Here are some tips on how to fail at consultation.
Tip 1 – Make sure there is no room for influence. By making the scope of the consultation so narrow people will feel it is a done deal. It will make it look like the decision is already made and your consultation will fail, to howls of ‘tick box exercise’ and ‘it’s a sham!’ Alternatively, don’t be a leader and make it look like everything is up for grabs. Even better present it as a referendum or a vote, when it clearly is not.
Tip 2 – Only involve those people who shout the loudest and those stakeholders you think are most important. Don’t use stakeholder mapping to identify a comprehensive range of stakeholders, ensure you involve more seldom heard groups and are able to target your resources effectively and select the right dialogue methods.
Tip 3 – Use difficult language and present your consultation story in such a way that makes it difficult for people to understand what it’s all about. Load your consultation questions in such a way that promotes your point of you, your desired result. This will really frustrate your stakeholders. And don’t break your consultation narrative into easily accessible chunks of information, to help people to take part.
Tip 4 – Only rely on one dialogue method. This will ensure that you only hear one point of view and skew your responses in favour of certain types of people. Don’t use multiple techniques and media to encourage a wide range of stakeholders to participate. If you really want to fail just rely on people coming to you, this way you really will only hear from the most vocal and those most able to participate and mobilise.
Tip 5 – Be selective with the truth and try and spin your consultation narrative to favour your preferred outcome. People will see straight through this and challenge the honesty of your consultation. This is a great way to lose trust and respect.
Tip 6 – Rush your consultation. This will help to alienate your stakeholders. So don’t allow too much time for people to deliberate the issues. Even better launch your consultation just before Christmas, or another holiday, and squeeze the time allowed for people to respond. This way you will discourage participation. Another way to fail, related to time scales, is not to allow enough time to analyse responses. Ideally make sure that your decision about the issue is made just a few days after the consultation ends. This will clearly demonstrate to your stakeholders that the whole process was a sham. And if you are short on time don’t do extra consultation activities to make up for it, as this will make you less likely to fail at consultation.
Tip 7 – Don’t be brave. Treat all your stakeholders equally and don’t challenge the quality of their responses. And be scared of petitions and social media. Don’t be prepared to defend your consultation from unfair attack from lobbying groups. And don’t be prepared to be the custodian of good consultation. Don’t stick up for the facts and don’t correct misinformation. Don’t engage in social networks to look after the integrity of your consultation.
Tip 8 – Do not feedback properly to stakeholders. Don’t distinguish between the reporting of the findings from the consultation and how it was used to influence decisions. Don’t impress your stakeholders by showing them how the consultation was actually used to make decisions, how it influenced outcomes.
Tip 9 – Start calling your consultation something else, like a listening exercise or a conversation so you are not constrained by the principles of meaningful consultation. People will see through this and demand a consultation. Forced consultations are easier too fail at.
Tip 10 – Plan to fail. Of course there is no such thing as a consultation that completely fails. There are things that you will inadvertently do well. That’s why you have to plan to fail.
But what if we don’t want to fail at consultation?
Obviously we DON’T want to fail at consultation, but looking at consultation best practice the wrong way around like this helps to highlight some of the mistakes people can make, often unintentionally. More examples of how to fail at consultation are welcomed.
Some help at NOT failing?
For strategic communications advice and hands on support for all your consultation and stakeholder engagement work please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We also offer a variety of training, some as Participate and some through The Consultation Institute. We also support organisations through The Consultation Institute’s best practice compliance schemes. Find out more about us at www.participate.uk.com.