Is there a ‘magic moment’ for consultation?
As managers and consultors across the globe will acknowledge – it is hard to please everyone during a public consultation. We frequently have questions from clients across sectors regarding that ‘magic moment’; having enough information on proposals so that consultees can give intelligent consideration, but not being so clued-up that you’ve already formed firm opinions and can be accused of making your mind up.
Campaigners will make a variety of accusations in an attempt to question your proposals and demand better consultation. In 2008, Institute Founder Director, Rhion Jones wrote that the two most frequently heard gripes are:
- This is far too early; everything is too vague. They should work out their proposals first and then ask us…
• This is far too late; everything is cut and dried. They’ve obviously worked out what they want to do, and are just asking us to rubber-stamp their decisions…
So, is this still true 11 years on?
Many of you reading this will most likely be rolling your eyes, having heard these statements time and time again and thinking ‘of course it is.’ But if this is the case, how have we not have learnt from these complaints and come up with a solution? Why do we still struggle with finding that ‘magic moment’?
The answer may lie in the way we are talking to people. Ask yourself: ‘Are we doing enough to speak with those that we know will aid our information gathering? Is our stakeholder mapping effective? Are we asking the right questions, of the right people?’
There will always be the need for a one-off consultation exercise, but do we pay enough attention to the on-going dialogue we should be having? It’s obvious that continuously engaging with stakeholders and service users provides a better opportunity to have a mutual understanding of issues. Is this not how we can identify the ‘magic moment’?
It’s nothing new. Talking to those who are going to be affected will inevitably help you decide when you have enough information to go out to consultation. But, if you’re asking the wrong questions or speaking to the wrong people, the ‘magic moment’ you’re searching for may never appear.
So, in 2019, stop searching for the elusive ‘magic moment’ and take time to focus on whether you’re engaging with the right people , in the right way and at the right time.