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Parkinson’s Law – Does this 1950’s theory apply to consultations?

When C. Northcote Parkinson first mooted his theory in the pages of the Economist in the mid-1950s, could he perhaps have foreseen how relevant it might be to 21st century public administration?

Stated simply, the Law suggests that work expands to fill the time available; a subsequent variation applied to information technology said that data expands to fill the available storage space. How applicable is this thinking to the delicate arts of public participation and consultation?

Two particular aspects appear relevant. First, do consultations themselves expand to fill the time available? We are all familiar with debates which appear to go on and on…and on. We may witness a succession of consultations on different aspects of the same issue, and there are a growing number of complaints about what are perceived to be consultations about consultations about consultations. The danger is that only dialogue junkies become engaged, and many people just switch off. Is there maybe a case for fewer, shorter, better structured debates?


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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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