TOWER HAMLETS COUNCIL has defended its practice of asking residents to sign into its website before completing online surveys – claiming the practice is more convenient and “robust”.
A few days ago we reported that Tower Hamlets Council was asking residents to let it know how they have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic – so that the Council could improve its services (Tower Hamlets Council conducts Corona survey).
Residents were asked to do the survey online but were given the option of ringing the Council and giving answers over the phone. Those who did answer the questions online were asked to log into the survey, providing their email address. We asked the Council why it was necessary to provide an email address before doing the survey – and whether the survey was confidential on this basis.
In response, a Tower Hamlets spokesperson said:
“Our coronavirus impact survey will help us to better understand how our residents have been impacted by the pandemic so that we can tailor our support services to suit the needs of our diverse communities.
“The survey sits on our new consultation and engagement platform, Let’s Talk Tower Hamlets, which makes it simpler and easier for residents to have their say on things that matter to them in one place.
“We are asking residents to register with their email address as this is the most robust way of collecting feedback and has a range of benefits for both the individual using the platform and the council in terms of quality of data received.
“Residents can be assured that we take our privacy obligations seriously – any information they give is treated confidentially, they will not be contacted about their answers, and results of the survey will not be viewed, analysed or reported alongside any personal data.”
It’s always difficult getting a straight answer out of the Council – and this is a case in point.
Para 1: there can be no argument with this. The Council consulting residents on the services it delivers can only be a good thing.
Para 2: Consultations used to be in one place – the consultations page. If they are now on a page called “Let’s Talk Tower Hamlets”, that just means they are in a different single place. The new place is no easier to find than the last place. Residents need to bookmark the page or regularly search for it: there is no change there – or the Council needs to flag up the consultations, or their page, on the home page of the main website.
Para 3: This is classic Council-Speke – in other words, it is essentially nonsense. There is nothing about handing over an email address that makes the collection of feedback “robust”. Handing over an email address proves that you have (or have just invented) an email address: nothing more and nothing less. Entering an email address does not bring any benefits for the individual – let alone a range of them. It may waste a few seconds of their time, but otherwise there are no benefits. It is no wonder that the Council doesn’t name any of the benefits it claims residents will receive from entering their email address. Similarly, entering an email address will not change the quality of the data the Council receives. There must be thousands of residents who would testify that they would answer questions with exactly the same answers whether they had first given an email address or not.
Para 4: This is the important bit. The Council is now on record as saying that it will not view, analyse or report any information supplied by residents alongside the email address that could identify them. That’s welcome news – though it does make the Council’s suggestion that providing the email address improves the quality of the responses. How the quality is improved by providing an email address that the Council promises not to look at is utterly Orwellian.
●To see the current Council consultations, go to: