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Consultation training in 2021? When do you think?

It’s a puzzle for providers of professional training.

If only we had a pound for everyone who has written that things will never be the same again! No more conferences. Few, if any meetings. Little or no business travel. Do everything online! If our children can handle home schooling, then surely grown-ups can rely upon technology to learn anything new.

And yet! The longer the lockdown, the more visible the shortcomings of the virtual world. Proving the value of a virtual meeting is one thing; assessing the effectiveness of knowledge or skills transfer is another. For training providers like the Institute, the last 12 months have provided an excellent period of experimentation. Traditional classroom training stopped overnight. Our e-learning suite suddenly became more relevant. The search was on to equip our members with practical ways to learn in different ways.

It is time to take stock. e-learning is a solitary experience, me and my laptop, possibly surrounded by home comforts. The range of courses is now considerable, from quick immersions into questionnaire design, stakeholder mapping or creative dialogue methods through to the long-haul that is the Law of Consultation online. And we have cracked some of the commercial issues by moving to unit pricing and bulk buys. We probably have not done enough to encourage whole teams to follow the courses and then hold zoom /Teams Workshops to discuss the content and make sure everyone has the same understanding of how it might relate to a specific client organisation. But we are giving that considerable thought.

Other formats have evolved. We have been pleasantly surprised as to how the existing training courses, mostly one day-long and delivered by experienced trainers in their own inimitable styles, have lent themselves to being adapted for online delivery by the magic of zoom! Clearly there is, at least for some subjects, a deep desire for a human interpreter of our best practice. Someone to mediate the material, answer the not-so-obvious questions and to place the right emphasis for a particular audience; computers struggle at that!  The zoom groups have to be smaller than traditional courses, and head and shoulders images of your fellow-trainees diminish the social experience somewhat. Obviously, we must curtail the sessions before zoom-fatigue (or Teams Torpor if you prefer) sets in. But, for all its faults, it is a successful socially-distanced alternative, that seems to find favour at this time. It also enables us to offer training internationally!

When might traditional classroom training return?  How long before 15 people will have the confidence to return, no doubt to larger, well-ventilated rooms than before, and participate in the more interactive experience we relied on for 17 of the Institute’s 18 years?

That will depend largely on our members and clients. We would value your input. Over the next month, Directors, staff and Associates are reviewing our plans for 2021 and would love to hear from you. This is not a formal consultation – more a ‘call for evidence’ (for the distinction, there’s probably a Tuesday Topic about five years ago!)

In an email, or by scheduled telephone call, would you please consider giving us your thoughts on four questions that we are considering:

  1. How relevant is our current training portfolio? Or are there specific or new emerging consultation/ public engagement training needs that we should be addressing in 2021. For example, is the scale of staff redeployments such that there are many people appointed to consultation roles with limited experience and therefore need the basics in quantity? Or has the pandemic led to new training priorities such as digital engagement?
  2. To what extent is e-learning becoming the default skills/knowledge transfer method in your organisation? Are we doing enough to promote the range of courses available?
  3. How do your colleagues and your organisation feel about the use of online mediated training? Assume three-hour training modules delivered by our Associates?
  4. Do you foresee the return of traditional classroom training? For public courses, you have the benefit of meeting others from different environments and working together on problem-solving exercises. There is also the option of in-house courses tailored to your own organisation’s characteristics and issues. If so, when do you see these becoming acceptable?


To refresh your minds as to what we currently have available, you may find it useful to remind yourself of what we offer. It is all on the website.

One final thought. Our Certificate of Professional Development has been running for fifteen years and over two thousand people have demonstrated their commitment to best practice by undertaking sufficient training to qualify. Our Advanced Practitioner scheme has involved an online assessment and is less well known. How useful are these to you? And would you wish us to do more in the ‘professional recognition’ area?

This review is urgent, and we need to assemble client views by 12th March. Please send your comments to  Michelle de Branco to arrange a telephone discussion with one of our Directors. Or call 01767 318350.

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’.

Read more about Rhion

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