Identifying scrutiny topics – 14 helpful questions

Like many other aspects of scrutiny, there is no one size fits all when it comes to identifying topics. Every council will have a different approach and there may even be differences between committees at the same council. Not that this is a bad thing of course. For me what matters is that any process is well thought through and that scrutineers work to improve the way they do this year on year.

Inspired by the very helpful Policy Canvas (from the Policy Lab Open Policy Making Toolkit) here are some questions that you might find useful when thinking about identifying topics.

When selecting topics you might also want to bear in mind the characteristics of a good scrutiny work plan.

Of course mapping and selecting topics is the first stage of a two stage process – the second stage is designing a plan that matches the chosen topics to the right activities in a way that will make the biggest difference. I plan to share something on that soon.

Helpful questions to ask when identifying scrutiny topics

  1. What difference do we hope to make? By selecting the right topics how will scrutiny add value? Who will benefit?
  2. What makes a good scrutiny topic? What are our 3 most important characteristics of a good topic?
  3. What’s the scope? What’s in? What’s out? What can we look at? What can’t we look at?
  4. What resources do we have to help us identify topics? Within the committee? Corporately? Externally? Creative ideas?
  5. How will we decide? How will we filter and prioritise? What tools will we use? Who will make the final decision? Will the public be involved in this process?
  6. Who do we need to advise us? Officer advice? External advice?
  7. Who else should we be asking? How should we be asking them?
  8. What do we know about what the public is concerned about? As councillors? As a council? In partnership?
  9. How do we know what the public is concerned about? What are we doing now? What more could we do?
  10. What are auditors, inspectors and regulators concerned about? What do recent reports say? What have they told us in person?
  11. What are the Council’s main corporate concerns? What are the corporate priorities, issues and risks? What are the budget issues and risks? What are the partnership issues? 
  12. What topics from last year are still relevant? Topics unconsidered? Topics that haven’t been resolved?
  13. How will people know what topics have been selected? How will we communicate to the public? Other councillors? The organisation? Partners?
  14. How will selected topics be reviewed? To make sure they are still the right ones.


By the way – if work planning is something you think I might be able to help you with please drop me a line via my contact page

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