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Engagement from abroad – a different perspective

Taking a break from the world of consultation, this year I visited the beautiful African country of Namibia with my husband, Alistair. We both greatly enjoy watching wildlife and relished the vast emptiness of the game reserves: we self-drove a Ford Ranger 4×4 over 3,000 kilometres – staying at atmospheric camps in the bush.

Towards the end of our holiday, we were in the remote Mamili National Park in the Caprivi Strip and took a game drive with a tracker from the Nkasa Lupala camp. His name was Festus and he was extremely knowledgeable about all the animals and birds we were seeing. Festus also had a natural gift for story telling, which added greatly to the details he imparted. We were quietly watching some wildebeest; it was pretty soporific in the heat, when suddenly his gentle narration really commanded my attention. “At a local meeting, the chief is not allowed to speak, he has to listen to what all the people have to say. If he agrees with what is said, he will wave a wildebeest tail, to show that he approves and that that action should take place.”

I immediately had a somewhat surreal mental picture of a packed public meeting, possibly about the downgrading of an A&E unit, with heated debate from the floor and then an official from NHS England solemnly waving his badge of office… Ridiculous, of course, but the little story is an interesting illustration of how societies have always been discussing matters of importance to them and taking decisions. The first President of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, carried a wildebeest tail, to signify that he was the chief.

I don’t think we will be including this, albeit delightful, consultation method in our comprehensive list. However, it serves as an important reminder that listening to what people have to say, will always help decision-makers appreciate the sentiment of those who will be affected by their actions.

About the Author

Elizabeth’s career has taken her from teaching, through work in the public affairs industry and into the world of public consultation and engagement. As a Director of the Institute, she has helped to develop many of its unique products and services since 2003.

She is the joint author, with Rhion Jones, of “The Art of Consultation” and "The Politics of Consultation". She has researched widely on the subject – both for material for training courses and in order to deliver presentations and executive briefings, particularly on the impact of the law.

Read more about Elizabeth

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