How to have your say through consultations

Do you know your consulta­tions from your elbow? It occured to me (quite late, alas!) that I haven’t really explained *what* I’m trans­lat­ing here! So here’s a quick run down on consulta­tions, what they are, and what you can do about them.

What is a consultation?

  • A consulta­tion is basic­ally an idea. It could be a good idea, or a bad idea, or an idea with prom­ise, but it is still an idea that someone (prob­ably a govern­ment person) had about how to improve the lives of people in these Great British Isles.
  • As a rule, they will talk to their colleagues and their bosses, and collect more ideas together with as much proof as they can find about how the idea might just work. The result will be in the form of a consulta­tion paper.
  • No matter how long or short the paper, keep asking your­self one ques­tion as you read it — do I agree with this?

Where can I find these consulta­tion papers?

  • Check out this Directgov list of cent­ral govern­ment depart­ments. If a depart­ment is running a consulta­tion, it should be on their website. Some depart­ments have a consulta­tion link right off the home page. If you can’t find it, check the public­a­tions area.
  • So if you’re inter­ested in say, health, you can go to the Department of Health website and click on the consulta­tions link in the top right corner.
  • Consultations all have an expiry date, so the ones you are inter­ested in are the liveor activeconsulta­tions, not the closed ones.

What do I do now I’ve found one?

  • Read it! Keep the ques­tion — do I agree with this? in mind while you’re reading.
  • If you find bits you don’t under­stand, or you disagree with, or you think are okay but could be done much better your way, write them down.
  • This is the part where we at Simply Understand want to save you the hassle of wading through the ancient and indir­ect language the writers like to use. They mostly do this because they’re academ­ics or lawmakers. These are both wonder­ful breeds of human being, but a bit… wordy, and often fond of keep­ing things vague!

I read it, I read it! I don’t have to do anything more, do I?

  • I’m afraid so, old chap. A consulta­tion usually lasts about 12 weeks. Before that 12 weeks is up, you need to tell the people who wrote the paper what you think.
  • This is what consulta­tion is all about — you getting your point across to the people who just want you to say “yes, alright, that’s fine” and let them get on with it. Well it’s not alright, and it’s not fine, and you are abso­lutely entitled to have your say.
  • Write to them at the address they give (usually at the begin­ning or the end of the paper), email them, contact your union if you have one and tell them what you think, contact your MP. Then spread the word to every­one else you know who might care!

There are some other strange creatures you might encounter along the way. Here’s a quick guide:

  1. Impact Assessments — these are where the people who wrote the consulta­tion paper take an educated guess about how much their idea is going to cost to make real, and what affect it’s going to have on you, the voter.
  2. Executive Summaries — this is a shorter version of the consulta­tion paper. Not gener­ally easier to read, unfor­tu­nately, but other­wise not as over­whelm­ing, but will miss key details.
  3. Charts and tables — never take these for gran­ted. Are they giving you enough data so you can under­stand what they really mean?
  4. Appendices — many consulta­tions will hide some of their content in appen­dices, and may not auto­mat­ic­ally put them at the end of the docu­ment, so you might have to go hunting.

If anything’s not clear, let me know. Good luck and happy consulting!

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Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and design­ers can and should make the world a better place. I love design­ing things that help people under­stand complex ideas.

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One thought on “How to have your say through consultations

  1. I love the site, the tone of the comments and this simple guide to consulta­tion, as well as your contin­ued enthu­si­asm for it — well done and thank you! 

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