Issue #28 March 2013

Community Consultation
- a short course in stuffing things up!

It is not that hard to stuff up your community consultation or engagement.  The best way is to hold a public meeting where you have no control, no meaningful dialogue and cannot facilitate outcomes. Better still, hold it on licensed premises as a few beers are guaranteed to improve the quality of debate!

Other great ways to turn consultation into confusion and anger are:     

  • Start the project and then tell people about your intentions afterwards.
  • Tell them nothing.
  • Let them make up their own minds, so when they ask for the opposite of what you can deliver, you get to tell them that what they want is not what they are going to get.
  • Bring in a facilitator to face a hostile crowd, and when he/she heads for the door, you become the unprepared bunny in the spotlight.
  • Go to media and present only your side of the situation, then list actions you plan to take that don’t consider any other views or opinions.
  • Use a seagull consultant - flies in, craps on everyone and everything, then flies out.

An old favourite is to try and baffle the public with BS. However, with Google, texting and Facebook, you will be found out in a very short time and – before you know it - a community movement develops that will rip you apart. The previous Egyptian government knows how that works!

  • So, to avoid a community consultation disaster it is best to take a few simple steps:Research/engage with all stakeholder groups, remembering that biased responses may arise from factors such as what time of day you conduct your research, the length and type of questions you ask and if you only talk to the people with an axe to grind.Take time to find out what the issues really are – they may not be what you think, as the first people heard are often those who shout the loudest.
  • Do not ask questions that are aimed at getting the answers you want, because accurate information is always the most valuable tool, even if you get answers you do not want to hear.
  • In other words, use a combination of good quantitative and qualitative research as the basis for your decision making.
  • It is also very important not to promise what you can’t deliver – or even to imply such promises in your research questions! Finally, do not be intimidated by the vocal minority. Always remember the silent majority - just because a few people shout loudly, it does not mean they represent anyone but themselves.

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