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The Formality Threshold – Process implications and expectations are such that it’s important to recognise when a consultation is formal and when it is not

The telephone rings.

“Hello; this is John. Can I pick your brains for a few minutes …..?”

Is this consultation?

The answer, of course is Yes. This type of informal dialogue forms an integral part of most people’s jobs. Every Manager, every service provider, every policy-maker at some point feels the need to ask advice of those who are impacted by their actions. It is one of the natural lubricants of decision-making, with few rules, no real expectations and pretty idiosyncratic.

So when does informal consultation become formal? Is there a definable threshold, crossing which renders the process different in character if not substance? There are four potential answers. One is obvious – when there is a statutory requirement. But the other three call for some head-scratching.


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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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