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Perspectives on consultations

Stakeholder dialogues revealed three perspectives on consultations: Epistemic, democratic and ethical

Overall, the dialogues revealed three general perspectives on consultations: as a way of developing knowledge (epistemic); to enhance the quality of democracy (democratic); and consulting for ethical reasons (Mansbridge et al, 2012). In the workshops, the discussions focused primarily on democratic and epistemic outcomes. 

Watch a video summarising the perspectives on consultations here.


The epistemic perspective sees consultation as a process of developing knowledge to support better policymaking. Participants talked about the importance of evidence, and the need for inclusion so that many perspectives can be taken into account when making policy. The government’s role here is to make the final decisions based on good quality knowledge.  In this view, good policymaking should be based on rigorous evidence, and the government is responsible for weighing up the importance of different views.

Some people think consultations do this well overall, drawing on the evidence and expertise of key stakeholders outside government. However, concerns emerged about:  

Evidence gaps - Do we lack evidence about particular sectors of the economy (e.g., tech start-ups) or groups (e.g., ordinary members of the public) who may not have the resources to provide evidence? How can we understand unintended consequences and future impacts of policy? 

Quality of evidence - How can we ensure the quality of the evidence we receive? Is it reliable and valid? Is qualitative as well as quantitative data valuable?   

Analysis of evidence - How is evidence analysed and interpreted? Is all evidence reflected in the final decision or is evidence cherry-picked? 


While knowledge-building is important, it cannot decide underlying political questions about policy direction and values (Parkhurst 2017). The democratic perspective, on the other hand, sees consultation as a way of assessing support for policy ideas and values among stakeholders with different and potentially conflicting interests. Consultation gives people an opportunity to comment on these underlying political questions and inform policy decisions, providing them with added democratic legitimacy. The government’s role is to determine the public interest or balance competing interests and values in a fair way. Some believe this is done fairly well through the consultation process. For others, there are concerns that the process is unequal, because:

Some stakeholders have greater resources and expertise in consultations.

Some have privileged access to the more informal, interactive parts of the consultation process, where decisions about policy values and directions are more likely to be influenced, whereas other stakeholders may only be able to participate in formal consultation processes.

Some have greater legitimacy with government


The ethical perspective of consultations emphasises the moral responsibility of government to consult, and to recognise the interests and rights of all stakeholders to be heard, including the general public. Consultations provide a space where stakeholders are respected and recognised, and where their voices are acknowledged and incorporated into the policymaking process.

In addition, stakeholders need to hear and understand each other’s perspectives, particularly in debates like the copyright debate, where opinions can be deeply divided. In this view, consultation should provide a way for different groups to listen to and understand each other’s views better, even if they do not reach agreement.  


Mansbridge, J. et al. 2012. A systemic approach to deliberative democracy. In: J. Mansbridge and J. Parkinson (eds). Deliberative Systems: Deliberative Democracy at the Large Scale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parkhurst, J. 2017. The politics of evidence. London: Routledge. Open access, available at . Last accessed 29 December 2019.