Fear of consultation or fear of change?

Historically the word ‘consultation’ has put fear and anxiety into many a local authority around decision-making with residents in mind; however we now need to embrace this as an opportunity to have a two-way conversation where opinions are exchanged, considered and not ultimately dismissed.

Successful consultations have been a cornerstone for councils to provide services that are more catered to members of the public in changing times, while keeping an eye on decreasing budgets in this era of austerity.

Often there is a misconception between the terms ‘consultation’ and ‘research/engagement’. The word consultation gets bandied around often when we as an authority want to talk to residents about services we provide, not necessarily when a decision needs to be made. We see research as a process using evidence gained from primary or secondary research methods to ensure that the voice of citizens is used in developing service delivery, while consulting is something different.

The fundamental point of undertaking a consultation or consulting is if there is a major decision needed on reorganising services, a decision which will significantly affect end users of a service, or there is a statutory requirement to consult.

This process can be very worrying times for residents, stakeholders and partner agencies who use a service which may have a major decision looming. But the importance of a local authority showing their dealt hand, encourages trust and understanding with people who may need to know why we are consulting in the first place.

There are some key principles for statutory consultations that need to be considered.

Consultations should:

  • Be clear and easy to understand
  • Be purposeful
  • Contain the correct information
  • Last long enough to capture sufficient feedback
  • Encourage everyone to take part
  • Reports should be made available publicly

These principles should allow transparency around the process, and scrutiny to ensure we have the correct evidence prior to a decision being made.

So why the fear? Why do we all shudder at those words ‘public consultation’? Is it the fact that we associate these words with ‘LOSS’ or is it that fact that we as a society are not receptive to ‘CHANGE’?

There is nothing that says that services get worse after a consultation. In fact, everyone should see consultation as a means of change for good. This should mean services are more focused on people who use and need them, with resident’s opinions helping the local authority to make decisions with everyone’s best interests at heart.

If you would like to talk about statutory or non-statutory consultations, please get in touch with the Head of Research & Citizen Insight, Duncan Taylor.

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