What to do with missing responses?

Okay, so you may have seen headlines like ‘The Department for Transport has confirmed the number of overlooked High Speed 2 consultation responses has risen to 1,135’? For any consultation professional this is a nightmare scenario: weeks or months after you have completed your analysis and written your final report a batch of ‘missing’ responses turns up. Why ‘missing’? Because to be missing surely they must have been known about in the first place. So it is more likely that they were unknown, or unidentified. Anyway, more importantly, this kind of situation begs the question: ‘What do we do in the case of missing responses?”. So here are some thoughts.

1. Do a missing response analysis. First of all analyse the missing responses.  Look for variations in the findings compared to your results from all the other responses. If there aren’t any ‘significant’ differences then good.  If there are, then work out if the number of missing responses is substantial enough to change your findings.  If not, good for you. If they are, then you will need to redo the analysis with the missing responses included.

2. It is not all about numbers so check the detail.  Do any of the missing responses contain anything so substantive that they may change your conclusions? Or change your decisions?   If so you may need to reconsider your findings, with the missing responses included.  If this does not apply then a polite apology and proof that similar views are reflected in the findings already may suffice.

3. Check for ‘VIPs’.  If the missing responses are from some, one, (or heaven forbid) all of your very important stakeholders then this may undermine your consultation findings.  So you need to check who is included in the missing responses. If you have missed out ‘VIPs’ then your findings may need to change depending on what they have said (see 2..check the detail, above)

4. Check the dates.  Whilst not a perfect solution this is your get out-of-jail-free card. Check the missing responses for when they were received.  If they were received after the consultation end date then you can exclude them. This may be mean but is legitimate. But see 1,2 and 3 above.

5. Any more? There are probably more so your contributions and views are welcome.

Posted by Jonathan Bradley

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