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Affinity Water: Customer Deliberative Forums

Background

Every five years water companies are required by the regulator Ofwat to take part in a Price Review process which determines the balance of investment, price and service packages water companies provide customers. Affinity Water, like all water companies in England, is required to submit a Business Plan as part of this process and ensure that customers are engaged in this process.

What we did

In July 2013 OPM hosted 4 deliberative forums for Affinity Water customers across Affinity Water’s region. The purpose of these events was to discuss the:

  1. Acceptability of the draft business plan: does the proposed plan achieve the right balance between the service people receive and the cost they pay?
  2. Outcome measures: do the proposed measures of success enable customers to judge Affinity Water’s performance?
  3. Style, content and language of the ‘Our Business Plan Consultation’ document.

Each event involved a cross section of 50 customers from the local area and were designed so that the majority of the discussion sessions were held in small groups, each supported by an OPM facilitator. Periodically, plenary sessions were held to feedback on the main points raised in the small group discussions.There were also 4 interactive voting sessions. At the start of each event every participants was provided with a remote control keypad which they could use to vote on questions throughout the day.

At several points during each event a senior staff member from Affinity Water gave a presentation. After each presentation, participants had a chance to discuss on their tables what they had heard. For the majority of the day participants were asked to discuss the following 4 customer ‘expectations’:

  1. Making sure our customers have enough water;
  2. Supplying high quality water you can trust;
  3. Minimising disruption to you and your community; and
  4.  Providing a value for money service.

For each of these expectations they were asked to discuss how they felt about Affinity Water’s proposed investment level in terms of what it would deliver against the amount it would add to their bills. They were also asked to contrast this with slower and faster pace investment levels.

For each expectation they were then asked to look at the proposed measures for assessing how well Affinity Water is performing against it. For each measure they were asked to discuss whether it was clear what the measure means, whether it would measure what it is intended to measure and whether they felt that any other measures would be helpful.

The final small group discussion today tasked participants with looking at the ‘Our Business Plan Consultation’ and commenting on: whether the language used is accessible; if any diagrams or photos used are helpful; if the report looks interesting; and whether they felt it was the right length or not.

Impact

The events were well received, with attendees giving consistently high quality feedback on the event facilitation and design. The results of the event were fed directly into the deliberations of the Affinity Water Senior Management and some of the findings, particularly on options for investment were taking into account in the final business plan.

You can read more about OPM and Affinity Water’s experience of engaging customers in the Price Review process in a joint article written for Utility Week.