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What works well in consultations

For me, a good consultation isn't about a one-way. I'm sure there are times where people feel like it's a tick-box exercise, or maybe in the past it has been a tick-box exercise, but, for me, a consultation works well when it isn't. It's a dialogue to understand.


Some participants noted characteristics of consultations that had been run well. Good consultations are explained clearly; are linked to policy outcomes; involve dialogue as well as written submissions; and are transparent. All these characteristics  made it easier to participate in consultations, reinforced the value of participating, and improved the trust that submissions were taken seriously.

Watch a video about what works well in consultations here.

Clear explanations

Clear explanations covered the aims of the consultation, what it does and does not cover, and what it might achieve.    

There needs to be clarity over the policy purpose which is trying to be achieved as a result of the consultation. If there's honesty in that, that includes being as transparent as possible about what the legal constraints are on doing what is being suggested, so people understand what the background is to the consultation, and why it is that a particular thing is being recommended. [SH9] 

Participants noted the need for accessible language and guidelines about what kind of submissions are required.

The first one was the IPO on the copyright exceptions. I think the information they gave about what they were looking into, why they were looking into it, what was in scope, wasn't in scope was very clear. [SH28] 

The Cabinet Office Good Evidence Guide was noted as a helpful resource. 

Well if you use the Cabinet Office guidance, you should be using clear English, but also [limit] the amount of technical jargon in there so that you can appeal to a wider audience. [SH1] 

I think the [good evidence] criteria are good. I think it is very good, and it does provide an outline. [SH9]  

Links to policy outcomes

Consultations work well when they are linked to policy outcomes. Participants emphasised the value of feeling like their contribution can make a difference. This in turn depends on consultations being carried out for a clear purpose, and on decision-makers being willing to take all contributions seriously.

They’ve got to feel that they are part of the final policy making. Even if their datasets might play zero point zero, zero, one, they have to feel, “Okay, I’ve contributed towards that.”  [PU10]

Dialogue and written submissions

Good consultations allow for different modes of engagement with stakeholders. Written submissions are valuable because they give stakeholders time to provide a considered response. 

The written submission at least means that you have had time to formulate your ideas and you have a clear idea of what they want. [SH28]

On the other hand, participants noted the value of extended discussion or dialogue among stakeholders and between stakeholders and policymakers:

There were some things we agreed on and some things we disagreed on but it was a proper, 'the tech says, 'we think this and this doesn’t work'', conversation, which when you get to the details is really good. I think they did that process really well and handled those pretty well. I mean none of this on any side came out the end of it thinking we got what we wanted, but the process itself of trying to bounce everyone’s views on was a really good one. [SH30] 

[I]n that case [of the EU digital single market legislation], even though that was obviously incredibly complicated to get 28 countries to agree on one common directive, actually, publisher organisations and a variety of other organisations were involved in dialogue and workshops as part of the process. […] I think the lesson from that that I glean is that involving publishers, authors and others, and talking to each other along the way,  is often a good way for each side to understand what the other’s concerns are, so that we can arrive at something that everyone can live with. [SH18]



Transparency is another defining characteristic of good consultations. Participants generally felt that consultations are more transparent today than in the past. Transparency is imoprtant for keeping up to date with government thinking, as well as for maintaining trust in the process. 

I know the European Parliament was very good about trying to be as open and published as many drafts as they could on the way. [...] Now, nearly every version goes online as soon as those discussions are happening for every adjusted proposal. In a way, it’s super transparent.’ [SH15]

Transparency about consultation processes and outcomes is valued by participants, but understanding submissions and how they are accounted for is also really important. 

[Transparency] is particularly important for industry organisations, because there is, perhaps, a feeling that industry is somehow getting an unfair sway in the consultation process. But if you look at the figures that have just been published, last week, from the Department of International Trade, on the trade negotiations, they have broken down, very clearly, the differences between industry responses, individual responses, and then group, organised responses from coercive interests. That is really helpful, because people can start seeing where these things are actually coming from. [SH9]

I think it also helps if consultation responses are then put up on the internet so that people can see each other's replies and not just a summary. [SH6]