Fake News danger dominates tCI Connect
It may have been the ‘in’ term two years ago, but the perils of public perceptions were much to the fore at tCI’s major networking event of the year in Birmingham this week.
Almost 130 professionals gathered together on Wednesday to hear 17 practical sessions on subjects as varied as co-production, continuous engagement, risk assessment, and identifying skills gaps. In an overflowing ‘Challenge Room’, participants heard of real-life consultation and engagement experiences from East-West Rail, BDB Pitmans, NHS England and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
Most prominent, however, were two completely topical keynote addresses. Professor Leighton Andrews of Cardiff University is the former Education Minister for Wales who has just published the authoritative book on Facebook, Media and Democracy. His analysis confirms the challenges faced by public policy decision-makers when message manipulation on Facebook and other social media has so much influence.
This was perfectly complemented by Bobby Duffy, a long-term friend of the Institute and now Professor of Public Policy at King’s College, London. He was previously MD of Ipsos-MORI and drew extensively on its data to publish The Perils of Perception – why we’re wrong about nearly everything. In a thought-provoking and entertaining session, he demonstrated that consultation professionals were not much different in their misconceptions than the rest of us.
Clearly, this matters, for the confusions that afflict stakeholder communities as well as the general public, have a major bearing on consultations in many sectors. The debate surrounds whether these are the result of natural human tendencies towards confirmation bias, false memory and nostalgia for the past – as Duffy proves – or the malign influence of fake news purveyors and the lack of social media regulation as asserted by Leighton Andrews.
So many of the specialist sessions, including important discussions on the impact of recent legal judgments, focus on what people are told, and what people believe. There was even a recent case when messages tweeted by a Government department to accompany the launch of a public consultation risked pre-determining the outcome!
Quintin Oliver, chairing the event in the Institute’s sixteenth year quoted examples of important consultations well beyond the UK. And he forecast that after the General Election, – whoever won – there would be a major increase in consultation activity on public policy. For consultation professionals to remain at the forefront of world best practice, there would need to be a renewed commitment to training and continuous learning. He pledged the continuing support of the Institute to help members and supporters in these tasks.
tCI Connect was a really effective occasion. In the words of a Consultation Officer from a County Council in the North of England, it was “very well organised with brilliant speakers and session leaders.” Next week, the Institute’s newsletter will provide more summaries of key presentations delivered at this year’s Connect event.