In some cases, the consultors’ voice is rarely heard in the discussions; in others clarifying the messages and stimulating the dialogue will be necessary to ensure an effective consultation.
Determining to what extent monitoring should become involvement depends upon the following:
- Whether the consultation is successfully meeting the consultation objectives or whether intervention would ensure greater success – for example, is the community well represented, or does work need to be done to bring others into the consultation?
- Whether dialogue is focused on the purpose of the consultation – is intervention required to bring the discussion back on track?
- The accuracy of the discussions – if misapprehensions have arisen it is usually necessary to provide clarification.
- Promises made to the consultees – if a consultation mandate is being used, did it stipulate that dialogue would be between residents, or between residents and the organisation running the consultation?
- The consultation’s messages – are the messages receiving the necessary airtime, or does a particular message need to be brought to the fore?
- Bias – would intervention by the consultor be seen as ‘leading’ the results of the consultation?
- Symmetry and responsiveness – conversely, in not taking part in discussions, is the consultor failing to put across important information and to respond to points made?
- Information gathering – could more be learnt by asking questions?
Every consultation is different and some will require more involvement on the development team’s part than others. The level of involvement therefore should be a decision unique to that consultation – but hopefully the ideas above should help in making that decision.
Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge in June 2017. Please email Penny to receive notification of its publication.