10 years on. How has consultation changed? From a manager’s perspective.

It’s the 10th ANNIVERSARY INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE for The Consultation Institute.  So as we are attending this seems like  a good time to think about how consultation has changed in the last 10 years.  But let’s do this from the point of view of a consultation manager. How has the job of a consultation manager changed in the last ten years?

First of all gone are the days when the consultation manager could just whip out a survey and do a few focus groups.  Now they have to be an expert in over forty different dialogue methods.

Print is no longer acceptable but not printing is unacceptable. Consultation managers now have a real challenge in dealing with the diverse demands for how people consume their information and take part.

Ten years ago consultation was about asking people about what they would like more of.  Nowadays it is invariably about change and maybe less (if the consultation manager is allowed to talk about less or even cuts).  This means that stakeholders are more likely to scrutinise the consultation, or perhaps see it as the ‘Achille’s Heel’ of a decision, one to exploit at judicial review.  Nowadays the consultation manager’s job is fundamentally about mitigating such risks and stopping their organisation falling foul of many consultation traps.

Thanks to The Consultation Institute there is a lot more training available than there was ten years ago.  The consultation manager has somewhere to learn new tricks.  They have a community of practitioners from whom they can turn to for guidance.

Despite mythical pronouncements of consultation fatigue, more and more people demand consultation.  Especially if they are faced with the potential move of their local A&E or maternity services.  Gone are the days of deference when people would go with the flow and agree with those that proclaim to know best.  The consultation managers skills are more in demand now than ever they have been.

The consultation manager is now at the heart of a successful organisations’ communications and engagement team.  Consultation is no longer the poor relation of PR and the press team.

The consultation manager cannot own the consultation.  Social media means that people can easily initiate their own conversations and campaigns, thereby challenging the planned flow of a consultation.  The consultation manager is now a custodian of the process.  Their job is to make it fair, to ensure that the rules are played by and that unsportsmanlike behaviour is dealt with.  This all means that the consultation manager has to be as knowledgeable about online engagement nowadays as they are about surveys, focus groups, roadshsows and public meetings.  If they aren’t, then they are in big trouble.

So those are the things that have changed the most.  And thankfully The Consultation Institute has been by our side to help us through these changing times.

By Louise Booth and Jonathan Bradley

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