Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Making consultation meaningful

The Neighbourhood Plan consultation period has just come to a close:
Futures Forum: Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan: "last chance for people to have their say on how the Sid Valley should be developed over the next 15 years"

And this has been the widest piece of consultation ever conducted in the Sid Valley
Consultations – Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan
Sid Valley residents asked to take part in ‘the most significant’ consultation’ in the area | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

Unfortunately, the term 'consultation' is overused if not abused.

The East Devon Watch blog has been looking at what 'consultation' means over the past couple of months, for example:
Consultation by Parliament should be more than asking people for their views then ignoring them | East Devon Watch
Is a new, powerful supra-regional authority being created without public consultation? | East Devon Watch

Indeed, even when 'consultation' is patronisingly provided, it's pretty meaningless anyway: 


16 OCT 2017

“Consultations are often a legal requirement for government departments – but this sometimes means they are formulaic and ineffective. In an extract from his report, Creating a democracy for everyone: strategies for increasing listening and engagement by government, Jim Macnamara (University of Technology Sydney/ LSE) looks at some of the failings of government consultation, and the problems with one NHS consultation [NHS Mandate public consultation conducted in October 2015] in particular.”

Tick-box “consultations” | East Devon Watch

Or, from the original article, some very practical suggestions on how to deal with these failings:

Many government consultations are more about meeting legal requirements than listening : Democratic Audit UK

Indeed, why not go further:

Here's more from the Consultation Institute: 

Tackling the ‘black hole’ of consultation

March 23, 2018

The Case for Public Consultation Hearings

In its latest Briefing Paper, the Institute argues the case for Public Consultation Hearings. In the recommended format, organisations undertaking a consultation will provide the opportunity for selected consultees to appear before decision-makers and give their evidence and their viewpoint – a little like Parliamentary Select Committees.

It is not a new idea, but there are important reasons why the time is right to consider these forms of dialogue:

> People are heartily fed up with perfunctory, tick-in-the box forms of dialogue, especially simplistic online surveys with questions like 'Do you agree with us that we should revise the regulations …. Blah blah.?' Serious stakeholders want a better level of debate that considers issues properly. Public hearings can help.

> We have to tackle what can be described on the week of Stephen Hawkins’ death as the consultation ‘black hole’ It is where respondents make a submission or reply to a consultation but have no idea what happens to their views. Does anyone read them? Are they considered? If so, by whom. It is as if responses disappear down a black home never to reappear. Public hearings are one way to demonstrate that consultors listen!

> All the emphasis is now on digital dialogues, and they have many fine features that encourage participation by large numbers who might not have responded using traditional methods. Public hearings can be a welcome antidote to the de-personalisation of electronic media – where real people can be seen to sit down and discuss evidence. Video-streaming can make this visible and transparent to far wider audiences, and be living proof that consultation is really taking place.

The Briefing Paper looks at the role of evidence in public debate, and the need for participants in consultations to evidence their claims and assertions. It then presents the arguments in favour of public hearings, and explores whether they might work in the context of public consultations. For existing public engagement practitioners, the most valuable section may well be on the practicalities of organising a programme of hearings and the challenges that might need to be overcome.

Tackling the ‘black hole’ of consultation — The Consultation Institute

And whilst the District Council has made some timid forays into 'participation', it could do much more:
Futures Forum: Beach Management Plan: meeting Thursday 15th March >>> report
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: delivering petition to full District Council > report
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >> Scoping Study consultants' final report presented to Reference Group > more in the press

For example, again from the Consultation Institute:
5 ways that planners should use online community engagement — The Consultation Institute

And from others on the subject of 'participatory budgeting':
A look at Participatory Budgeting / mySociety
Participatory budgeting: An empowering democratic institution | Eurozine

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