6 Consultation Principles to Keep Your Public Engagement on Track
Following these 6 important consultation principles will keep your public engagement process on the right course.
Time public consultations well and allow enough time to respond.
Schedule consultations early enough in the decision-making process to allow enough time for the results to guide the development and decision-making process. Consultations that occur too late in the process lead to frustration and skepticism among participants.
Ensure that consultations run long enough to give participants a fair opportunity to review the proposals, gather information and offer an informed opinion. Generally, this is a minimum of three weeks. However, larger-scale public consultations, such as those touching on an entire city, and those with long-term impacts—such as community plan updates—should run for a minimum of six weeks.
Present all relevant information clearly to encourage informed feedback.
Provide participants with enough information to allow them to give their informed response and not simply instant reactions. The overview section of all consultation materials should clearly explain the topic, the goal of the consultation and how the results will be used in the decision-making process. Prepare all information in plain language and free of jargon. Clearly spell out any acronyms and explain technical terms, or include a glossary with your materials.
Offer genuine options and ask objective questions.
Write surveys and questions in an objective way allowing people to express their views. Where offering options, make sure that they are realistic.. Do not offer any options that you are not ready to deliver.
Target your audience carefully and reach out to rarely heard groups.
Reach out to the people and/or areas most affected by the proposal. Also, include the views of less vocal groups, who are often excluded or overlooked. Make your consultation information as accessible as possible, considering the needs of people with impaired sight or hearing or people whose first language is not English.
Publicized and clearly communicate your public consultation efforts
Ensure your consultation topic is well publicized, both online and off. Different people learn about consultations in different ways. Even when consulting solely online, it is important to use traditional communications methods to publicize the topic. This is especially true for major consultations affecting large populations or geographic areas.
Provide fair, accessible feedback.
After the consultation has ended publish the findings, and when possible, how they were used in the decision-making process. Present the findings in a balanced way, and show that you considered all informed feedback.