I recently finished The Art Of Consultation by Rhion Jones and Elizabeth Gammell and to be honest I want to take you through my thought process real quick about this one, it's not exactly at Harry Potter level excitement.
1. Realizes that Public Consultation is very broad and could do with expanding one's knowledge in the area.
2. Searches the web and comes to the conclusion that aforementioned book should make me an expert in the field - or as close to one as I can expect to be from reading a 300-page book on the subject.
3. This book wasn’t cheap.
4. Book arrives and I dive straight in.
5. Public Consultation book has no plot, subplot, main characters - just instructions and user manuals.
6. Saying all that, this book was very readable and I learned some pretty useful things - more about in later pieces.
7. Negatives: could be slightly dated now but alas the moral of the Public Consultation horror story remains the same - public consultation is necessary and rewarding when carried out properly.
What was the one thing that I took from the entire reading? People have serious reservations about the legitimacy of consultation work. And I mean serious reservations!
These reservations arise from two simple reasons; Over Consulting and Consulting For The Sake Of Consulting.
One of the first chapters in the book is titled “Consultation Crazy” and yah, it means what it means. We crave opinions, feedback, and advice on every aspect of daily life. We want to improve every facet of your life. Come on, Smart Cities didn’t materialize out of thin air!? In an effort to improve society, have we taken it too far?
Absolutely! Does this lessen the significance of public consultations? Yes. Should it? No, but we are only human and our attention spans wear thin pretty quickly.
A simple solution to this - use the phrasing public consultation process sparingly. Asking for a vote isn’t partaking in public consultation. Know what you are undertaking and do it properly. Allow sufficient time for planning before you attempt to solicit opinions and make sure there is transparency. Consultation is a slow game, it requires feedback and constant building and rebuilding. If it seems like there is a lot of them going on, there's probably is but they aren’t all legitimate consultation projects I would guess.
Consulting For The Sake Of “Consulting”
This is one that really annoys people. I recently saw a consultation project announce on social media that they were having a public discussions forum 2 hours prior to the kick off time. After doing some research I found out that they didn’t advertise this was happening anywhere else and had failed to alert people by basic means such as text or email. Suspicious right?
A frustrating example of undertaking the public consultation part of the process simply to be seen to be doing it. Perhaps decisions had been made prior and they were just following protocol but if so, then what’s the point. It is here that cynicism breathes.
Even if you have given your opinion on something, finding out later that it didn’t matter due to a decision already having been made leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Credibility is lost and that's the last time you take part in a public consultation project.
Now in the spirit of not focusing on the negative public consultation experiences we’ve all had. Why not look ahead to how Voxcitio can ensure you never take part in a poor consultation project again. You know if an organization is using us, then they are credible. If they aren’t Voxcitio users, ask them why they won’t invest?