The eighth in my Top 10 Consultation Tips series is genuinely to listen to people’s feedback – and see how this can improve your scheme.

Falling by the wayside

This is another point which, in an ideal world, should go without saying: surely listening is the whole point of a consultation?

Well, yes it should be, but it quite often falls by the wayside nevertheless.

This seems to happen for one (or both!) of two reasons. Either the client is running the exercise only because they feel they have to – perhaps to satisfy a planning authority or because stakeholders or a community are demanding it. They’re not really interested in what people think.

Or, having started a consultation with the best of intentions, critical feedback can make a project team become unconsciously over-protective of its proposals.

In either case, listening stops and telling takes over, sometimes bolstered by a good deal of defensiveness.



The problem is, it will be all too obvious if you’re not really open minded about people’s views, or if yours is a lip-service exercise designed only to tick some boxes.

In these scenarios, it will become – at best – an information exercise rather than a consultation and will leave people frustrated.

At worst, people will condemn it as a sham. It will spark a negative reaction – potentially outright hostility and a fundamental breakdown of trust. And the outcome in terms of relationships and reputation could be far worse than if you’d done nothing at all.


Goodwill & support

On the flip side, you can gain an enormous goodwill and support by really being seen to listen.

And it’s not just about goodwill: if you take them on board wisely, people’s ideas and perspectives often have the potential to make big tangible improvements to proposals.

So what does genuine listening mean in practice?

It’s partly about attitude and tone, of course.

It may mean posing ‘real’ open questions in a questionnaire. At consultation events, it will mean asking people what they think, paying full attention to their responses and being happy to discuss their thoughts and concerns.

Vitally, it also means doing what you can to take views on board after the consultation and seeing how they can improve your project – and communicating that back to consultees (more on this in another post).

There are usually important practical considerations to ensure this, too. A mechanism to capture and analyse people’s views as clearly as possible is essential.

Sufficient time between the end of your consultation and the finalisation of your scheme is also vital – but too often lacking. The space of just a few days or worse doesn’t allow for proper feedback consideration and scheme changes – which will be obvious to all concerned.



None of this means, of course, having to accommodate everyone’s ideas and becoming a slave to consultee feedback.

All consultations have limits, as I recently discussed here.  While many points should be open for feedback and discussion, others will inevitably be fixed and not open for debate.

It’s still fine to listen to those who disagree about these elements. But it’s important to make the boundaries of your exercise clear so you set expectations – or it will come back and bite you further down the line.


So genuinely listen to people’s feedback and take their points on board where possible and you’re likely to have the best possible consultation outcome. But always politely explain where you can’t and why.


More consultation tips to follow soon. Meanwhile, find out more about our public consultation & community engagement services.

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