New year, new start: ending consultation fatigue

The expansion of public services over the last decade, and the increasing requirements regarding evidencing of consultation has meant that consultations are held prior to every major public decision at both a local and national level.
This is undeniably an improvement on the past, when many public policy decisions were not properly consulted on.
However, some people feel that they are filling the same forms over and over again. As someone said to us recently “How many times do I have to fill in an ethnic monitoring form and does anybody even look at or comment on the results of that nowadays?”. The danger is that consultation is the conducted in an almost automatic fashion.
There is little evidence that the general public as a whole are over concerned about consultation fatigue. Indeed the last Place Survey showed a large minority who wanted to be more involved.
However organised groups from the voluntary and community sectors can be deluged with consultations from all local stakeholders. We have created a situation where he have defined the “usual suspects” and keep asking them for their views. No wonder many are unhappy.
No-one complains of fatigue if the consultation is a good one:
  • Meaningful
  • Will make a difference
  • Will lead to a real change
What upsets people is having their time taken on consultations which appear to:
  • Lack credibility
  • Be going through the motions
  • Not listen to the views of a lot of people
  • Promote an issue at variance with people’s values
  • Not be followed up by satisfactory feedback – either of the output or the outcome
If people feel that “they won’t listen to what I have to say anyway”, then the consultation is going to make little difference. Authorities can adopt a number of approaches to tackle this.
Tackling Consultation Fatigue
TCC specialise in working in areas where trust and cohesion are low. We know that consultation fatigue can be avoided with careful planning and a real understanding of the local population:
  • Audit: a good understanding of the local consultation history and a sensitivity to the local political culture is vital.
  • Narrative: if there is a legacy of poor practice and low confidence, then it is  vital to create a feeling of ‘new start’ or ‘this is why this will be different’.
  • Authentic Peer to Peer Engagement: the most effective consultation uses people’s own social networks rather than relying on an entirely top down approach.
  • Values Based Segmentation: understanding people’s values allows us to work with the really hard to reach and hard to engage groups.
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