a shorter period of it but only if you work distraction free.

If 50 minutes might be a little too long for you, the Pomodoro Technique might be better suited, with each 25 minute Pomodoro being tracked to see how long tasks take and then planning your time around completing tasks distraction free based on however many Pomodoros you need. Say you’re clearing out your inbox at the end of the week, see how long it takes using Pomodoro time periods and then the week after you’ll know how long to set aside to achieve this objective.

I really recommend that you break projects down into smaller tasks that you can tick off rapidly in order to really measure progress and feel fired up about what you have managed to get done. I’m going to do this with blog posts. Rather than spending a day scheduling a few when I’m free, instead I’ll dedicate an hour a week to drafting one really good post in 50 minutes. Then I’ll spend the other 10 recharging my batteries by making a cup of tea and checking how many likes I got on the latest picture of my dog I uploaded on Facebook.


Get Started: PEST Analysis

First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room. It is called a “PEST” but that doesn’t automatically imply that it is irritating, ok?

In fact, a PEST analysis can be a really useful tool to help you take a look at the external factors that could have an impact on your organisation. If used properly, it can really enhance your strategic planning by allowing you to understand your business position, potential for growth, direction of travel and any outside factors that may have an influence on your operations such as market decline, environmental legislation, financial regulations and infrastructure investments in your local area.

PEST is a mnemonic that stands for “Political, Economic, Social and Technological” and the framework covers macro-environmental factors that can be used to conduct environmental scanning to inform strategic planning or market research.

There are many other variants of this mnemonic, which include additional factors which may be right for your organisation to consider including too, we’ve listed these below.

  • SLEPT > Social, Legal, Economic, Political, Technological
  • PESTLE/PESTEL > Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental
  • STEER > Socio-cultural, Technological, Economic, Ecological, Regulatory
  • DESTEP > Demographic, Ecological, Social, Technological, Economic, Political
  • STEEPLE > Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethical
  • STEEPLED > Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethical, Demographic

You need to decide which of these analysis frameworks best covers all aspects of your organisation’s work, whether you use a basic PEST, or a more complex version, and then you can choose the one that best suits your needs. However, for the purposes of this blog (and keeping things simple – which is what Active Outcomes do!) we’ll be covering the basic “PEST” analysis.

Getting Started

We recommend having a bit of time set aside to complete this analysis, it can help to do a bit of background research around the various external environmental factors and so we also suggest that you work on this with your computer near at hand so you can quickly look up any potential issues as you consider them.

We also find it helps to bounce ideas around, so if you have a colleague you think would be great at helping you identify potential issues and opportunities ask them to take a look and add to your document.

A blank sheet of paper can worry some people if they have absolutely no idea where to start. So, if you already have any strategic planning documents, such as SWOT analyses, market research reports and so on, these can be a great initial source of ideas and can act as a springboard to help you get some ideas scribbled down.

Remember, when you are drafting this analysis that there are no bad ideas. The point of the exercise is to consider hypothetical situations. You are trying to foresee what might happen and unless you have a fully-functioning crystal ball (unfortunately we don’t) you are not going to correctly predict everything that may come to pass.

Completing Each Section

We’re going to go through each macro-environmental factor now and suggest a few ideas for each individual section to get you started. When completing your analysis try and be specific, for example, if you have an ageing local population with 17% more retired people than the national average include the figures. This gives you an at-a-glance reference to what the main issues/opportunities are so that you can figure out how to set about overcoming and exploiting them.


  • Current government: how stable is it, what are the priorities in their manifesto, what announcements have been made recently in the news?
  • Bureaucracy: which government departments might have an impact on your work?
  • Local government: what are the priorities for your local area, e.g. are there any planned infrastructure projects that could affect access/footfall, do you have all the correct licenses in place and when do these need renewing?
  • Tax policies: what are the rates and incentives, are there any changes in the pipeline?
  • Press freedom / priorities.
  • Regulation/deregulation.
  • Trade controls: if you import/export consider the risk of changing tariffs, restrictions on goods (quality and quantity). [The UK exit from Europe could have some serious repercussions in this particular area.]
  • Trade Unions: which ones represent your workforce, do they have any campaigns/industrial actions planned?
  • Law: what changes to any applicable laws might be happening – consider:
    • Environmental law,
    • Anti-trust law,
    • Education Law
    • Employment Law
    • Discrimination/Equality Law
    • Parental Leave / Flexible Working,
    • Competition regulations,
    • Copyright/Intellectual Property law,
    • Health and Safety,
    • Consumer Protection / eCommerce, and
    • Data protection and Information Security.


  • Growth rates: these may not seem to have a direct bearing on your business, but if the whole economy is booming you are more likely to feel the benefits.
  • Inflation: if inflation increases, the amount you (and your customers) can purchase will decrease, knock-on effects could be increased raw material prices and transport costs which you have to pass on to consumers.
  • Interest rates: whether low or high, the implications can be huge, e.g. low rates of interest are great for those who already have a mortgage but are not as helpful to the people saving a deposit to put down on a home.
  • Exchange rates: important for import/export led business.
  • Unemployment trends: this can affect the availability of skilled labour and the costs of hiring.
  • Labour costs: employees are your greatest resource (and often your biggest expenditure), look at your rate of employee retention, could you reduce staff turnover and re-train skilled members of staff to fill any gaps and reduce external hiring costs. What changes do you anticipate needing to make to your workforce?
  • Stage of business cycle: review your business plan, look at the potential for strategic growth, plan for your busy/quiet periods.
  • Credit/funding availability: when a scheme is time-limited plan ahead so that you have all the evidence needed to support an application for credit/funding within that cycle. If your funding lasts for a set period, put in place a timescale for review so that you know when to start the application process for continuation funding.
  • Trade flows and patterns: these could be disrupted due to global events.
  • Level of consumers’ disposable income: this ties in to levels of inflation, if people have less money to spend after they have paid for the basic necessities what impact could this have on your business?
  • Monetary/fiscal policies: what changes have been announced or could be on the cards?
  • Stock market trends: on the whole, the stock market is seen as being mysterious and complicated, but you can gain an insight into current market conditions by looking at the type of companies that are winning or losing and seeing why they are in that position, e.g. if an announcement is made about investment in green energy you might see a decline in traditional energy companies and an increase in more environmentally friendly ones.
  • Weather: this one may seem trivial but can have a huge impact if you rely on getting customers through your door.


  • Health: the health and well-being of local people can affect productivity and effectiveness.
  • Population: growth rates, age profiles e.g. an ageing population might mean there is a smaller workforce and a demand for different services.
  • Education: may mean there are not enough workers with the correct skill-sets.
  • Religion and beliefs: you may need to take into account various religious holidays and observances.
  • Lifestyle and buying habits: try to segment your “typical” customers to create a profile for each and see how they spend and why. What might affect this?
  • Family: e.g. what rights/regulations may change for employees with families? Can you adapt and work flexibly around family commitments?
  • Environmental/ethical: what are the prevailing attitudes toward green or ecological products and renewable energy? What options exist for you to trade more ethically/responsibly?
  • Immigration/emigration rates: do you have a diverse workforce or work internationally, could this change as a result of the EU exit? What changes might need to be put in place to ensure continuity for your workforce?
  • Work/life balance: look at attitudes toward career, leisure and retirement. Could you do more to ensure you are offering an attractive benefit package and retaining the best talent?


  • Technological change: what is likely to change within your industry and how can you keep pace?
  • Research and development: what do you need to be looking into changing now to get ahead of competitors?
  • Automation: can you improve efficiency/effectiveness by automating processes?
  • Outsourcing: is it cheaper in the long-run to outsource certain services rather than spend time struggling to compete tasks in-house?
  • Government priorities: how much is the government spending on technological research and innovation, what infrastructure are they investing in?
  • Depreciation/product lifecycle: when do you anticipate needing to replace key equipment? Do you have contingencies in place in the event of any equipment failure?
  • Internet: are you taking advantage of eCommerce opportunities, do you have the fastest possible connection package, does your website need updating, do you have to provide certain information online as a legal requirement e.g. a cookie policy?
  • Generational shifts: who is buying your product, how do they expect to interact with it? E.g. younger consumers may expect to be able to log a complaint via social media and have it responded to instantly

These suggestions are by no means exclusive, they are here to help you get started, not all of them will apply to your organisation and there will be a lot of other factors that do apply that we have not mentioned.

How to Present the Information

Here is a sample PEST Analysis we have completed for a small charity as part of an Organisational Review. As you can see, we have tried to keep it simple and visual. We have highlighted the key issues for each section and we have charted whether this is likely to have a high, medium, or low positive or negative impact.


We created this infographic using Canva and you can sign up and create designs completely free of charge online on their website.

This is not the only way to present the information: you can choose to use a table, with the titles for each section and a bullet pointed list of the factors listed underneath. Others choose to present the document in a more traditional report style format, going through each section individually and giving a greater level of explanation for each factor identified. There are pros and cons for each approach and you’ll need to identify which is the best for your particular needs.

If you need any assistance or advice about undertaking a PEST Analysis give us a shout, we’re always happy to help, visit for all of our contact details.

The Last Minute Guide to Proofreading

This blog is dedicated to those who are running out of time. For whatever reason, procrastination, tight deadlines, unrealistic expectations, or unexpected events – Active Outcomes are not here to judge. We’re here to help you get started.

So, if you need to proofread your document in a hurry, take a quick look at the basics – we promise, there are only five tips, it’ll only take a couple of minutes and you’ll save yourself a lot of time later.

Why Proofread?

We do not read every letter individually – we recognise patterns and then make assumptions about words. You have probably seen this (slightly spammy) email/social media post going around with the following text…

Aoccdrnigto a rscheearchat Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

See what we mean? It is so hard to spot our own mistakes because we read what we think we wrote instead of seeing the text that is actually there on the page.

Here are Active Outcomes top five tips to avoid common pitfalls!

1: Take a break!

Walk the dog, get the kettle on, have a nap, watch paint dry – do whatever takes your fancy. Just put a bit of distance between you and what you were writing. Otherwise you will read what you think you wrote, not what is actually on the page. It also helps some people to print off a physical copy of the text before they get started as they find they pay less close attention to the words on screen than they do to words committed to paper.

2: One thing at a time…

Don’t try and save time by trying to spot every mistake on the first reading – focus on one of these mistake prone areas at a time to make sure you do not miss anything.

  • Spelling,
  • Grammar,
  • Word choice,
  • Sentence structure, and
  • Continuity (formatting, font type/size, numbering of tables and so on).

3: Read aloud

By far the easiest way to check that your writing flows well is by reading it aloud. This will also help you spot mistakes your Spellchecker misses because while it can tell you that you put in an extra “e” it cannot tell you whether the word you used is the correct one.

Think of the difference between “dessert” and “desert” – I’d be pretty disappointed if I mixed them up – wouldn’t you?!

This also helps improve your writing style as you develop your own unique and consistent “voice.”

4: Stop racing on ahead

We are all busy – but you must resist the temptation to skip ahead. If you find you have been skimming, stop right there and start to read backwards. Focusing on every word, especially when it is not in order, helps you to see spelling mistakes and typos. Please note: this tip is obviously not quite so useful when checking sentence structure!

5: Get a fresh pair of eyes

A new perspective can really help – ask a friend, a colleague, the nice receptionist who remembers to ask about how your cat is doing, it really does help to have someone new look at your draft.

Remember not to be offended or take it personally if people do spot mistakes – that is what you asked them to do after all. Better you revise a draft than send an inaccurate document to the printer costing you both money and reputational damage.

Still not convinced? Why not? Even experts admit they sometimes need help…

“You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes and vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes, but not often enough, the printer’s proof-reader saves you –and offends you –with this cold sign in the margin: (?) and you search the passage and find that the insulter is right, it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.”

– Mark Twain (1898)

Mistakes are so easy to make, a designer once shared a story with us about a council spending a lot of money printing signage advertising a “Pubic Consultation” instead of a public one. You can imagine the damage that would have done if it hadn’t been spotted before multiple A2 sized signs left the building!

Don’t forget, Active Outcomes can help out with all of your copywriting, editing and proofreading needs. We offer a comprehensive and competitively priced service. So get in touch if you need a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at your document. Contact us at, Tweet @ActiveOutcomes or visit

7 Top Tips: Focus Groups

Why bother with a focus group?

You may think that you can learn enough by sending out a questionnaire and asking people to tick boxes. And sometimes this is sufficient, for example, if you only want to know how many people like a product. If what you actually need to know is why they like it, then you need to let your customers have a natural conversation about it.

Active Outcomes have a lot of experience in facilitating focus groups and want to share our top tips to help you get started. So take a look at the advice below and give it a try – you might be surprised what your customers can tell you. N.B. even if some of what your customers have to say is negative, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We have blogged on the importance of negative feedback before – check out what we have to say on the subject here.

1. Planning is EVERYTHING!

  • Invite the right people.
  • Decisions on where to hold the session and when must be based on your customers’ needs – not your own.
  • Be very clear on what you want to gain from the session before you draft your questions. This should shape the content of the sessions to get you the data you need.

2: Location, Location, Location

  • Make this as easy to access as possible, with good public transport links, fully accessible for people with mobility issues and easy to find with clear directions as to how to get there and who to ask for, and let the staff on reception know when to expect participants and where to send them.
  • Consider a neutral venue: for example, if you hold the session in your company HQ people may be reluctant to share negative opinions about their employer whilst under their roof, while this is especially relevant for internal staff focus groups any focus group can benefit from being held in a neutral setting.
  • People need to feel comfortable sharing, set up seats facing each other, remember it is a conversation and not an interrogation.

3: Incentives

  • These can be tricky to get right and divide opinion, some people swear by them others think they skew results.
  • If you do choose to offer an incentive be clear on why you are offering it. An incentive to get someone to attend at all means something entirely different to one that only covers their transport costs.
  • Remember it is not always appropriate to offer an incentive, in fact, if you suspect people may only attend to gain the “gift” the data you gather may not be relevant anyway.

4: Questions

  • These need to be open-ended, they should act as springboards for discussion, not a show of hands.
  • Think about how long you have and how many attendees, for an hour-long session with 10 people 6-8 questions would be the absolute maximum we’d recommend in order to rattle through in that time.
  • Read them out loud, check they make sense, try to run them by a colleague or captive friend. Just because you know what you mean doesn’t mean that others will! Don’t waste time explaining yourself that you could spend in discussion instead.

5: Prompting Answers

  • Sometimes discussion may stall – but be very cautious when you try to prompt any answers.
  • You are there to encourage the conversation – not to put across opinions of your own. A few stock phrases that can help get things going again are:
    • “You haven’t shared your opinion with the group yet.”
    • “Please can you give me an example?”
    • “Does anyone here feel differently?”
  • Remember to include all participants – don’t let one or two dominate the proceedings.
  • Don’t be afraid to interrupt if you need to move the discussion along, thank people for getting so involved in the discussion but tell them that you must be mindful that the time you have is limited and you have a lot more ground to cover.

6: Impartiality and Confidentiality

  • It is vital that participants know why they are being asked these questions and what the data will be used for.
  • Will answers be anonymised and kept confidential?
  • Consider using a Consent Form – we have a great Cheat Sheet to help you gain consent available here.
  • Tell people how you will protect their personal data.
  • If you are recording the session tell them how this will be used.
  • Consider using an impartial outsider to chair the session – this can ensure you get more honest answers.

7: Admin

Everyone has their own way of doing things but we find these tricks usually help the session run smoothly:

  • Number stickers: assign participants numbers to ensure anonymity.
  • Record: an audio recording allows for more accurate transcription – digital recorders are relatively inexpensive and can ensure that you don’t miss anything, otherwise, your trusty smart phone is quite likely to have a voice record function you could use.
  • Consent: get the group to sign a consent form and include the rules of behaviour for the session, i.e. one at a time, all opinions are valid… check out our Cheat Sheet for more info on this here.
  • Refreshments: offer drinks, snacks, they help people feel comfortable.
  • Activities: sometimes an activity helps prompt discussion, e.g. get people to write down their own top three ideas on sticky notes and then work as a group to establish an overall order.

    Focus Group
    Focus Group Refreshments

The Fundamentals of Writing a Case Study

What exactly is a case study?

In the simplest terms, a case study is a short story that provides a snapshot and gives an insight into what you do and how you do it. It is a method that an organisation can use to illustrate the way you work and the impact that your service has had on an individual, company or client.

A good case study will tell the reader three main things:

  1. WHAT: the specific problem you needed to address
  2. HOW: your approach to solving this problem
  3. WHY: the end result


Why should you bother?

Case studies can be powerful and persuasive tools and, here at Active Outcomes, we feel they are one of the best ways to tell the world what you can offer. When they are done right they tell a story, giving real-life examples that fully explain to people exactly how you solved the problems of your customers, clients, or service users.

They can highlight your success and generate some great publicity. As an added bonus, they are far more interesting than statistics, facts and figures, though, of course, these can be integral to the case study too.

What really sets a good case study apart is the fact that it is personal. It tells the story of an individual set of circumstances, detailing the journey you take with your clients to achieve better outcomes for them and for your own organisation.


Our Approach

When Active Outcomes write a case study our starting point is always to establish your exact reason for wanting one. By understanding what you hope the study will achieve we can decide how to structure it and will consider:

  • Target audience;
  • What kind of language and tone of voice to use;
  • Where will it be published;
  • What situation to cover – a typical interaction, a specific story with individual circumstances, your ideal client, your greatest achievement;
  • Who to interview; and
  • The kind of questions we’ll need to ask to gain the information needed.

We use this information to create a framework that will inform us as to what you want the case study to say. We can then ask far more strategic open-ended questions when we interview people, this helps us keep the conversation flowing and ensures that the information we gather will meet the needs you’ve identified for the case study to fill.

When we interview the Case Study subject, we endeavour to capture the essence of their story and to tell it using their own words as much as possible.

As firm believers in the “less is more” mantra – we like to keep Case Studies brief and prefer to work within the constraints of a single page of A4 as a rule, this is around 500 words of text.


Example Case Studies

We have worked with a local Home-Start charity to draft two Case Studies to highlight the fantastic support they provide to families with young children. Home-Start offer home-visiting volunteer support to help the parents of young children who are struggling overcome various issues.

Home-Start Hull asked us to write two studies, one to tell the story of their service users, the family; and the other to tell the story of the volunteer who worked with that family to deliver their service. This gave a great insight into the way that both family and volunteer viewed the service and what they felt they had achieved as a result of their interaction with Home-Start.

We interviewed the volunteer and family over the phone and told their stories in the two case studies we’ve included below. These were submitted to a funding body as evidence supporting a funding  Evaluation Report that Active Outcomes produced.

Check out the PDF versions of the family and volunteer case studies by clicking on the links below:



As you can see from the two examples, the case studies included:

  • Direct quotes that helped tell the story;
  • A summary of the issues faced by the volunteer/family;
  • Details of how Home-Start worked with them to overcome the problem;
  • Pictures to help illustrate the work they did;
  • The end result and outcomes achieved; and
  • Guaranteed anonymity for the family as they asked that their name be changed.


Our Top Tips

  • Keep it simple: don’t use complicated jargon;
  • Have a strong opening: hook the reader right from the start (think about the beginning of a newspaper article, how the journalist will cover the “who, what, where, why and when” in a few sentences, straight away, and then go on to give more detail);
  • Less is more: people are busy, respect their time and your own, and keep your story brief to leave them wanting to know more;
  • Consider your audience: it is so important to think carefully about who will read the Case Study and what you want them to take away from it, if it is a funding body you may want to stress the added value you gave and the eventual outcomes for the service user that their money funded the interaction with, if it is for a potential new client, on the other hand, you need to show how your approach to solving a similar problem can tie in well with their company culture;
  • Use direct quotes: wherever possible, let people tell their story in their own words;
  • Permission: as best practice, you should aim to get the person or organisation who is the focus of the case study to sign off on the draft before it goes public, that way you know they are happy with the way you have chosen to interpret and present their story. This becomes more vital when the participant asks that you respect their privacy by using a pseudonym to maintain their anonymity.

For more information about gaining consent for consultations check out our Cheat Sheet to help you gain consent – available here.

If you’d like to discuss our case study writing services you can chat to us at, Tweet @ActiveOutcomes, or visit

Writing for Maximum Impact

Here at Active Outcomes, we focus on helping others achieve the maximum possible impact in all the work they are already doing. For us, that means all writing needs to be high impact, well-targeted and easily understood so that it achieves exactly the result your organisation needs. Here is our advice to help you write it right!

Who will be reading it?

First things first, consider your audience carefully – ask yourself:

  • How technical should I be?
  • Will they understand jargon?
  • Will they be interested in what I am saying?
  • What is their point of view likely to be?

Personalise your writing, tell people exactly how you will help them. Tell them what you have achieved before. If you can tell it as a story – do it – people have been trained since childhood to love to read a good story.

What am I trying to say?

You can’t take back a first impression. So plan carefully what you want to say.

  • Have a main message in mind and stick to it throughout.
  • Try and structure what you write: introduce your topic (consider listing the points you will raise), elaborate upon the main points and then summarise for the reader.
  • Write a list of keywords and be sure to include them.

Remember the Four C’s

An easy way to remember what you should be including (and leaving out) as part of your writing is the Four C’s, explained below.

  • Clear: Use plain English, avoid jargon, stick to your structure.
  • Concise: Less is more – people are busy so get to the point!
  • Considerate: Explain anything your reader may not immediately understand, direct them to additional content.
  • Correct: Proofread! Pprooofraed! Proofread!

Our Top Five Tips and Tricks

1.Grab attention: open with a memorable phrase.

2.Lists: Everyone loves a list, e.g. these are my top five tips…

3.Write to express not to impress!

4.A picture speaks a thousand words: add interest with images.

5.Consistency: use the same formatting i.e. font, size, colour. Don’t switch from first to third person, maintain the same tone throughout (i.e. friendly, academic and so on…)

Our Approach

We focus on people. We listen actively and create copy that works for you and your organisation. We tell stories that engage the reader.

Above all, we talk to people to discover genuine experiences that can be shared and will tell the world about your values and achievements. We use these conversations to create authentic content that really hits home with your target audience.

Words are powerful things. Your customers need to read about your products. Your staff need to understand your policies. You need to communicate your success. We work with you to make sure your documents are working as hard as you are. For more information about our policy writing or copywriting, editing and proofreading services click on the links or visit our website

Cheat Sheet: Gaining Consent for Consultation Activities

Here at Active Outcomes, we work with a lot of organisations, both within the private sector and with non-profits such as charity, community, and voluntary groups to deliver consultation and community engagement activities.

We’d like to share the expertise we’ve built up with you and today we’re going to explain exactly how to go about gaining consent from participants in your consultation activity.

Getting Started

Firstly, it is not always necessary to ask for consent, especially when the person being consulted has decided to do it without you prompting them, for example, if they click on a link to complete an online survey to leave feedback about the delivery service they experienced when your product was delivered. This implies consent as they understand what they are providing the information for and have a good idea about how it will be used.

For other kinds of consultation, and in particular, those that will ask for information which the respondent may feel is personally sensitive, it is best practice to provide a short explanation about why you are asking these questions, what the data will be used for and how you will protect any confidential information.

So, for example, while it may not be practical to ask a person you speak to during a telephone interview to complete and sign a written form, you can read out a pre-prepared statement that explains the reasons for your consultation and then ask that they provide consent orally in order to proceed any further with the consultation.


If you are going to speak with respondents directly, one of the easiest ways to record consent is to create a form that participants can sign. This could be as simple as a table that they can each sign and date to say that they have read and understood the text explaining the consultation and agree to the terms. See the example below:

Consent List Template-page-001

This type of form helps people understand what they have been asked to do and can be passed around a group quickly so that it does not take a lot of time if you are limited on that front. However, it does only cover the basics. If you are undertaking more in-depth consultation, we recommend you create a form that each individual can read and refer to alone so that they can make a better assessment about whether they feel comfortable proceeding, without feeling pressured to scan the text, sign their name and pass it on to the person next to them.

What to Include

When designing a consent form we suggest you include the following information:

  • Purpose: Explain why you are asking the questions and what their answers may be used for. Try to be as specific as possible, you can consider having tick boxes so people can consent to one aspect and not another (for example, they could agree that their answers can be used anonymously to feed into an evaluation report that is sent to a funding body but not that they can be made available online on your website).
  • Confidentiality: If you will be maintaining anonymity for participants tell them, if you will not then explain your reasons for asking for this. Tell participants how you will store, process and protect the security of any personally identifiable information they provide to you.
  • Introductions: Some participants may not be familiar with you or your work, introduce the facilitator of the session by name and any other assistants or observers who will be present, tell them about your organisation and what it does.
  • Duration: Be up-front about the amount of time that will be required. If you run the session as a drop-in and participants can leave at any time let them know. If they are required to take part in the full session and it is vital they are present for every question, tell them so before you get started.
  • Procedural Information: Let participants know any important safety information, such as emergency exits, and the location of any facilities they may need to use in the course of the session. Consider explaining how the consultation activity will work as your participants may never have taken part in a focus group or round-table discussion before. Tell them what behaviour is appropriate, for example, not to talk over others, to allow everyone to speak, to help themselves to refreshments.
  • Recording/Photography Consent: As an additional aspect of the consent process, if you will record the session in any format, video, audio or photography, ask for permission to do so, especially if you intend to share images of the people involved publically.

You may have specific requirements to add to this list and some of the information we suggest you include will not be relevant, but we think the above bullet points provide a good starting point for creating a Consultation Consent Form.

We have attached a link to a simple Focus Group Consent Form to help you get started and we’ve placed an image of the document below, click the link that follows to see the PDF version: Focus Group Consent Form.

Focus Group Consent Form-page-001

Remember, try and keep things simple so that everyone understands what information you want and what you are trying to achieve in your consultation.

For more information about the range of consultation and community engagement activities that Active Outcomes offer visit




The Hard Truth about Negative Feedback

I’m going to start off by saying that all feedback is important. Great feedback from your service users that you can instantly share with the world to let everyone know what you can offer is a fantastic marketing tool. Plus, it makes you feel good about what you have achieved. Win win.

Do you sense a ‘but’ might be coming up…?

But, negative feedback can be so much more important. I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the phrase ‘We learn from our mistakes‘ or some variant along those lines. It’s true. If people ask me what Active Outcomes do well I can explain the services I offer and direct them toward testimonials from previous clients that will help new customers understand what they can expect to achieve when working with us. What is harder to know, is what people might not like about working with us. Hopefully nothing, we really do try and take care of all our customers – but if we (or you) were getting something wrong – wouldn’t you rather know about it and fix the issue?

What is harder to know, is what people might not like about working with us. Hopefully nothing, we really do try and go above and beyond to take great care of all our customers – but if we (or you, for that matter) were getting something wrong – wouldn’t you rather know about it and fix the issue?

That’s why we think negative feedback is so vital. If you never get any negative feedback you might want to ask yourself why? Are you really hitting every target, or could you be doing anything better? If you get any negative feedback, be open to it, think carefully about how to respond to it and whether you need to take action to address it.

It might seem counterintuitive, but nobody is perfect and we think it is important to gain more negative feedback. You can try to prod gently when asking for feedback to see if there is anything you could improve, anything else they would like to see you offer. Give some examples of things you think are not working so well and see what your customers have to say.

We work with a lot of charities and we find that when we consult with their service users, the people who have been helped by the charity are so grateful for their support that they don’t want to say anything negative about them. Sometimes they simply can’t think of a single negative experience they could report, at others, they don’t want to offend.

In the case of charities, lay your cards on the table and tell your service users how important it is to your organisation that you gain negative feedback so that you can show funders that you are constantly working to improve the service you offer and are acting on suggestions from your service users.

We will be sharing more advice on consultation here on our blog and we have some videos on our YouTube channel to help you with designing consultation activities. To watch our Top Tips for Planning Consultation and Engagement Activities see:

If you’d like some support consulting your customers, Active Outcomes can help, we are completely impartial and experienced in conducting consultation and community engagement activities. We can provide you with completely independent feedback to provide to funding bodies or to help inform strategic planning.




Cheat Sheet: SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis offers an organisation an insight into the current picture and identifies Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

You can use this analysis tool to cover projects or the organisation as a whole, it can inform strategic planning, help you establish the case for a project or to review what impact your work is having and what you could improve. It can be hugely helpful in the decision-making process.

One of the main features we love at Active Outcomes is that it acts as a springboard, allowing you to look objectively at internal and external factors and how they relate to your work. Simply working through and listing items under each of the four headings often leads to the discovery of new connections between your strengths and opportunities that you had never realised before. It also helps you see where you could make improvements to strengthen your organisation and prevent against any outside threats becoming reality.

It doesn’t need to be complicated, you can get started with a simple table that covers each of the four categories as described below:

  • Strengths: what does your organisation or project have to offer that gives it a distinct advantage?
  • Weaknesses: what characteristics might place your project or organisation at a disadvantage when compared with others?
  • Opportunities: is there anything your organisation could be doing better and fully exploiting internally or externally to gain an advantage?
  • Threats: can you forsee any environmental factors (internal or external) that could potentially cause issues for your project or organisation?

Strengths and Weaknesses should focus on internal factors, what you could be doing better and what you already do well.

Opportunities and Threats cover external factors, so consider what are you competitors doing, are there any new regulations on the horizon, do you need to update equipment, are there any opportunities to partner with other organisations to develop your service and so on.

We have included a PDF template for you to download and print (available by clicking on the ‘SWOT Analysis Template’ link below) to get you started with the process.

SWOT Analysis Template

This is what the template looks like:

SWOT Analysis Template-page-001-1



As you can see, so far so simple. We suggest you print it off and get brainstorming ideas. It doesn’t have to be completed perfectly first time, it is a tool to get you thinking and making connections. Jot down all your ideas, scribble them out when they’re not right, think outside the box. Get your colleagues involved and see if they can suggest anything you might have missed. As with any tool of this nature, it is a platform, the harder you push off the further it will take you.

Even if you don’t have a lot of time to spend completing this analysis, it is such an easy way to set down your ideas about future direction and helps you see at-a-glance how your project could expand and what might threaten that growth it is worth putting aside a little time to work on it.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a try, and, as always, if you need any help get in touch at and we’ll be glad to offer some pointers. We offer a range of services to help with strategic planning and organisational reviews.


Cheat Sheet: Risk Logs

Managing risk is an essential part of everyday life. When planning a project, creating and maintaining a Risk Log is something we recommend you make an essential component.

It sounds like it should be complicated, right? Wrong! It needn’t be any more complicated than the example I am going to walk you through now, it’s an easy topic, one that anyone who has ever tried to plan a barbeque in Britain will be able to follow.


There are eight columns in the risk log template above:

  1. Risk – the name of the risk.
  2. Probability – the likelihood of it happening, 1 = very unlikely, 5 = certain.
  3. Impact – what will the effect on your project will be, 1 = no real issue caused, 5 = catastrophic, derailing the entire project.
  4. Risk Score – Probability Score x Impact Score = Risk Score. The lower the better.
  5. Mitigation – what could you do to manage this risk, either making it less likely to occur or preventing it having such a huge impact?
  6. Contingency – what will you do if the worst does happen?
  7. Action Owner – who is responsible for taking action to prevent the risk?
  8. When – at what point does the Action Owner need to respond?

Our example project is planning a BBQ. So we need to come up with the risks associated and then populate the table. The first risk that sprung to my mind was RAIN!


Rain is a quite a risk, but to prevent it spoiling the fun you can plan when to hold your event carefully to avoid the times of year when it is most likely to occur. You can also hire a marquee (just in case), move indoors or hand out umbrellas to guests as a contingency if the weatherman gets it wrong and it does happen to be raining on the big day.

The next image shows a few more risks at the BBQ and what can be done to manage them.



  • A Risk Log can and should be a working document, updated regularly to reflect any changing circumstances.
  • Include risks no matter how trivial they seem. One thing often leads to another and sometimes a small thing can trigger a huge unintended consequence.
  • Get as many people as possible involved in brainstorming risks to add to the log, it always helps to get a different perspective, they may spot a few things you missed.

Have a go at completing the Risk Log below to see how easy it is.


Get in touch with Active Outcomes if you’d like some more information about risk management. We’d love to chat via Twitter @ActiveOutcomes, email, or visit our website at