I recently outlined my top 10 tips for running a great public consultation.

These were just brief maxims. I said I’d go into more detail on each – so here are my thoughts on the first tip:

Tip 1.    Have a plan

This means don’t just dive in. Be fully prepared with a clear, structured plan from the outset covering:

  • what
  • whom
  • how
  • when
  • where (in that order)

Of course it needs to start with why: being clear about your objectives always helps the rest fall into place.

Your plan can’t be fixed in stone: it may need to change as circumstances unfold. But having it in the first place will help you a great deal.

Most importantly, as part of this preparation process, anticipate the difficulties that lie ahead. There are always some – often many.

What are the potential hurdles in terms of the process you intend to run?

Is it robust? Are there gaps?  Where could it fall down?

Are you under-consulting? Are you over-consulting (it can happen, resulting in wasted time and consultation fatigue)?

Anticipate objections to the scheme in hand. To what might people react badly? Why? How would that affect your consultation process – and your broader reputation?

If you think this through you might, for example, foresee that you need additional information to give out, or a team to handle a stream of questions and concerns.

For really contentious issues, you might even realise you need to organise security staff for crowd control. (I’ve had to do that – and on another occasion was assaulted at a meeting by an agitated consultee, but that’s another story.)

What might people misunderstand and how can you avoid that?

What’s your contingency plan if things go awry?

Foreseeing as many pitfalls as possible will enable you to avoid some of them altogether and prepare your response to others. So you’ll be ready when they hit you (I mean the pitfalls, not the consultees).

Practical measures are invaluable here – such as drawing up an internal Q&A and holding briefing sessions to help everyone on the team handle tough questions with a clear, consistent response.

Timescales for implementing a consultation are sometimes tight, but taking the trouble to think this through at the outset will save you time and grief later on and make the end result much more effective.

 

More to follow in the near future on my other nine consultation tips …

In the meantime, I’d love to hear any other ideas for running an effective consultation exercise – and any illuminating anecdotes.

And you can find out more here about our public consultation services