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The Current State of Public Consultation in the Public                            Sector                        Survey Res...
3.      Key findings3.1 Increasing importance of public consultation and engagementAs Figure 1 shows, the volume of public...
“We are undergoing some major changes to the way we deliver services. We are         committed to carrying out consultatio...
“The need to minimise risk of legal challenges as the organisation plans to      reduce costs.”      “Threat of legal chal...
Given the current austerity measures it is more     important than ever for the public to have real influence             ...
There were much more split opinions over many of the other challenges presented. Forexample, whilst 46% of respondents agr...
“Lack of time, money & capacity to support effectively.”Some respondents were very honest about the pitfall of public enga...
Which of these consultation and dialogue methods          do you/ your organisation currently use?         Document based ...
Which of these consultation and dialogue methods         will your organisation use more in future?                   Soci...
“We have just formed our community panel and are planning to build its       membership to make it robust enough to use as...
4.    ConclusionsIt is clear that there may never have been a more important time for the developmentof professional best ...
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The Current Stateof Public Consultation In The Public Sector Survey Report25th April2012

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Increased importance of public consultation and a discernible move towards online methods.
A recent survey has shown that those working in public engagement and consultation roles within the public sector believe that their work is becoming progressively more important to the organisations they work for. Having to achieve more with less, they are increasingly turning to online approaches.

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The Current Stateof Public Consultation In The Public Sector Survey Report25th April2012

  1. 1. The Current State of Public Consultation in the Public Sector Survey Results1. IntroductionThe Consultation Institute, along with member companies Community Research andEasyInsites sponsored a survey of consultation and engagement professionals currentlyworking in the UK public sector.The main aim of the survey was to gain a picture of current state of public consultationand engagement amongst as wide an audience of public sector professionals aspossible. The survey included questions covering a range of issues, as follows: • Whether public consultation and engagement is being cut or, conversely, is on the increase because of the wider cuts to public services. • The main challenges that public consultation and engagement professionals are currently facing. • Levels of concern regarding possible legal challenges to public consultation. • The degree to which skills in public engagement and consultation skills are being lost from the sector. • Which methodologies and dialogue methods are likely to be used more in future and which less.2. MethodologyAn online survey was conducted and was open to anyone to complete. Members of TheConsultation Institute (TCI) were asked to participate via direct e-mail. The survey wasalso promoted via relevant LinkedIn groups and other networks including The GuardianPublic Leaders Network. The survey took around 5 minutes to complete. Respondentswere able to complete the survey anonymously, but were also offered the option ofleaving their e-mail and contact details, in order to receive a summary report of thefindings.The questions were aimed at a target audience specifically of UK public sectororganisations and those with either a direct role or keen interest in public engagementand consultation issues.The total number of responses received was 127, the vast majority of respondents(114) stated that consultation and engagement was a major part of my role. Allrespondents had at least some consultation and engagement responsibilities.
  2. 2. 3. Key findings3.1 Increasing importance of public consultation and engagementAs Figure 1 shows, the volume of public consultation and engagement work appears tobe increasing in the public sector. Of our sample 58% said their organisation had donemore public engagement work in the last year than was the case in the previous yearand 48% said they had done more consultation with the public. Only 11% and 14%reported less of this kind of in 2011-2012 as compared to the year before. In 2011-2012 has your organisation done more, less or about the same amount of …… Public engagement Formal consultation with the public A lot less, Dont Dont A lot less, A little 1% know, 2% know, 4% 2% less, 10% A lot more, A lot A little more, 24% less, 13% 16% About the same, 28% A little About the more, same, 32% A little 34% more, 34%Figure 1 – Levels of activity compared to previous year.When asked why this increase is taking place the recurring themes were: • The pace of change leading to a need for greater engagement and consultation. • The Localism Act and other new legislation. • Budget cuts and difficult choices needed to be made with the consequent requirement to gain buy in from the public.Some typical responses are as follows: “I feel that in the current economic climate council and other public service partners are becoming more cautious about taking forward changes without a clear mandate through consultation findings.” 2
  3. 3. “We are undergoing some major changes to the way we deliver services. We are committed to carrying out consultation in these circumstances.” “Changes through the Localism Act has meant that more engagement has been necessary, in relation to neighbourhood planning etc.”Those working in public engagement and consultation perceive that their area of workis becoming more important to the organisations which they work for. This is illustratedin Figure 2, which shows that 88% of respondents to the survey believe that publicengagement work has become a lot more or a little more important to theirorganisation in the last year, and 81% of respondents say the same for formalconsultation with the public. Would you say that …. has become more or less important to your organisation in the last year? Public engagement Formal consultation with the public A lot less, Don’t know Don’t 0% , 5% A lot less, know , 2% 9% A lot more, A little less, 34% 7% A little less, 9% A lot more, 33% A little more, A little 47% more, 55%Figure 2 – Importance of public engagement and formal consultationWhen asked to explain why these areas of work have become increasingly important,survey respondents point to an increased level of concern regarding the possibility oflegal challenges: “Legal challenges have heightened awareness of importance of formal consultation. Politicians also want to be seen to be listening to people.” 3
  4. 4. “The need to minimise risk of legal challenges as the organisation plans to reduce costs.” “Threat of legal challenge for not doing it correctly.”Given that there have been a number of legal proceedings lately which have had theeffect of challenging decisions of public bodies, based on the argument that theconsultation was flawed or unlawful; it was felt important to ask engagement andconsultation professionals the degree to which this issue was a specific concern. Themajority of respondents expressed at least some concern about this issue. In total 67%said they were very or quite concerned that their own organisation might face similarchallenges in the future. Just over a quarter of respondents (27%) said that they werenot very concerned about this possibility, but very few (2%) were confident enough tosay that they were not concerned at all. Figure 3 shows the full results. How concerned, if at all, are you that your organisation might face similar legal challenges of this kind in future? Dont know, 4% Not at all Very concerned, concerned, 2% 10% Not very concerned, 27% Quite concerned, 57%Figure 3 – Concern regarding legal challengesThe very difficult decisions currently being made by public sector bodies are makingconsultation and engagement activities more prominent and important. Whenspecifically asked how far they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “given thecurrent austerity measures it is more important than ever for the public to have realinfluence over decisions” an overwhelming 95% agreed with 56% agreeing strongly, asFigure 4 shows: 4
  5. 5. Given the current austerity measures it is more important than ever for the public to have real influence over decisions Disagree strongly, 1% Don’t know, 1% Disagree , 3% Agree, 39% Agree strongly, 56%Figure 4 – Austerity measures and the importance of public influenceSurvey respondents told us that involvement of stakeholders and communities isbecoming ever more essential to politicians. “It is more that it is more important to our clients, but this seems to be due to the pressure of legal challenge and empowerment of stakeholders / community members to challenge what is happening to them in the area.” “When times are difficult its even more important to carry people with you when hard choices are to be made.”3.2 Key current challengesRespondents were provided with a list of challenges that might face public sectororganisations in conducting public engagement and consultation work. They were askedto indicate how far they agree that these challenges are being faced in their ownorganisation. As Figure 5 shows the strongest levels of agreement were seen for thechallenges “insufficient budgets to conduct proper consultation and engagement work”and “lack of trust from the public that their input will have any influence” with 75% and82% in agreement that these are challenges they face, respectively. 5
  6. 6. There were much more split opinions over many of the other challenges presented. Forexample, whilst 46% of respondents agreed or agreed strongly that the “loss of skilledpublic engagement and consultation staff” was a challenge they were facing, 47% ofthe sample disagreed or disagreed strongly that this was the case. Here are some of the key challenges that others say they face…. How far would you agree or disagree that you also face these challenges? Insufficient budgets to conduct proper 31% 44% 21% 2% 2% consultation & engagement work Lack of trust from the public that input will 28% 54% 17% 2% have influence Lack of time to take the public’s view into 17% 50% 27% 4%2% account Lack of political commitment to conduct proper 15% 28% 39% 11% 6% consultation Loss of skilled public engagement & 15% 31% 41% 6% 8% consultation staff Insufficient skills to harness the power of social 14% 38% 38% 7% 3% media Lack of interest amongst members of the public 13% 44% 36% 6% 2% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%100% Agree strongly Agree Disagree Disagree strongly Don’t knowFigure 5 – Key challengesRespondents to the survey were asked to spontaneously suggest the challenges theythemselves were facing in conducting public consultation and engagement work. Thestrongest recurrent theme in these responses was very clearly one of constrainedbudgets and / or insufficient resources to conduct proper consultation and engagement.Some typical responses were as follows: “Resources and capacity. We will have additional responsibilities for public engagement when public health passes over to the Council from the PCT in April 2013 without additional resources. My understanding is that there will be co- location with Health as early as June 2012. We also have additional responsibility for Strategic Development Control which passes over to the Council from April 2012, i.e. 2 weeks’ time, again without any additional resources.” 6
  7. 7. “Lack of time, money & capacity to support effectively.”Some respondents were very honest about the pitfall of public engagement andconsultation exercises becoming no more than tick box processes, without realinfluence: “Trying not to reach a conclusion or develop firm plans BEFORE weve been out to consultation!” “Trying to achieve open honest dialogue whilst at the same time ticking all the legal boxes, keeping to budget and deadlines.”When asked which of the suggested challenges represented the single biggest issue,just under a quarter (24%) of respondents to the survey opted for “insufficient budgetsto conduct proper consultation and engagement work.” This was closely followed by“lack of trust from the public that their input will have any influence”, chosen by 20% ofrespondents as being the biggest single challenge they face.3.3 Methods Used Now and in the FutureThe survey included a question to ascertain which dialogue methods are currently beingused by the respondent’s organisation when conducting consultation and engagementactivity with the public. A range of methods were presented and many were inwidespread use. The most universal method (in use by 93% of respondents’organisations) was document based consultation. Also in use by the vast majority wereonline surveys (87%), focus groups (84%) and public meetings (83%).Citizens Panels and communities were currently being used by 3 in 5 (60%) and socialmedia channels were also reported to be in use by the clear majority (57%.) Figure 6provides the results in full. 7
  8. 8. Which of these consultation and dialogue methods do you/ your organisation currently use? Document based consultations 93% Online surveys 87% Focus groups / discussions 84% Public meetings 83% Roadshows / exhibitions 77% Postal surveys 74% Face to face surveys 65% Citizens panels / communities 60% Social media channels 57% Deliberative events 42% Telephone surveys 40% Participatory Budgeting 16% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%Figure 6: Dialogue methods currently used.We were also interested to understand the dialogue methods most likely to be usedwith increasing regularity in future. Given the recent growth in social media activity it isperhaps not surprising that this was identified by the most people as the channel thatwill be used more in future (57% say this will be used more in future). The move toonline methods is clearly set to continue with a predicted growth also in the use ofonline surveys. As Figure 7 shows one in three respondents (33%) also expecteddeliberative events; citizens’ panels / communities and focus groups / discussions to beused more. 8
  9. 9. Which of these consultation and dialogue methods will your organisation use more in future? Social media channels 57% Online surveys 46% Focus groups / discussions 33% Citizens panels / communities 33% Deliberative events 33% Participatory Budgeting 29% Roadshows / exhibitions 26% Public meetings 18% Face to face surveys 15% Document based consultations 13% Telephone surveys 13% Postal surveys 9% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60%Figure 7: Dialogue methods that will be used more in future.Online methods are increasing in popularity because of their obvious advantages interms of speed, cost and reach. In addition respondents point to their youth appeal: “Cost effective and over the years we have seen a significant increase in the number of responses via this method. Also we are aiming to get young people more involved in consultation and they have indicated this to be one of their preferred methods of giving their views.”Citizens and Community panels are clearly a strong part of many public sectororganisations’ future plans since they too offer a highly cost effective route in times ofconstrained budgets: “Because they are ready-made and prepped responders. We get a good response from our Residents Panel, and numbers are growing, and it is fairly representative of our population. In that sense we …. save that time and money.” “Because weve worked hard to develop this stable of critical friends and in the face of apathy from the general public at least we get a response from our panel!” 9
  10. 10. “We have just formed our community panel and are planning to build its membership to make it robust enough to use as a proportional representative of the population. When we have achieved this we will use it regularly to gauge people’s views on and satisfaction with the Council and our services.”3.4 Quality and InfluenceGiven The Consultation Institute’s unique role in defining best practice in publicengagement and consultation in the UK, we were keen to ascertain how farprofessionals working in this field perceive that best practice is being achieved.Respondents to the survey were asked to set aside the work of their own organisationand think about consultation and engagement practice in the UK public sector as awhole. They were then asked to give their views on a series of statements regardingthe quality and level of influence that such exercises appear to achieve.As Figure 8 shows, the results of the survey certainly do not show a resoundingendorsement and confidence in the quality of current practice. Almost ¾ ofrespondents (71%) agreed or agreed strongly with the statement “consultation is oftenpoorly conducted.” Well over half of respondents (56%), similarly disagreed ordisagreed strongly with the statement: “most consultations conducted by the publicsector are well designed.” The sample was more evenly split over how far publicconsultation genuinely has an influence over decisions that are eventually made. Almosthalf of our sample (48%) agreed or agreed strongly with the statement “it is rare forpublic consultation genuinely to influence the decisions made by public sectororganisations.” Agreement with statements on quality and influence of consultation Consultation is often poorly conducted 12% 59% 22% 0% 7% It is rare for public consultation genuinely to 9% 39% 40% 2% 9% influence decisions Most consultations conducted by public sector 1% 29% 47% 9% 13% organisations are well designed 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Agree strongly Agree Disagree Disagree strongly Don’t knowFigure 8: Quality and Influence 10
  11. 11. 4. ConclusionsIt is clear that there may never have been a more important time for the developmentof professional best practice standards for public consultation and engagement. Publicsector organisations are increasingly engaging with and consulting the public since thedecisions they are making, with reducing budgets, require community consent and buy-in.Our survey suggests that those working in the public sector are increasingly concernedat the number and nature of legal challenges to key decisions that are based uponflaws in the consultation process.At the same time the pressures on consultation and engagement professionals areconsiderable. Reducing budgets and inadequate resources are making it very difficult toconduct exercises that meet best practice standards. Those working in engagement andconsultation roles are clearly aware that standards across the public sector are not ashigh as they should be. Against this background The Consultation Institute’s work andmessage appears ever more vital. 11

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