The ninth of my Top 10 Consultation Tips is to be as open and transparent as possible. It will help you win trust and support. And, in any case, you don’t have anything to hide.

The need for transparency relates to almost all parts of your exercise: the proposals on which you’re seeking feedback, your engagement process, the feedback you receive, the next steps you’ll take and the ultimate result.


Conspiracy theories

Many people distrust authorities and corporations. Especially when schemes are controversial, they’ll be ready to suspect that devious plans are being cooked up behind closed doors. Any lack of transparency – whether deliberate or accidental – can quickly fuel lurid conspiracy theories.

People can easily develop hostile attitudes, imagine the worst and end up opposing everything as a matter of principle. They can make your life difficult and, having reached such a point, will be extremely difficult if not impossible to engage in a meaningful way.

Being honest and open from the start is the most effective way to minimise this danger.

I’m not saying it will prevent all cynicism or conspiracy theories from arising. But it can make the difference between open-minded people being constructive or hostile. I’ve even seen hardened objectors, who tend to expect to encounter secrecy and evasion, be disarmed by a high degree of openness.


What does it mean in practice?

In simple terms, transparency is about making as much information as possible as widely accessible as possible as early as possible. And the Internet is a powerful tool to help.

Taking the main elements of any consultation, it may well mean:

  • Making your proposals as clear you can and available to review from the start – with an honest explanation of what they’re aiming to achieve, why they take the form they do and their likely impact
  • Being open about the consultation process you’ve designed – and ensuring you’ve adopted a method that’s suitably accessible to relevant people in the first place (see Tip 5: Be accessible)
  • Sharing feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly. The Internet, the media and social media are effective tools for this. In many consultations, feedback is kept under wraps until the end (or forever!). But, especially in long-running exercises, why not share elements of it as you go as well as a summary at the end?
  • Explaining how consultation input will be used and what will happen next – e.g. making sure people can review subsequent versions of your evolving scheme
  • Ensuring that, when the show’s all over and your final project is defined, people are able not only to see the end result but to understand how the consultation helped to shape it (more on this to follow in Tip 10)


Taking this approach is not a guarantee of success, nor a fool-proof way to make hostility melt away. But it’s the right thing to do – and it sure will help.


One final consultation tip to follow soon. In the meantime, you can find out more about our public consultation & community engagement services.