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Consultation Data – Quality or Quantity? – Getting the right balance between qualitative and quantitative methods lies at the heart of much consultation planning

Listening effectively to the public, through professionally-organised consultations is a challenge. If decision-makers are to do better than just respond through knee-jerk reactions to opinion-poll data, care is needed to select consultation methods that provide the most useful and meaningful insight into the issues.

There is no shortage of methods. At the last count, the Institute recognises almost 40 different techniques, some of which are quantitative in that they are based upon understanding how many people or groups believe something, and others are qualitative. By this we mean ways of appreciating what they mean, and the dynamics of a debate.

But what is the relationship between quantitative and qualitative methods? Is it a choice of one or another? Or can they be used in combination?

The answer is that the best forms of consultation will almost always involve the judicious use of both types of techniques. A few examples may explain:-

  • A straightforward consultation to test residents’ views on a proposal to build, say, a new shopping precinct – could be done using a questionnaire. But more may be learnt if some residents are able to participate in a focus group so that hidden concerns and issues not easily highlighted in the survey can be discussed and considered.

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About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

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