I haven’t posted anything about the EU referendum on this blog, although I have made no secret about which way I voted on my personal facebook and twitter pages. The last few weeks have, however, got me thinking about consultation: when is it good to ask the public what they think?
Lots of the funding applications I write are strengthened by public/user consultation and funders look for this (as evidence that the project is needed) in a good bid. What I am reading in the aftermath of the referendum has made me think about what makes a good consultation (not that the referendum was a consultation, it was a vote, but I think there are still lessons that can be learned).
A dictionary definition of consultation is: “The process of discussing something with someone in order to get their advice or opinion about it.” This is different from a vote. This is not allowing the public to make a decision, this is listening to the public’s views, opinions and advice to inform a final decision. Public opinions might be considered alongside an expert/specialist point of view. The people running the project will also have an opinion (based on previous experience) and this will also be taken into account.
My thoughts around good consultation are:
This has been on my mind a lot since the referendum but this post is not meant to be about the EU, the referendum result or even the way the referendum was carried out (or whether it should have been carried out at all). Real-life examples are useful to understand the activities that we carry out professionally and I have found it impossible not to compare the referendum to the smaller scale public/community consultations that are essential in my work. I actually think the referendum would have been better as a consultation. It wasn’t, and I can’t change that, but I can make sure I understand what I believe is good about consultation and ensure that I deliver this in my projects in the future.