Effective Consultation: re-think, re-design and re-skill
Effective consultation with stakeholders is essential for government departments, public agencies and local authorities alike:
- It ensures that policies, plans, projects or decisions are properly informed by real experience.
- It earns credibility, trust and support.
- It builds better working relationships with businesses, voluntary bodies and local communities alike.
- It makes it easier to achieve public policy objectives and outcomes.
Effective consultation is not easy. Many interests have a legitimate right or desire to 'be involved'. The public sector has to interact with organisations, communities and individuals at several geographical levels. New technology enables almost instantaneous reactions to be obtained through diverse media. Public expectations of consultation have never been higher. In this context, the 'default' 12-week 'formal written consultation' model of recent years looks increasingly out-dated and inappropriate. More effective approaches are now available which offer significant benefits for everyone involved in terms of reduced costs, burdens and delays.
The Coalition Government's desire to develop the 'Big Society' - with communities and local authorities taking more responsibility for actions previously driven from the centre - is encouraging greater engagement at all levels. The resulting challenge for those managing specific consultations is compounded by expected reductions in the staff resources, budgets, and time available for this work.
Public bodies accordingly need to re-think and re-design consultation processes and to develop new capabilities - to re-skill. The necessary change programme needs to emphasise networked learning across the public sector. Our case study shows how our support enabled a Government Department to transform its approach to consultation.