Continuing my Top 10 Consultation Tip series, here are my thoughts on Tip 2 – distinguishing what you must do from what you should …

In an interesting recent exercise, the leaders of an organisation which needed to consult the community about the creation of a new school were fixated on ‘what is required’ – i.e. their formal obligations.

They were looking for a detailed set of instructions.

In fact, as is usually the way, there were few specifics that were formally required. In their case, it was nothing more than a letter to the Secretary of State and an ad in the local paper.

Of course you need to be aware of any such formal requirements and cover these off as a minimum. But this organisation was struggling to see past this and think clearly about what else they should be doing to make their consultation as effective as possible.

Almost always, formal obligations are less interesting than best practice and guidelines – such as, for public bodies, the Cabinet Office’s Consultation Principles 2013.

But even these amount to little more than covering the basics.

What’s much more important is to think about is what you should be doing for each project – to run a thorough, effective exercise and produce the best end result.

Who do you need to consult? How can you best explain the subject to them?

What range of activities will best engage your audiences and inspire them to take part? What are the best channels to reach them?

So yes, definitely nail your formal requirements first – if there are any. And then remind yourself of best practice guidelines if that helps.

But recognise that this is just a starting point. The most important thing is to think intelligently and creatively about what else you should be doing to run the best possible consultation in your particular case.


More to follow soon on my other consultation tips.

In the meantime, please do contribue any other ideas or anecdotes on running truly effective public consultation.

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