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The PR19 journey – research, engagement and insight

The PR19 journey – research, engagement and insight

On the 3rd September all water companies across England and Wales submitted their PR19 business plans to Ofwat for the years 2020-2025.

As part of PR19, all water companies were tasked with setting out a detailed business plan outlining how they will meet the needs of their customers from 2020 to 2025 and beyond. Plans were urged to cover and review a range of topics, but one area underpinned this period of price review and that was customer engagement.

We asked Explain’s Research Director, Rebecca Crinson to share her experience of delivering insight to support customer engagement throughout PR19.

Q. When did the PR19 journey start for Explain?

A. The business planning process is an evolving ongoing part of our research strategy with clients in the water sector, specifically, we have been helping our clients with PR19 readiness since PR14! Behind the scenes the team were reviewing the regulatory approach to PR14 and planning for PR19, ensuring we were aware of Ofwats proposed methodologies and areas of focus.

We first sat down with one of our clients Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) in February 2017 to look at the specifics of the PR19 research and engagement plan. During this period, we also started working with SES Water and South Staffs Water to support their PR19 research programme.

Q. What were the phases to engagement throughout PR19?

A. We identified three core phases to research and engagement for PR19;

  1. Priorities based work – Identifying what is important to customers and stakeholders and where they want to see improved and or stretching performance. Working with our clients in the sector to explore ‘what does best in class performance look like’ focussing on co-creation and service delivery
  2. Willingness to pay and service valuation – This was a central part to PR19. Understanding customers willingness to pay for services and more specifically in this round of price review, we explored how to innovate. Our approach included digital tools and gamification to support cognitively robust insights on a topic which is renowned for being difficult to engage customers in
  3. Acceptability – In this final phase we packaged up the business plan and engaged with customers and stakeholders to measure their ‘acceptability’ of the plan. We wanted to ensure that they had the right level of detail to make an informed decision. We used live in the moment voting and deliberative engagement to support this phase of research to measure acceptability.

Q. Who did Explain work with during the PR19 journey?

A.  The whole Explain team were involved in some capacity in PR19, including the senior management team, client services team, data insights and full research centre team, it was a real team effort!

We worked with:

  • NWG from initial exploratory research through to acceptability
  • South Staffs Water with a focus on Performance Commitments (PCs) and Outcome Delivery Incentives (ODIs) and valuing these via innovative methods
  • SES Water designing social tariffs, measuring acceptance of a small company premium and exploring customer priorities
  • We also continue to run and manage online communities for NWG and SES Water.

Q. What were the challenges and how did Explain overcome them?

A. The main challenge was exploring innovative techniques to deliver customer engagement. The topics throughout PR19 were complex, and to deliver robust insight we always focus on ways to meaningfully engage with customers.

Explaining topics like PCs and ODIs takes some outside the box thinking, we used creative deliberative methodologies using digital tools in workshop environments.

Q. What were the differences from PR14?

A. Simply, enhanced engagement. Throughout PR19 our focus was on co-creating the plan with customers, not just going to customers with ideas and seeking their approval. Also, the move away from pure reliance on stated preference research and exploring other meaningful ways of delivering valuations for service improvements, for example using gamified tools.

Q. What have you learnt?

A. Focussing on enhanced engagement at our design sprint at NWG’s Innovation Festival this summer, we learnt that water companies touch our lives at so many key points. Water companies can embrace that and increase engagement through demonstrating the value of water and why it is important for people to participate. We designed new models for enhanced engagement at the Innovation Festival which we will continue to develop.

Q. What should water companies do next?

A. Not let the momentum drop! Take stock, reflect and then continue to strive forwards towards active participation.

The team at Explain have been conducting independent research and engagement within the water sector for over 20 years working throughout PR09, PR14 and PR19. They are experts at putting in place research programmes to deliver against the changing needs of the sector.

On 4th October 2018, experts from the Explain team are presenting their findings from the Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival at the MRS Utilities Conference. The findings focus on the future of customer engagement in the utilities sector and innovation in the market research sector to future proof and provide solutions to engage with customers.

Contact Rebecca for further information on how Explain can support your business.