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Forecasting the impacts…

Starting a project and launching straight into a consultation without considering the likely positive and negative impact(s) of the project looks something like this…

Risky.

Impact assessments may not be the most exciting part of the process; however, they are an essential ingredient to successful and effective policy making.

Let’s consider a recent case which went to judicial review where impacts played an important role in the challenge. Last year, in 2019, a judicial review was bought against a Welsh Council over the decision to close a leisure centre; R (ex parte Williams) v Caerphilly CC). Had the Council demonstrated it had given ‘due regard’ to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)? It had prepared an impact assessment in 2017 (although it was described as ‘wholly inadequate’) but was this enough? No. The council then prepared another assessment for the decision on the Strategy but had not undertaken an exercise specifically for the closure of the Centre at Pontllanfraith. How could it have understood the impacts of this particular closure? Ultimately, the Court ruled that the Council had failed to meet its Equality Act 2010 obligations.

Our point of briefly summarising this case is to help explain that impact assessments are a key piece to the puzzle in your project; and they are not just a one-off exercise. They are not only a legal obligation which help to minimise the risk of challenge but are also an essential part of the engagement and consultation timeline in terms of working towards and achieving best practice.

So how can we achieve this?

Here are a few best practice pointers from us:

  • Involve multiple people in identifying the impacts. It can be challenging for one individual to identify all the possible impact(s) of a proposal. Whilst some impacts may be obvious, others may not be easily identifiable. Engaging with a range of stakeholders to get their views on the potential impact(s) is valuable.
  • Detailed and evidenced-based impact assessment. Include supporting evidence of population and demographic data to identify and quantify the potential scale of the impact. Use this to analyse the impact with each group.
  • Consider short-, mid- and long-term impacts. Identifying such impacts will make you aware of all potential risks and will have time to propose mitigation and implement performance improvement measures and actions very early on.
  • Update the impact(s) as you go through the process. After the initial impact assessment is completed, update as you go through the process. It may also be useful if the impacts of the proposal are raised in the consultation itself. This may not only spark a debate during a consultation but may also generate viable ideas and suggestions from those who are mostly impacted.

Overall, impact assessments bring greater transparency to the policy-making process, and if done correctly, departments will end up with robust evidence to support decision-makers. If you’d like to know more about impact assessments, the Institute offers both training and advice and guidance as support.

 

Sheena Ahmed

Public Policy and Research Officer The Consultation Institute

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