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Guidance on Guidance

How much attention should we give to consultation guidance?

In the ideal world, consultation happens when those about to take decisions or adopt policies recognise the value of listening to others’ views before proceeding. In the real world, consultation often arises because a body of superior authority has ruled that it is necessary.

Sometimes it is fully spelt out in primary legislation, though the different wording of statutes over the years have led to interesting interpretations in the Courts. This paper looks at those occasions where consultation – or the rules by which they are conducted – are prescribed in various types of Guidance.

There is a difference, and those whose roles are to organise consultations need to be very aware of the implications. Firstly, Guidance may well be issued by the parent organisations who will regard conformance as a management requirement. Your Chief Executive wins a few marks if he or she takes a cavalier approach to which Guidance to follow and which to ignore. Secondly, Guidance can remove uncertainty by laying down sector-specific rules as to how to run a consultation – who or how to engage, for how long, and with what terms or reference. Clear, consistent guidance may help; over-complex, confusing instructions do the opposite. Finally, Guidance influences expectations. Not just for consultors and consultees, but can be a factor in any judicial reviews where Courts are called upon to rule upon the legality of the exercise.


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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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